Woman meditating outside

How to Meditate: A Step-by-Step Guide for Your Practice

Working meditation into your regular training routine is easier than you think, we promise.

By Team PelotonUpdated November 30, 2023


Meditation. When most people hear that word, they think of what seems like an impossible task: sitting still and quieting the mind. We’ve been told it’s good for us, that we should learn to clear our head of thoughts from time to time and just focus on breathing and being

That might seem like it’s easier said than done, but trust us, it truly isn’t that difficult when you put your mind to it. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, and millions of people meditate every day, enjoying all the benefits that come with it. If you’d like to be one of them, you’ve come to the right place!

This guide covers everything you’ll need to know to start and stay on your meditation journey. We talked to Peloton instructors Kristin McGee and Aditi Shah about what meditation is, different types of meditation, and how to get started. We’ll go over how to keep your mind focused, and what some of the most comfortable positions for meditation are. And we’ll also discuss the benefits of guided versus self-guided meditation, advice for establishing a daily routine, and how long you should meditate each time for best results. 

What is Meditation?

Meditation means thinking deeply or carefully about something, or focusing one’s mind for a period of time. In practice, meditation is harnessing your awareness in order to quiet the mind and connect to the self. While meditation has ties to numerous religions, it’s much more than an inward spiritual experience.

Benefits of Meditation

Not surprisingly, regularly calming your mind can lead to a wide range of benefits that can affect quality of life. Research has revealed that what happens inside the brain while meditating can positively affect a person’s mental and physical health. Some of the more well-known perks associated with a consistent meditation practice include:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety

  • Improved sleep quality

  • Increased focus and attention

  • Better memory

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Greater mind-body connection

Meditation and the Brain

Before we dive more deeply into what meditation can do for the body, it’s important to start at the source and learn a little about its effect on the brain. Research on this subject has shown both structural and functional brain changes in people who have practiced meditation long-term. 

For instance, neuroimaging studies have shown that the brain’s connectivity changes in people who meditate, and that meditation might be able to induce brain plasticity, increasing the brain’s capacity to change and adapt. The practice of meditation may also reduce age-related brain degeneration and improve cognitive function. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, meditation usually affects those areas of the brain that manage or control your senses, your ability to think and concentrate, and your ability to process emotions, suggesting the brains of people who meditate regularly are healthier. They also have a stronger ability to deal with and process negative emotions like fear, anger, and grief.

Meditation and the Body

The benefits of meditation go beyond your brain. We’ve already seen how regular meditation can lower blood pressure, and studies indicate that mindfulness meditation might also be an effective tool for managing pain. The mind has significant power to affect the body’s health and well-being, and practicing body scan meditations (which we’ll discuss later) to bring conscious awareness to any areas of pain or discomfort can offer relief.

And if you’ve got specific fitness goals, you’ll be happy to know that meditation can change your workouts for the better, too. As you build your awareness through regular meditation, you’ll become more in tune with your body and be able to correct imbalances or make changes in your breathing that make workouts more effective. When practiced consistently and in tandem with your physical workout, meditation can help make you more fit by boosting your energy, helping you focus on goals, and equipping you to tap into your mental strength to breathe through discomfort. 

Meditation and Anxiety

Those who suffer from anxiety know that being anxious can often make you more anxious, a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. But you guessed it: Meditation can help. Quieting your mind and breathing through your anxious thoughts—instead of trying to dismiss or combat them—can help you work through difficult emotions. Training your mind to reach a state of tranquility will help you develop the mental muscle needed to address and eliminate the anxious thoughts and feelings that affect your emotional well-being.  

Woman meditating

Who Should Meditate?

Just about anyone can benefit from meditation. No matter what stage of life you’re in, learning how to regularly quiet your mind and control your thoughts can add to your quality of life in a noticeable way. The practice of meditation doesn’t require special gadgets or training, just a quiet space and the understanding that it takes repeated sessions (sometimes even a lifetime!) to hone the skill. And as with any new health practice, you can always consult with health professionals to ensure that it’s right for you. 

Types of Meditation

There are different ways to meditate and different types of meditations you can try, and depending on your goals, you may find one more useful than the other. For variety's sake, you may also feel like testing different types to keep things interesting. 

“It’s like when you’re first discovering yoga. You might realize you love Vinyasa and you’re not so much a fan of Power, or you might like Ashtanga or Restorative,” Kristin says. “I feel like it’s the same with meditation types. You might have to sample a couple of them, and that’s what’s so great about the Peloton App. We have varieties you can try before you decide what works best for you.”

Let’s take a look at a few of the more popular forms of meditation and what their goals are through regular practice.

Loving Kindness Meditation 

The goal of loving-kindness meditation is to cultivate love, compassion, and acceptance for oneself and for all living beings. Through visualization exercises, you’ll focus on receiving love, happiness, and fulfillment in yourself, and once that emotional state has been achieved, you’ll send love to someone else. 

