In this article, we’ll look at the four best guided meditations for beginners and you’ll get the chance to try out several. I’ve chosen these because they are simple yet powerful and serve as the bedrock for all future practice.
These exercises are ubiquitous to many contemplative systems that date back hundreds and thousands of years. Don’t underestimate their power, especially when practiced diligently over months and years. They contain the seeds of deep transformation.
In case you’re a beginner and this is the first time you’ve learned about mindfulness meditation, let’s quickly summarise what it is.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
When we strip mindfulness back to its underlying principles, we see that it’s really about attention. But it’s a special kind of attention: a deliberate attempt to pour our focus on to our present experience and fully savour it. Ultimately every moment, every experience, is a vehicle for our practice.
Mindfulness is a form of training – it’s hard. We’re essentially training a muscle. That’s because the human default is to experience life with 10% attention, like constantly driving with less than a quarter of a tank. We can’t expect to be happy, have poise and control, fully appreciate our experiences, or know ourselves to any great depth when operating at 10% capacity.
In each of these practices, we’ll strengthen our mindfulness muscle by paying exquisite attention to our senses.
That’s the core of this practice, and here are some articles to deepen your understanding before trying out the four techniques.
You can also learn the three fundamental skills here: Introduction to Unified Mindfulness.
Let’s look at the four best guided meditations for beginners.
Best Guided Meditations #1: Breath Meditation
Breathing practices are ubiquitous in the modern meditation and yoga world and present in many of the world’s contemplative traditions. Beginners to any form of spiritual work are likely to start the journey with a breath practice. There are several varieties of this form of meditation. We’ll go for an attention-based approach, in keeping with my explanation of mindfulness above.
Why is the breath found universally in spiritual practice?
The breath is not just for beginners. Think of it as a reliable and ever-present anchor for our awareness. The breath is always there, whether we realise it or not. It enables us to drop below the surface agitations of the mind into calmness and stability. The agitation may still be there, but we’re anchored in a lower part of the body. For this reason, the breath provides an effective way to tune in to the present.
Awareness of the breath boosts our poise, discernment, clear seeing, and awakeness, helping us to respond appropriately rather than losing balance and reacting unconsciously to life.
It also fits perfectly with the first stage of meditation practice, which involves gaining perspective on our mental whirlwind and seeing beyond it.
As a beginner meditator, it’s crucial to realise that you’re not being asked to think about your breathing. You’re being asked to become aware of the breath by feeling the sensations associated with it and attending to their changing qualities.
Get going with this guided breath practice.
This practice is the first step in Mahasi Sayadaw’s Four-Step Vipasanna system.
Let’s discuss the next of the best guided meditations.
Best Guided Meditations #2: Body Scan
We humans don’t tend to live in the body moment to moment, rather we act out automatic programmes. When we walk, for example, we don’t walk with full awareness of our body, with a strong posture, with a spirit of freedom and exploration. We usually walk with 10 things on our mind, walking from habit, our body contorting as we enact those old programmes.
Like breathing meditation, awareness of the body appears in many different spiritual traditions, and for good reason. The body scan is often the first body-related exercise beginners meet on their journey.
There are some clear benefits to practicing the body scan. It puts you in touch with the physical and emotional bodies, which you might have neglected for years. You might feel things that have been buried under the surface.
This can help you better detect emotional states, conditions, and physical ailments. You may then take better care of your body and change how you live life based on this new connection.
And with time, developing this high-quality awareness of the body changes your experience of it. You see the sensations as transient, vibrant, transparent, translucent. You start to undo the sense of solidity and realise that your body isn’t separate from anything you’re experiencing. This helps us see that the body is whole, regardless of its present state, because it’s connected to everything else in our senses.
We also practice equanimity and letting go of physical tension, which can reduce blockages in the body and help our body experience flow easier. This brings a sense of purification and opening.
Give #2 of the best guided meditations a try:
Best Guided Meditations #3: Awareness of Thoughts
One of the biggest learning curves for beginners is discovering our relationship to thought. But this challenge also offers the possibility of enormous transformation if we’re diligent enough.
Before meditation, we’re absolutely attached to our thinking. Thoughts are simply interwoven with our actions and our identity, and we’ve little chance of gaining distance from them.
What’s more, thinking is the human brain’s default mode – so often are we lost in thought that neuroscientists have a name for the brain network responsible for our mind-wandering: the Default Mode Network (DMN). This brain scheme activates when there is nothing else calling our attention.
So it’s inevitable that we’ll come face to face with our thinking, no matter what technique we practice. We realise just how much is going on in the mind, and this can be disconcerting.
All contemplative techniques include tips for how to divert attention away from the wandering mind, but we can also work with it directly.
Awareness of the Mind
Here’s the short version. We’re going to use the UM System to practice this technique, so do check out the article for further details.
We rest our attention on the mental screen and begin the noting process: Acknowledging, Labelling and Savouring the activity.
In this audio, we work with mental chatter:
Best Guided Meditations #4: Awareness of Senses
This is really a collection of many techniques where we develop awareness of sight, sound and touch. We can practice awareness of sounds, music, temperature, sights, colours, shapes, tastes, smells and more. There is no end to what you can explore in the senses.
Though there are dozens of options here, a great practice for beginners is sound meditation. You can do this with eyes closed or eyes open. Let’s describe this using the terminology of the UM System.
This is a subset of Focus Out. So we set aside a fixed period of time and run cycles of Acknowledge, Label and Savour on the sounds in the environment.
The beauty of sound is the number of variables to explore: volume, pitch, tone, location, and more. Within one sound there are also hundreds of tiny sounds for us to pay attention to.
It also connects us to what’s going on around us in the senses, weakening the tyranny of the mind, and bringing us into the present – where we really are, not where we think we are.
Give it a try:
There’s always sound around us – even if it’s only silence – meaning we can bring this practice into everyday life. Speaking of which…
Taking This Into Daily Life
Finally, let’s talk about meditation in daily life. In my early journey, I was fortunate to find teachers that encouraged me to bring it into my daily life as soon as possible. It has definitely paid off.
And while this is really an entire mode of practice rather than a single technique, it’s so important that I simply had to include it in my list. And below I have plenty practice-in-life techniques – 17 to be precise – for you to choose from.
I suggest you supplement your formal, sitting practice with one of the techniques from my article 17 Great Practices For Meditation In Daily Life. You can also get creative and adapt your current techniques to your circumstances.
More broadly, try to bring these skills into everything you do from day one. The more you practice, the more automatic this will become. Your first response to life will be a mindful one, and you’ll be able to drop into a meditative state whenever you want or need to.
Why Are These Great For Beginners?
You might be wondering why I suggested these practices for beginner meditators.
First, and most importantly, these practices ground you in the fundamental skills. You’re developing your attention skills, the very ones you’ll use later on in your journey.
These practices are all simple too. There are no complex instructions. They’re so easy that you can bring them out wherever you are, incorporating them into your everyday life from day one. And it allows me to keep the jargon simple and understandable for newbies.
They’re also accessible for all skill levels. I’m not asking you to fall into witnessing consciousness or sense how subject and object are one. They’re sense-based, and they don’t depend on pre-existing skills.
So get going with these techniques – there’s plenty to explore here. And do check out my Learn How to Meditate series for more free meditation articles!