Ask Coach Jean: How do I start meditating?

Note – this was originally published on my old website on 3/13/2016.

Coach Jean, I hear a lot about meditation and “mindfulness,” should I be doing it? Where should I start?

Quick Summary:

Get curious about why you’d like to meditate and start small with just a few minutes a day. Find a daily time and use guided meditations on an app, podcast or CD then develop your own customized practice.

How to Start:

1. First, ask yourself why you have decided to begin meditating. Some of the most common reasons people meditate are:

  • Reducing general and social anxiety
  • Dealing with stress at home and work
  • Deepening a yoga practice and/or strengthening the mind-body connection
  • Resolving compulsive (over)eating
  • Including as part of mental health therapy/treatment

2. Next, understand the difference between meditation and mindfulness.

Meditation is a practice within the approach of mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of the mindfulness movement, defines mindfulness as, paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

The goal of mindfulness is to be “awake” in life rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

In order to be awake, practicing meditation (like doing bicep curls to strengthen your arms), strengthens your brain and body’s ability to come back to the present moment again and again throughout the day.

In this way, mindfulness and practicing meditation are not about “clearing your mind” or “reaching Zen,” rather, they are a way of listening, feeling, and tapping into what is happening right now so that you are in the habit of doing it even when life gets challenging.

Mindfulness, therefore, is not associated with any religion or doctrine, but mindfulness meditations do borrow from various styles of religious-based meditation.

3. Just like exercise, start with 10 to 20 minutes each day, and feel free to break it up into 5 to 10 minute increments. To remember to do it, try to meditate everyday at the same time, right before or after an activity your already do consistently:

  • Just after waking up
  • Right before bed
  • At a morning, lunchtime, or afternoon break
  • Before or after exercise
  • Before or after brushing your teeth

4. Choosing the right kind of meditation for you is a process of experimentation. Many people have good success starting out with guided meditations where you sit quietly and listen to a practitioner lead you through various techniques like focusing on your breath, performing a body scan, visualizing a peaceful scene, or discovering emotions.

Top Tips for Success:

  • Jon Kabat-Zinn now has 3 meditation apps available for download which include shorter (10 minutes) and longer (1 hour) practices on breathing, body scans, and more.
  • Headspace is a popular app which creates a game out of building a meditation practice.
  • Deepak Chopra and Oprah host free 21-day meditation “challenges” throughout the year with various themes, also available through and app, online, or CD.