Kristin suggests you start by thinking: May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free. “It's thinking about other people, someone you love, someone you might not have a great relationship with, someone who’s neutral, the environment, everyone…and then coming back to bring that loving kindness to yourself.”  

Body Scan Meditation

This type of meditation is especially helpful for someone experiencing anxiety or physical pain. It’s a systemic, full-body meditation exercise meant to bring awareness to the entire body in order to relieve tension. 

During body scan meditation, participants begin by drawing their attention to the top of their head and then slowly, with intention, scanning the full body and breathing into areas of discomfort. Once they reach their feet, they’re encouraged to repeat the full-body scan back up to the crown of their head. 

This meditation type is a good one for beginners. “Body scans are a great way for newer participants to come into meditation because you really are going through your entire body and focusing on relaxing your feet, and then your legs, and so on, so you have something to keep you guided the whole time,” says Kristin. 

Guided Meditation 

Guided meditation is a highly popular form because it helps participants let go of their practice and release control to the teacher, whether in-person or remotely. The guide will talk participants through the meditation process and will often encourage them to focus on certain mental images or feelings in order to bring them into the present moment.

Meditation for Beginners 

There are many meditation resources for beginners. Those new to the practice are often encouraged to try guided meditation specifically created for beginners. These meditations might be a little shorter or simpler, and will create a foundation for people to build on as they become more comfortable with their practice. 

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation uses this everyday movement to encourage participants to focus on each step, each breath, and each feeling that comes with noticing the ground beneath one’s feet. This is great for beginners because it allows for meditation in motion, taking away the challenge of remaining still. 

Gratitude Meditation 

The purpose of gratitude meditation is to encourage participants to reflect on the good things—small or large—in their lives and express thankfulness and appreciation for them. It can be done through journaling, where participants write down what they’re grateful for, or by creating a mental list to reflect on during a set time period. 

Sleep Meditation 

It’s no secret that good sleep is the foundation for good health and better energy. Sleep meditation is meant to help calm the mind and relax the body to promote deeper sleep. It prepares the mind through mental and physical techniques that help slow the heart rate down, deepen breathing patterns, and boost serotonin levels. Practiced consistently, it can change a person’s sleep habits for the better. 

How to Meditate

Most beginners are surprised to learn there really aren’t any rules to meditation. What’s most important is to find a way to get your body and mind out of autopilot by taking time to breathe and settle into stillness. How you choose to meditate is completely up to you, but it should almost always involve finding a quiet place and getting your body comfortable. For some, this might be sitting cross-legged with eyes closed. For others, it could be lying down on a bed or exercise mat with a weighted eye pillow and noise-canceling headphones. There’s no right or wrong; only what works for you and will keep you engaged and committed to creating this new habit. 

“It doesn’t have to be formal,” Kristin says. “You don’t have to wait for the perfect time or place—you can really meditate anywhere.”

How to Focus Your Mind

Another misconception about meditation is that your mind must be completely blank for the duration of your session. Kristin wants to debunk that idea. “Your mind is always going to have active thoughts—they call it the monkey mind,” she says. “So the goal isn’t to eliminate them, but to have them and still be able to get back to the space you want in your meditation practice.” 

While the aim of meditation is to clear mental clutter and quiet the mind, even the most experienced enthusiasts will tell you they get distracted during their meditative state. Thoughts will always come, but the challenge is to see the thought for what it is: just something to be aware of for a moment and then move on from. The key, Kristin says, is learning how to let those thoughts subside or stay in the background for a little bit longer than usual. 

“Every now and then, you’ll find a pocket in your meditation where you’re not aware of anything and you’re really not thinking much, and then all of a sudden, another thought will come up and you’ll be like, ‘Whoa, for a second I was really deep in my meditation!’” 

It’ll take practice to quiet the mind, but knowing there’s no need to villainize your thoughts will help take the pressure off your goal of entering a truly meditative state. 

The easiest way to get in the right mindset is to focus on your breathing, allowing that to be the place your awareness comes back to whenever your attention starts to wander. Focus on deepening your inhales, on their sound as they pass through your nose, and on having steady, measured exhales. As thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them, and then slowly go back to awareness of the breath. 

“You have to find what works best for you,” Kristin says. “You can focus on the breath, which is a great place to start. You can take a moment to just follow your inhales and exhales or count your breaths or the time it takes to inhale and the time it takes to exhale. Or you can notice the temperature of your breath, or if you’re breathing more through one side of your nose than the other. Breathing is just an easy, accessible tool you can use at any point.” 

She recommends trying box breathing: Inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold empty for a count of four. 

Another great way to focus the mind is to find a mantra, a meaningful phrase or affirmation you can repeat in your mind to bring your focus back when it starts to drift. This is Kristin’s favorite way to achieve mindfulness. “If you’re keeping your mind on a specific thought or phrase, even if it’s just ‘I am kind’ the entire time, then if your mind goes off, you can just bring it right back in through repetition,” she says. 

