Overwhelmed or Worried? Try This Beginner’s Meditation

Kristen Acciari of the Holistic Heart in Warwick gives us a step-by-step guide to meditation.

1. Set a clear intention for your practice. Sitting down with the expectation of “clearing your mind” is unrealistic and likely to result in feelings of failure or “doing it wrong.” Instead, set your intention to be present with your thoughts, feelings and sensations as they arise or practice resting your attention on something like your breath or a candle flame.

2. Find a comfortable seated position. Mindfulness meditation is not about posture, but when you are physically uncomfortable it can make it hard to stay present. I recommend sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat or blanket, with a straight, tall spine, shoulders back and down, and hands in your lap. If you need back support, you can modify by sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the earth, knees bent at a ninety-degree angle.

3. Start with your breath. Mindfulness is about being present moment-to-moment with your experience. One of the easiest ways to turn your attention inwards is to guide your awareness to your breath. Slow, deep breaths through the nose will also create a relaxation response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

4. Practice self-compassion. Whether you choose to place your attention on your internal experience (observing whatever comes up) or on an external object (like a candle flame) your mind will wander. Expect it. When you notice that your mind has wandered, be proud of yourself for noticing (progress!) and gently guide yourself back. Create a safe internal space by approaching your experience with compassion and without judgment. Remember that you are human and be kind.

5. Integrate your experience. When you have finished your meditation, remain in stillness for a few moments. Check in with yourself, and notice how you feel. When you’re ready, allow yourself to transition slowly. You can carry a practice of mindful presence throughout your day in tiny moments like savoring a warm cup of coffee, looking up at the sky or laughing with a friend.

*Pro tip: When you are starting out, keep it short. Five to ten minutes at a time is plenty; you can build as you gain experience. Prioritize frequency and sustainability over lengthy durations.

Further reading:

For the person who doesn’t know much about mindfulness meditation: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Touted as the original meditation book, The Power of Now takes readers on a journey to find their truest selves, noting the mind as the only thing inhibiting this self-discovery. It draws from various religious traditions but presents enlightenment as something anyone can attain, regardless of belief, when life is lived in the present moment.

For the practical person: The Art of Breathing by Dr. Danny Penman
This is a great practical book with straightforward, simple breathing exercises that promote mindfulness in all aspects of your life, from being able to “lean in” and experience difficult situations to unleashing pent up creativity.

For the Inquisitive Mind: Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Kabat-Zinn is renowned in the meditation and mindfulness realm. He is the founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and pioneered the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) program. This book breaks down meditation and mindfulness to help readers understand, then provides instruction on how to meditate in your everyday life.

For the person who likes quantitative data: Buddha’s Brain by Richard Mendius and Rick Hanson
Written with the help of a neuroscientist, this book uses science to explain why the practice of meditation and mindfulness can be effective. It also provides practical tools and skills that can help rewire your thinking, promote healthier relationships, more effective actions and greater peace of mind.

For the person who feels burnt out: The Power of Off by Nancy Colier
Technology has made things easier and faster, but has also deteriorated communication and created impossibly high standards. This book explores how technology has made us more stressed out, but also provides hope and encourages mindfulness as a tool to unplug.

Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in a May 2018 cover package on mindfulness and meditation.