Learning how to meditate for beginners is more about learning how to focus and concentrate the mind than anything else. Becoming acquainted with a few simple and effective mind control techniques is one of the best ways to start your journey into meditation.
A good place to start with learning how to meditate for beginners is counting breaths. This may sound familiar to you, although I would ask you to temporarily put aside any previous understanding and open yourself up to seeing this technique in a new light.
The counting meditation technique is simple, yet profound. It is a good method for those starting out with meditation, yet it is also a method to keep using as you progress down the path as an experienced meditator. I often use counting when I first sit down to meditate in order to get me into the right frame of mind and to help me leave my everyday mind and thinking behind.
Here's how this concentration technique works. . .
Set yourself up in a comfortable place. You can sit on the edge of a bed, on a chair, on the floor - in whatever position you find suitable. You could also do this standing up or lying down (although lying down is a notorious position for encouraging sleep!).
Become aware of your natural breathing cycle and start counting from one to ten. Each out-breath is one count. As you breathe out you count to yourself onnnnnnne…allowing your counting to extend the full length of your natural out-breath.
An in-breath will naturally follow.
Then you breathe out again, counting twwwwwwwwwo.
A natural in-breath occurs.
Then you breathe out again, counting threeeeeeeeeeeee.
And so on, until you reach ten.
Allow your out-breath to extend itself as far out as comfortable. Don't extend it forcefully to the point of tensing your body. You'll find that your out-breath naturally lengthens as you relax and slip into deeper concentration. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Breathing out audibly may also help in focusing the mind. This is how to meditate for beginners.
Simple. Yet, as you will soon find out - not so easy to do. Invariably you will find your mind wanders. You will lose track of your counting and find yourself drifting off into the world of the mind. You may drift off for a few seconds or minutes at a time. This is not unusual - this is the practice!
When you realize that you have lost count and that you have become distracted, you return to counting from the beginning - starting again from number one. You return to counting in order to recover your concentration and composure. The aim is to be able to complete a full cycle from one to ten without distraction.
Remember, what we are doing here is training the mind to focus and concentrate. Your aim isn't to 'try to meditate'. If you think that what you are trying to do is to meditate, you will be disappointed. You will feel like you aren't able to do it or that you're doing something wrong. Or maybe you'll even be tempted to think that this meditation stuff 'just doesn't work for me'.
Learning how to meditate, for beginners and for experienced meditators alike, is largely a matter of developing the ability to ignore the mind. Instead of helplessly reacting to what is going on in our mind, we train to proactively relate to the mind.
When you get yourself to the point where you can sit down, decide that you are going to complete a count from one to ten and actually follow through with it, you know that you have achieved a modicum of control over your relationship with the mind.
The person who emerges successfully from such a task is empowered, knowing that they have gained some measure of control over themselves and their mind.
Being carried away by the mind is common place. Yet, wouldn't it be nice to have a choice in the matter. Choice is the essence of being proactive vs. reactive in our lives. Beginners who are new to meditation may be subconsciously attracted to its practice as a means of bring more choice into their lives.
The key to beginners meditation is to methodically build-up your powers of concentration and focus. Once you are able to complete one such cycle, work on completing two in a row; then three…four…five, etc.
Completing five continuous cycles of one to ten counts is usually a good point to jump off into pure meditation. Five cycles is an arbitrary number of course and it is important to know that you can 'jump off' into pure meditation at any time. If you try, and see that you are getting distracted, simply return to the counting meditation technique to regain your ground.
The number of counting cycles to complete before entering a 'meditative state' will differ from person to person and even from one sitting to the next. Once you feel that your mind has settled somewhat, and that you aren't constantly being pulled off on tangents, it may be time to simply stop counting and just let yourself be. This is the state of concentration beyond thinking.
This is meditation. It is also stepping out-of-the-mind in the purest meaning of the term.
Learning how to meditate, for beginners and veterans alike, is about cultivating presence. There is a lot of talk about presence these days. It seems to be important. How does the counting meditation technique help us become more present? How can counting be a powerful mindfulness technique for developing presence?
As you begin to practice counting you will quickly discover that it's not enough to tell yourself that you are going to count from 1 to 10. This is a good start - it is your initial intention. You have told your mind what it needs to do - but that's not enough.
In order to succeed in your mission… in order to realize your aim… you need to become one with the numbers. You need to be present with each number as you count it. You need to live and breathe each number as it comes.
The moment you find yourself thinking about the next number, the moment you find yourself thinking anything at all, is the moment you become distracted. Thinking about the next number in line is thinking about the future - which is a dead give away that you aren't being present.
Counting, as a meditation technique, is about teaching ourselves to become one with each number we are counting. No past. No future. Just us, and the number inwardly voiced and breathed. This is the secret to the power of the counting meditation technique. This is concentration. This is absorption.
And this is presence.
Make no mistake about it, being easily distracted is costly - in many ways both large and small. Training ourselves to stay focused on one task at a time sounds idiotically simple. Yet, it forces us to confront the mind and develop our independent spirit which serves us well.
Another mind control technique for those setting out to learn meditation is what may be called the 'stone technique'. The 'stone technique' is a great supplementary method to the counting meditation technique outlined above and can be used effectively in conjunction with it.
This meditation method employs the use of the imagination. As you are using the counting meditation technique, imagine a stone that has just been thrown into the ocean. It starts sinking. With each out-breath and as you count - onnnnnnnne… imagine yourself as this stone - sinking into the sea. Twwwwwwwo…you continue to sink…threeeeeeeee…deeper and deeper you go.
As the stone sinks, it cuts through the currents and turbulence it encounters on the way. Even if it does get caught up in some rough waters, and is taken sideways or prevented from sinking for a while, it's just a matter of time until it surrenders to the gravitational pull of the earth's core and continues on it's journey into the depths.
All the rock really needs to do is to let go...and allow itself to sink. In learning how to meditate for beginners this is all you really need to do as well.
Just let the mind go and sink deeper and deeper into yourself. With each out-breath, imagine your energy sinking down into the area of your navel. As the stone sinks further into the depths of the ocean, so your energy sinks further into the area of your navel - which is known in Japanese wisdom traditions as the 'hara', and in Chinese wisdom traditions as 'dantien'.
You can deepen your understanding of the 'hara' and other similar concepts related to body and mind by looking up the out-of-the-mind self improvement and motivation article on Japanese wisdom for stepping out-of-the-mind.
These simple mind control techniques are great introductory steps into the world of meditation. Don't let their simplicity fool you. They are powerful methods to develop presence, focus and concentration that will carry over into all areas of your life.
Having said that, be creative in making your way. Meditation is very personal and is about the relationship that you develop between you and your mind. Methods that work for others may not work for you.
Feel free to adapt a technique or use it in a slightly different way than recommended. This is not only allowed, it's encouraged, on one condition - that you give the methods and yourself a fair chance to experience the effects before you pass judgement.
Let your own experience be the ultimate guide in what to accept and what to reject. Accept only that which improves your meditative experience and your life.