The ultimate cheat sheet to meditation for beginners

How to Meditate a Pro – A 5 Step Cheat Sheet for Regular People

The ultimate cheat sheet to meditation for beginners

You fly off the handle more than you to admit. Maybe you have more anxiety than you wish. Or life is just a little crazy and a bit more calm would be nice.

Whatever stress you’re living with right now, chances are you’re coping ok but you’d to do better.

Meditation could be part of the solution – but you probably figure it isn’t really your thing.

Meditators were sceptics once too

Well, successful novelist Tim Parks had never tried meditation and never would have. It was definitely not his thing. He would run a mile from anything vaguely New Age. That’s why I was drawn to his memoir; Teach Us To Sit Still. A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing.

This is not a story about how he quits his western lifestyle to follow a guru in India. But his search for a better, pain-free life does take him along an unexpected path.

In the beginning doctors advise him to have surgery but cannot assure him that it will rid him of his chronic pain. Much to his surprise he winds up meditating instead…

“Morning thoughts rise bubbles. I concentrate on the breath in my nostrils, on my lips. Only steady awareness of the body will still that mental fizz.”

Sounds magic doesn’t it? From sceptic beset with pain to calm morning meditator able to clear his mind with a little focus.

In fact he himself is quick to add that ‘there is nothing mystical about this’. He might have moments when he can ‘still the mental fizz’ but on this occasion, when he begins meditating, he finds himself composing an email. Next he finds himself replaying in his mind a goal from the game he watched the night before.

However, he is not bothered by his wandering mind. He learns not to beat up on himself when thoughts arise – they too are a part of the process of meditating.

He learns how to sit still and focus on his breath and be aware of his physical being. He learns that through doing so he can have moments of mental stillness and quiet, that come and go.

He learns not to strive hard in meditation and not to be preoccupied with success or failure.

Hallelujah! You are completely normal and capable of meditating

Emptying your head of thoughts is not a requirement for doing meditation properly. You can stop believing that meditation is not for you and that you cannot do it anyway.

It is absolutely for people you whose priorities are about:

  • achieving and maintaining healthyrelationships
  • being productive and satisfied atwork
  • earninga decent living and having financial security
  • reducing stress and maximising mental and physical health so that you feel and live well.

If you are prone to over-thinking or anxiety, black moods, flashes of rage or waves of emotion it just means that you are moredeserving of the benefits of meditation. Also, Tim Parks suffering from chronic pain, whatever your ills they will help motivate you in your  meditation practice.

The Cheat Sheet

Meditation is simple even though it can be challenging. You only need a few pointers to get started (or re-started). These will ensure that you know that you are indeed doing it properly!

They are informed by my training and practice in Mindfulness and Insight meditation and also by Jason Siff’s Skillful Meditation Project.

1. Give a thought to timing

If you are just starting out it is worthwhile to give it a decent try. Ideally, set out to try meditating each day for one week. If you miss a day, no problem of course, but you want to give yourself a reasonable chance of getting into the swing of it.

To begin with you will have to make the time to do it – that will probably mean you have to take a little time work, give up a bit of television or get up a little earlier. This bit gets easier. Just focus on the week ahead for now.

Have a set time in mind. Siff suggests 20 minutes is probably a good goal, with 5 being too little and 60 too much. Ensure you have enough time so that you don’t have to rush straight afterwards.

Use a timer or have a clock nearby to glance at. If you begin to struggle, see if you can stay meditating a bit longer. If the struggle worsens and you want to finish early, do so.

2. Consider posture and stillness

Siff words it nicely when he suggests that you ‘show a preference for stillness’ when meditating.

It is important to find a position that is sustainable. The position itself is not too important.

If you choose to sit on a chair, the floor, a mat or cushion, ensure that your back is upright with your spine in neutral position (that is, with its natural curvature). Use whatever supports you need to allow this (cushions or towels below your tailbone to tilt your pelvis forward or prop up your knees if you sit cross-legged) .

Pull your chin in a little to straighten the back of your neck and place your hands comfortably in your lap or on your knees.

