Mindful meditation has become incredibly popular for stress reduction in recent years.

Considering its roots in Buddhism, it may seem an unlikely candidate for such prominence in Western culture. Even so, it’s clear why so many people love it: it gives the opportunity to get out of your head; a chance to escape the hectic schedules and racing thoughts; and reduces stress and improves mood.

How to meditate 

So, right now, I want you to try not to think of a white bear.

Meditation is about acknowledging thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way, not suppressing them.

I bet you thought about a white bear. This is because when you try not to think about something, you actually activate that thought in your brain — which is obviously the opposite of what you wanted.

That’s why one of the most fundamental things to remember when starting out at meditation is avoiding the temptation to suppress thoughts.

Instead, it’s about noticing a thought then gently bringing your focus back to your meditative task. Thinking and feeling is fine, acknowledge it; then move on.

It’s ok that these thoughts and feelings are there.     

Meditation is about consciously paying attention to the self, in the present moment, in a non-judgemental way. And you can do it in small stages.

Why not set a timer for one minute, and just close your eyes and listen to your breath until the time is up. Anyone can do a minute. And if you can do one, maybe you can do two; and if you can do two, maybe you can do three…

Two common types of meditation are mindfulness of breath and the body scan.

Mindfulness of breath is usually done in a seated position and involves focusing on your breathing. Notice how fast or slow it is, the way the tummy rises and falls with it, the feeling of it passing in and out of your nostrils.

Sometimes it helps to put your hands on your belly, so you can feel the rise and fall on a more tactile basis.

The body scan is usually practiced lying down – but not exclusively. It involves shifting your awareness sequentially to each part of the body, noticing any pleasant or unpleasant feelings. This can include tension or the sensation of a body part being in contact with something.

It is important to be physically comfortable and relaxed as much as possible when meditating, as this will make it easier to focus. 

What you need to meditate

In theory, all you need is yourself. 

There are meditation cushions or blankets you can use, to make yourself more comfortable, but you could also just sit on your bed to begin with.

If you need a little more encouragement and guidance, there are loads of resources out there to support you.

There are numerous apps available to help get you started, such as Headspace (available on iPhones), which gives you a 10-day mindfulness course for free. If you want to continue, you have to pay, but maybe after 10 days you’ll have the hang of it.

If you’re an Android user, why not try out the mindfulness meditation feature on Mental Workout. Again, you have to pay for the full app, but you can get some elements for free.

If you’re not a fan of somebody talking to you, sit down with a timer. Or try Meditation (available on iPhones), which allows you to set a meditation length – and it comes with chime sounds and the option to chime at intervals. These aren’t the only apps available, so it’s worth seeing what’s out there. 

If guidance is what you’re after, I’d recommend streaming or downloading some guided meditation audio, which will help you to focus.

Try not to get disheartened if you find it challenging to focus in the beginning: meditation is a skill, which needs to be learned and practiced if you’re going to be able do it effectively.

Where to meditate

You may want to consider enrolling on a mindfulness course: this will come at a cost financially, but could be well worth it for the benefits to wellbeing you’ll get as a result.

A lot of buddhist meditation retreats run on a dharma system, which means you pay a donation at the end. This could be a great way of introducing yourself to the art of meditation as well as a few other mindful practices along the way.

Dhanakhosha is a retreat in the Scottish Highlands, which combines an introduction to meditation with various other activities, such as hillwalking or yoga or even photography. This is a nice way to ease yourself in.

There are tonnes of such retreats across the UK, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find the one for you. I wouldn’t recommend starting with a silent retreat, however, as that can be a little too intense for a beginner, and often doesn’t come with the same level of guidance.

Why not find a quiet spot and give it a go right now? There’s little to lose and lots to gain, so go for it. Happy meditating!