It might not be easy at first, and you might find yourself frustrated at times when your mind starts to wander, but the more you practice, the faster you’ll be able to shift your awareness back to your breathing or your mantra. Eventually, with practice, you’ll find the thoughts are fewer and farther between.

Man meditating

How to Find a Comfortable Position

The success of your newfound meditation practice will depend, to a large degree, on finding the meditation posture that’s right for you. The more comfortable you are physically during your meditation, the more likely you’ll be able to clear and relax your mind. The three most popular positions for meditation are:

1. Seated 

A seated posture is most likely the first one that comes to mind when you picture someone meditating. But seated meditation isn’t the same for everyone. You don’t have to sit ramrod straight with your legs crossed and your hands held out—only if that’s how you’re most comfortable. You’re welcome to start out sitting in a chair or against a wall if that’s what feels best. Or you could grab your mat for a little extra comfort. The goal is to be comfortable, but not so comfortable that you’re lulled into slouching, slumping, or sleeping. 

2. Lying Down 

Lying down is ideal for body scan meditations or guided meditations that are geared toward encouraging sleep and restfulness. Try to lie flat on a mat so that your spine remains straight and your breathing is easy. This might mean moving onto your side, which is fine. If it helps you to be more comfortable, you can use a pillow for your head or under your knees. You can also place a thin or weighted blanket over your body for extra warmth and grounding. 

3. Walking 

If sitting or lying still feels too confining, that’s okay. A lot of meditation enthusiasts choose to go on meditative walks, finding that the easy, repetitive movement allows them to focus their minds a little better. As with the other postures, the key is to keep your spine straight while you walk and to move at a slow enough pace that you can focus on your breathing as you move to quiet your mind. 

Guided vs Self-Guided Meditation

Once you’ve settled on the right position, it’s time to decide if you want to guide yourself through your meditation, or if you’d rather be guided by another means. Both are good choices, but for a beginner, we recommend you start with a guided experience. You’ll have a qualified meditation teacher or expert leading you through the fundamentals of your practice, providing verbal prompts to direct your mind and physical prompts to direct your posture and breathing. 

It’s nice to have someone help you stay on track, especially when first starting out. Focusing your mind can take a lot of effort, and relying on a professional guide can help keep you relaxed so you can concentrate on entering a state of mindfulness. 

However, going forward, it’s a good idea to try self-guided sessions too. Sometimes meditating alone is exactly what your body and mind may need. It allows you to pay attention to certain thoughts and feelings as they come up, and structure your meditation in a way that meets your needs in the moment. 

Both guided and self-guided meditation tend to yield the same results, and meditation enthusiasts often use a combination of both in their everyday lives and routines. 

Establishing a Daily Routine

So how do you establish a meditation routine that works for you and that’s easy to keep? Here’s Kristin’s advice:

“For me, it’s best to meditate twice a day, every day. I do it first thing in the morning, which I find sets me up for success and allows for more presence and awareness throughout my day. Also, you’re more likely to stick with it before the day’s distractions get in the way. For my second meditation, I take a mid-afternoon break; that time when you feel like you need a coffee or a candy bar is when you can do your second meditation because it resets your system. That second one gives you another tank full of meditative power and mindfulness.”

The key is finding the best time and place for you and your lifestyle. Once you’ve settled on it, block it off on your schedule and honor that commitment. It also helps to create an environment that’ll encourage you to meditate more comfortably and with less distraction, especially when first getting started. Kristin suggests creating a dedicated space in your home you can go to, your own meditation zone. 

Just make sure you're scheduling your meditation when you'll get the most out of it, Aditi adds. "Find a time when it’s not an obligation and a seat that you can truly commit to without getting frustrated or antsy," she says. And remember to be gentle with yourself: "You aren’t going to be perfect the first time . . . or the first 100 times. There is no perfection. Part of meditation is a non-judgmental approach. So do your best, but get rid of the guilt. Don’t beat yourself up."

How Long Should You Meditate?

One of the unique benefits of meditation that sets it apart from other wellness routines is that it can be highly effective in small doses. Some studies show that meditating a mere nine minutes a day is enough to reap the benefits. You can start out by devoting five minutes to mindfulness, and slowly build on that until you’ve reached 30 or even 60 minutes of meditation a day. Before you know it, you’ll likely find yourself craving your mindfulness time and will work to increase it. 

A Healthier, Happier You 

Kristin wants all meditation beginners to remember that the beauty of the practice is that it’s accessible to everyone and doesn't need to be a complicated process. 

“I think a lot of times people are afraid to begin a meditation practice because they're worried they can't do it or that their mind is too active,” she says. “But it's okay to have an active mind! Just finding even five minutes a day to sit and be with yourself is part of the process.” 

If you’re ready to get started, check out some guided meditations taught by Kristin and her fellow Peloton instructors on the Peloton App.


Level up your inbox.

Subscribe for a weekly dose of fitness, plus the latest promos, launches, and events.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.