Lying flat with suitable supports may be best if you have back pain.

Close your eyes.

Finding a suitable posture and being still with eyes shut will facilitate your meditation.

3. Allow yourself to arrive

Giving yourself a moment to transition into meditation is another of Siff’s sensible suggestions and it promotes a kind approach to yourself.

Take time to find your position and adjust yourself as necessary in order to work towards stillness.

Reflect on where you have just been – physically or in your thoughts. Again take your time as you work towards beginning your meditation.

Some deeper breaths and gentle stretches can help.

You may to take a mental or physical note of any issues that are on your mind – jotting something down to return to later may assist you to let go of the day or night and bring your focus to your meditation.

4. Don’t be a try hard

Siff identifies gentleness as a condition for meditation. He notes our tendency to be self-critical and to want to do things well. However, a non-striving approach will help you to develop your meditation skills.

If you feel an urge to move, do not berate yourself or try to stifle the urge. It is useful if you can defer a reaction.

You may react automatically (and itch yourself, say), no drama. Maybe next time you can take a moment to see if the urge to move or itch passes. If it does not, moving is fine – however it is helpful if you can do so slowly and deliberately (rather than reactively).

Being forceful in meditation is counterproductive. Do not try to stop thoughts and feelings. Let them arise as they do. Try as best you can, not to judge your efforts and beat up on yourself. Go gently.

5. Behold…witness yourself meditating

And now notice what is happening.

Bring your attention to yourself and to the moment.

You can bring your attention to your breath if it helps – notice the inhalation and exhalation at the nostrils, or the inflation and deflation at the belly.

Or notice sensations – the touch of hands on your knees, the pressure of the floor beneath you, discomfort in your body perhaps.

Your mind will wander, thoughts and feelings will arise – notice these.

If you experience agitation or frustration, confusion or other disquiet, observe it in yourself. Does it pass? Does it come and go? Is it nagging at you?

Are you caught up in expectations or appraisals of your meditation?

Do you notice yourself trying to avoid some thoughts or emotions? Or are you relishing a moment of peace and satisfaction, not wanting to let it go.

Register whatever goes on and take an interest in it all.

All of this is meditating. And by doing these things you are:

  • developing your meditation skills
  • honing your capacity to pay attention
  • building awareness and understanding of yourself
  • improving your emotional regulation
  • becoming more resilient.

You are learning to let go and thereby to feel more in control.

Make a time, ease into it, be still, go gently and observe…

With these 5 simple (but not always easy steps) you will be meditating!

Do you have any pointers to add in comments? Or any lingering misgivings or questions? Let me know how you go…


Meditation For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The ultimate cheat sheet to meditation for beginners

From Meditation For Dummies, 4th Edition

Meditation is an age-old practice that can help relieve a host of ills brought on by the fast pace of modern life. All you need to meditate is a quiet place to sit, the ability to direct your attention, and a simple meditation technique. As long as you give it a well-intentioned try, you can’t go wrong.

Meditation is simple to do and doesn’t require any special equipment. You can, however, prepare yourself and your space in a number of ways and make sure you have some basic amenities:

  • Meditation cushion, bench, or favorite chair
  • Quiet, tidy spot, preferably reserved for meditation
  • Regular time slot, if possible
  • Loose-fitting, comfortable clothing
  • Phone turned off, answering-machine volume turned down low
  • Comfortable sitting position
  • Basic meditation technique(s)

Here are some other items you may want to include:

  • Stretches to prepare your body for sitting
  • Altar of special objects, pictures, candles, or incense
  • Warm sweater or shawl (if you tend to get cold)
  • Hallway or path for walking meditation, if you want
  • Meditation teacher to consult in case you get stuck or want to go deeper

Meditation is a practice that engages not only your mind, but also your body and spirit. Use the following tips to engage every aspect of your being in your meditation practice:

