Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, has become extremely popular over the last few years. While meditation can be very simple, there are several common mistakes and misconceptions about meditation that you’ll want to avoid if you’re new to the practice.

Getting started on the right foot increases the odds of maintaining your meditation practice and getting the most benefits from it.

Tips to avoid meditation pitfalls

1. Sit up straight. Slouching may be comfortable for a couple of minutes, but it takes more strength than you think to support poor posture. Sit up straight and let your skeleton support your weight.

2. Start slowly. Just a couple of minutes is enough to start. There are two good reasons for this. It’s easier to be compliant when you only have to sit for three minutes at a time. It’s also challenging to meditate for an extended period of time if you’re not experienced.

3. Meditate multiple times each day. By sitting for just a couple of minutes, several times a day, you can begin to see the benefits of becoming more mindful throughout your day. Smaller sessions can also help you get in the habit of being present and breathing.

4. It’s all about the breath. Speaking of breathing…your breath connects you to the moment and helps to keep your mind focused. The breath isn’t something to be focused on intensely, rather it acts as an anchor to maintain awareness of the present.

5. Count if necessary. If your mind wonders frequently, count during your breathing. Dr. Andrew Weil shares the 4-7-8 breathing technique in this video. Breathe in to a count of 4, hold for 7, and exhale through your mouth to a count of 8. (This is a breathing technique I teach my clients so they can relax at any time, anywhere.)

6. Keep your eyes opened slightly. It’s easier for your mind to wander from the present if your eyes are closed. Keep your gaze lowered and soft. (See if this works for you. If it’s better for you to close your eyes, do what works for you.)

7. Acknowledge thoughts but avoid dwelling on them. All thoughts should be treated the same. They’re just chatter passing through. Let them go and return your attention to the breath. Don’t be hard on yourself if thoughts are constantly popping up. You can even say something like, “Thanks for sharing” while you let the thought pass.

8. Be patient. It seems like it should be easy to relax and just “be” for a few minutes, but the mind likes to stay busy. It’s a challenging habit to break. The Buddha describes the mind as “Monkey Mind.” There’s a fun article on “Buddha: How to Tame Your Monkey Mind” here. Just be gentle and patient with yourself. If you’ve been used to a day filled with go, go, go, this may take a bit to shift. So take small steps and be patient.

9. Sit comfortably. It’s not necessary to sit with your legs folded up like a pretzel. Any position that can be held comfortably for the planned time is good enough.

10. Use a timer. This is something that helps me so much, even now. Without a timer, you’ll find yourself worrying about the time and continue to peek at the clock. Set a reliable timer and you won’t be as preoccupied with the time.

11. Increase your meditation time by 5 minutes each week. Avoid the temptation to progress too quickly. Ideally, you’ll look forward to your meditation sessions. Progressing too quickly causes restlessness and agitation.

12. Consider learning from others. There are many free opportunities to meditate with others. Look for local meetup groups or contact your local Buddhist temple. With so many people meditating, you’re bound to find an expert willing to help.

13. Take every opportunity to meditate. Meditating at home under perfect conditions is great practice, but the ultimate goal is to have the ability to meditate anywhere. A skilled meditator can meditate on a 99-degree packed, loud, smelly, subway. (This takes some times, so don’t expect to be doing this in your first month.) Consistency, not perfection, is the goal here.

14. Be persistent. If you’re meditating each day with the full intention of improving, you’ll eventually become a skilled meditator.

15. Stretch first. Your meditation position should be comfortable and easy. If your position feels like a stretch, you won’t be comfortable. Stretch first.

16. Place your hands comfortably on your lap.  Don’t worry about the perfect position for your hands. Just relax and have them anywhere that’s comfortable for you.

Meditation and mindfulness can bring you both mental and physical benefits. Use these tips when beginning to meditate and you’ll quickly become skillful at a practice you can enjoy for the rest of your life.

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