Meditation 101: How to get started and different types of meditation to try

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person sitting and meditating in a quiet room

Meditation involves focusing your attention to help you feel calm and give you more awareness. It’s an ancient mental practice that includes different styles and techniques — like mindfulness. Meditation has many health benefits for your body and mind, including:

  • Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Improving sleep and controlling pain

A consistent, long-term meditation practice has also been shown to make positive changes to the brain in the areas that affect stress and anxiety.* So, if you’re ready to reap the benefits of meditation but aren’t sure where to start, we’re here to guide you on your journey.

Tips for beginners

"First thing you’ll want to do is set up your meditation hygiene, similar to sleep hygiene," Sanjay Kapoor, director of the Enterprise Customer and Market Action Team at Kaiser Permanente and co-creator of MindfulHub — a volunteer program that promotes and hosts mindful activities, like group meditation, for Kaiser Permanente employees. "Create a meditation spot and choose a specific time of day to dedicate to your practice. Make sure the place will allow you to meditate, undisturbed, for at least 15 to 20 minutes. This will help make it a routine to build a habit." Kapoor also recommends the following tips for beginners who are starting their practice.

Keep it simple and go at your own speed

You don’t need to do anything complicated to start a meditation routine. Just find a quiet place and set an intention for how long you’d like to meditate. If you can’t do a full 15 to 20 minutes, start by sitting for 5 minutes and increase gradually every day. If you have trouble sitting, try lying down instead.

Do light exercise or deep breathing before getting started

The mind and the body are connected. And a relaxed body has a better chance of achieving a calm mind. So doing light exercise or movement before meditation can help you get a deeper sense of calm as you meditate. This can be as simple as shaking out your hands and feet, stretching, or taking a few deep breaths.

Find your anchor

It’s helpful to have an anchor that gently brings you back to the present moment. This is especially true when you’re starting your meditation practice. It’s natural for the mind to wander. But when it does, you can use your anchor to bring you back to the present moment. An anchor can be focusing on your breath, listening to a guide, or repeating an affirmation.

Observe your thoughts without judgment

There seems to be an expectation with meditation that you must have no thoughts. But thoughts will come — that’s natural. Instead of fighting your thoughts, simply observe them as if they were clouds passing in the sky. Your thoughts may start to connect. For example, you start thinking about what to make for dinner and if you have enough ingredients. When this happens, bring your awareness back to your anchor.

Let go of expectations and comparisons

Approach every meditation session with a sense of curiosity, letting go of specific expectations and goals. Each session may be different — and that’s okay.

Find a community

Meditating with a group can help you make social connections and inspire you to stay dedicated to your practice. "Finding a community is so important," Kapoor explains. "We meditate alone, but with a good community we can still be together supporting one another, even when we’re all in separate locations."

5 meditation types to try

You can use the above tips and apply them to most types of meditation. Here are a few meditation types to consider.

Mindfulness meditation

This is a common form of meditation. In mindfulness meditation, you pay close attention to what you’re feeling, thinking, and sensing in the moment. You don’t judge your thoughts. Instead, you focus on staying present.

Breath awareness meditation

This is a form of mindfulness meditation — and one of the most straightforward. The goal is to simply observe your breath. Take notice of how it feels going in through your nose, expanding into your lungs, and how your belly rises and falls.

Body-scan meditation

During this type of meditation, you’ll make a mental scan of your entire body and observe how you’re feeling. A good place to focus on first is your head. Then work your way down to your feet, moving your awareness to each area. You can simply observe how that area is feeling or you can imagine breathing energy or healing to that area before moving to the next part of your body. Body scan is another type of mindfulness meditation.

Loving-kindness meditation

In this type of meditation, you can use a mantra (often a repeated word or sound) or positive phrase to promote feelings of love and compassion. While focusing on deep breaths, open your mind to receiving love and kindness. You can also use the meditation time to mentally send messages of love to yourself or others.

Walking or moving meditation

This type of meditation can be done with any type of movement. It’s meant to connect your thoughts with your body as you move. Focus your awareness on the type of activity you’re doing as you do it — instead of doing it automatically. Think about each step as you take it, how it makes you feel, and the sensations you experience. Yoga is an excellent form of movement meditation where your mind, body, and breath are all connected. And forest bathing is a great type of walking meditation. It also gives you the added health benefits of being in nature.

Bottom line

Whether it’s your first time meditating or you want to find a new way to practice, we have many resources to help support your meditation journey. You can take advantage of our podcasts, self-care apps, videos, and more.

*C. Behan, The Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness Practices During Times of Crisis Such as COVID-19, Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, May 1, 2020.