  • Discover how to relax your body (if you don’t already know) by practicing some deep relaxation techniques.
  • Experiment with different sitting positions (cross-legged, kneeling, on a chair) until you find one you can hold comfortably for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Explore the basic meditation techniques (mindfulness, loving-kindness, mantra, visualization), choose one, and stick with it — for a few weeks or months at least.
  • Take a meditation class with an experienced teacher, join a meditation group, or attend a meditation workshop or retreat, either online or in person.
  • Talk with your family about your interest in meditation to make sure they feel comfortable with your practicing at home.
  • Reflect on the many ways your mind stresses you out, as well as the power of meditation to help you work with your mind.
  • Remind yourself of the scientifically proven health benefits of meditation, from lower cholesterol to greater longevity to an enhanced immune system.
  • Consider what motivates you to meditate and rededicate yourself to the practice, especially if your enthusiasm flags.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle: Eat well, exercise regularly, and, if possible, avoid smoking, drinking, and watching too much TV or engaging in other mind-numbing activities, especially right before meditating.
  • Read spiritual books (if you’re so inclined) that connect you with the sacred and inspire your meditation.

To get the most from your meditation practice, you need to commit to it. When you start meditating regularly, you can reap myriad benefits — from lower stress and cholesterol to higher levels of satisfaction and happiness. Here are some tips for maximizing your meditation practice:

  • Meditate regularly — preferably every day.
  • Set aside a quiet area where you can meditate undisturbed.
  • Decide beforehand how long you’re going to meditate — and then follow through, no matter how restless or bored you become.
  • Don’t sit on a full stomach — wait at least an hour after a meal before meditating.
  • Find a comfortable sitting position — and be sure to gently straighten your spine.
  • Rest your tongue lightly on the roof of your mouth and breathe through your nose.
  • Take a few deep breaths before you start, and consciously relax your body on the exhalation.
  • Drop any expectations about what you’re supposed to be achieving or experiencing, and just let yourself be, exactly as you are.
  • As much as possible, extend the qualities of mind and heart you develop in your meditation to every area of your life.

It doesn’t take much to meditate the right way — especially because there really isn’t just one right way. If you’re concerned about your meditation practice, ask yourself the following questions. The closer you get to yes in response to each question, the better you’re doing!

  • Do I relax when I meditate, instead of tensing up?
  • Is my mind alert and aware, yet open and receptive?
  • Do I remember to come back to the focus of my meditation when my mind wanders off?
  • Do I remain relatively still, instead of fidgeting or shifting constantly?
  • Do I take one moment at a time, rather than trying to achieve some goal quieting my mind?
  • Am I enjoying my breath (or my mantra or other focus) instead of working hard to get it right?

Meditation techniques, meditation itself, tend to be relatively simple. Following is a brief list of ten of the most commonly practiced ones. You can use one technique exclusively, experiment with several techniques, or try one for a few months and then switch to a different one.

  • Repeating a meaningful word or phrase, known as a mantra
  • Following or counting your breaths
  • Paying attention to the sensations in your body
  • Cultivating love, compassion, forgiveness, and other healing emotions
  • Concentrating on a geometric shape or other simple visual object
  • Visualizing a peaceful place or a healing energy or light
  • Reflecting upon inspirational or sacred writings
  • Gazing at a picture of a holy being or saint
  • Contemplating the beauty to be found in nature, art, or music
  • Bringing mindful awareness to the present moment

Changing techniques frequently makes it hard to reap the full range of benefits you can realize by using a consistent technique for a period of time — a few weeks to a month at least.


Mindfulness For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The ultimate cheat sheet to meditation for beginners

From Mindfulness For Dummies, 3rd Edition

By Shamash Alidina

Whether you’re suffering from stress, fatigue, or illness or simply want to regain some balance in your life, mindfulness can help. These handy bite-size chunks of hands-on advice will help increase your understanding of mindfulness, outline some short meditations, and provide enough information to enable you to inject mindfulness into your life.

Your attitude to life makes all the difference. Use these attitudes to develop your capacity to be mindful, enabling you to live a more mindful life:

  • Curiosity – Become curious about your experience. How do you feel emotionally? What kind of thoughts are going through your head? What does your body feel at the moment?

  • Acceptance – Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. Mindfulness is about accepting how you feel right now, rather than denying it. Acceptance first, change comes later.

  • Kindness – Bring a sense of warm and caring compassion to your moment to moment experience. Be aware of your moment to moment experience with your heart as well as your head.

  • Letting go – You don’t need to try and hold on to pleasant experiences and push away unpleasant experiences. Have a sense of a light touch to your experience.

  • Non–judging – Observe whatever you are experiencing as it is, rather than classifying it into good or bad, or dis.

  • Non–striving – Allow yourself to experience whatever your experience is rather than creating a goal for some other experience and then striving to attain that different experience.

  • Patience – Change takes time. Foster your capacity to be patient.

  • Trust – Have confidence in the practice of mindfulness and in your inner self to guide you.

  • Beginner’s mind – Nurture your sense of being a beginner rather than an expert. ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.’

Your capacity to be mindful is most powerfully developed through mindfulness meditation. One of the most popular mindfulness meditations is mindfulness of breath. This involves being mindfully aware of your breath. Follow these steps to try mindfulness meditation out for yourself:

  1. Be aware of the sense of your own breathing. You don’t need to change the rate of your breath. Just feel the physical sensation of your breath entering and leaving the body.

    You can feel the breath in the nose, the throat, the chest or down in your belly. If possible, try and feel the breath in the belly as it’s more grounding and is more ly to make you feel relaxed.

  2. When your mind wonders off into thoughts, bring your attention back. It is the nature of thoughts to take your attention away from whatever you want to focus on, and into thoughts about the past or future, worries or dreams. Don’t worry about it.

    As soon as you realise that you’ve been thinking about something else, notice what you were thinking about, and gently guide your attention back to your breath. You don’t need to criticise yourself.

That’s it. Mindfulness of breath is as simple as that. Bring a sense of the mindful attitudes to your experience such as curiosity, kindness and acceptance. You can do this exercise for as short as a minute, or as long as an hour.

Mindfulness has three different aspects that operate together seamlessly to bring about a state of mindful awareness. Print out and pin up this list to remind yourself of what these are.

  • Intention – Your intention is what you hope to get from practising mindfulness. You may want stress reduction, greater emotional balance or to discover your true nature. The strength of your intention helps to motivate you to practise mindfulness on a daily basis, and shapes the quality of your mindful awareness.

  • Attention – Mindfulness is about paying attention to your inner or outer experience. Your mindful attention is mainly developed through various different types of meditation – either formal, traditional, or informal – when talking, cleaning or driving, for example.

  • Attitude – Mindfulness involves paying attention to certain attitudes, such as curiosity, acceptance and kindness.

We all have bad days; some are worse than others. When emotions become overwhelming, you can use this RAIN formula to help manage your feelings in a mindful way:

  • R – Recognise the emotion you’re feeling. Name the emotion in your mind if you can.

  • A – Accept the experience you’re having. Yes you probably don’t the feeling, but the reality is the emotion is here at the moment.

  • I – Investigate. Become curious about your experience. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What kind of thoughts are going through your mind?

  • N – Non-identification. See the emotion as a passing event rather than who you actually are, just as different images are reflected in a mirror but are not the mirror.

    Different emotions arise and pass in you, but are not you, yourself. The most powerful step is non-identification.

    Have the attitude ‘anger is arising and will soon pass away’ or ‘sadness is coming up in me, and at some point will dissolve’.

Sometimes you just need to do one step, whereas at other times you may want to work through the whole formula. Practise using the formula whenever you can, so when things become challenging for you, you’ll find it easier to use.

To deepen your mindful awareness, you need to practise a formal mindfulness meditation on a daily basis. Familiarise yourself with some of the following mediations. In time, you will become more mindful in your day to day life.

  • Body Scan Meditation – This meditation involves spending about half an hour or so, becoming aware of each part of your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, in a mindful way. This meditation is usually practised lying down.

  • Sitting Meditation – This involves being mindful of your chosen object of attention whilst in a sitting posture. You can be mindful of your breath, your body, sounds, thoughts, emotions, or practise choice-less awareness.

  • Mindful Movement – Taking time to do some yoga or stretching in mindful way is a powerful way of developing your capacity to be mindful, whilst at the same time becoming stronger and more flexible. Walking slowly and mindfully is also considered a wonderful way to practise formal mindfulness meditation. You don’t need to be physically still to practise meditation.

Mindfulness is more than a set of techniques to practice. Mindfulness is about questioning your identity and relationship to the world around you.

By understanding who you are at a deeper level, you are less affected by negative emotions, thoughts or physical sensations – you’re tackling the root of the problem.

For these reasons, it’s worth spending some time and effort to find out for yourself who you truly are. Try this:

  • Notice that your thoughts come and go. You are aware of your thoughts. You are that which is aware of thoughts – not the thoughts themselves.

  • Notice that your emotions come and go too. You are aware of the emotion rather than being the emotion itself. You are the observer of the emotion.

  • Observe that although your attention moves from one thing to another, your sense of being aware is always present. You’re always aware of something. Awareness is always on, and completely effortless. You are that awareness itself.

  • Reflect on the statement: ‘I cannot be that which I observe’. Just as your eye is not the book, because the eye is observing the book, so you are not your thoughts, emotions, sensations, perceptions because you are observing them. You are the witness of them. As the witness you are completely free of them.

  • Be as you are. You cannot become yourself, for you already are yourself! So, just relax and be as you are – effortless awareness. Awareness is your natural state – what you always have been and always will be.

    One of the most famous sages of the 20th Century, Nisargadatta put is this way: “Discover all that you are not – body, feelings, thoughts, time, space, this or that – nothing, concrete or abstract, which you perceive can be you. The very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive.”

The great thing about mindfulness is that you can practise it any time. Informal mindfulness meditation is when you practise mindfulness without carving out a special time for it. Here are ten examples of informal mindfulness meditation:

  • Mindful communication – When you are speaking or listening to someone else, become aware of the sound of your own voice, or the voice of the other person. Each time your mind wonders off into other thoughts, kindly guide your attention back to the conversation without criticising yourself if you can.

  • Mindful walking – The next time you’re walking somewhere, notice the sense of touch between your feet and the ground. Observe how your weight seamlessly transfers from one foot to the other, almost effortlessly. Smell the roses. Be in the presence of the present moment.

  • Mindful exercise – The next time you’re in the gym, going for a jog, swimming or playing a sport, become mindful of what’s going on. Focus your mindful attention on your own body, thoughts, emotions or the environment around you. Become curious about your experience.

  • Mindful working – Whatever your work is, by paying more attention to what you’re doing, you’re bound to achieve better results. Try reducing the amount of effort you make to pay attention, and let the focus be effortless, relaxed and calm, as best you can.

  • Mindful holidays – It’s easy to spend half your holiday thinking about the next holiday rather than actually being there. Feel the gentle warmth of the sun, put the camera down every now and then and connect with the scenery with your own eyes. Breathe the fresh air. Be grateful for having the time and money to go on holiday.

  • Mindful waiting – You need to wait in a queue in shops, in your car, on public transport. Instead of becoming frustrated, practise some mindfulness of breath. When you’re in traffic, notice the colour of the sky or trees. When in a supermarket, feel the calming sensation of your own breath.

  • Mindful listening to music –Getyourself comfortable, switch on your favourite piece of music and simply listen, moment by moment.

    As usual, after a while your mind will begin thinking of other things – just gently guide your mindful attention back to the sounds of the music. Be aware of both the sounds and the silence between the sounds.

    Notice how all sounds arise and fall back into the ever-present silence.

  • Be accepting of others – Allow other people to be human and make mistakes. Be prepared to accept apologies and forgive others for their indiscretions.

  • Stimulate your appetite for knowledge and experience – Stretch yourself by reading, studying and taking on new skills.

  • Live in the moment – Pause to sniff those roses. Take a break from speculating about the future and sifting over the past. Instead, put the full weight of your attention into the here and now.