Dharma Bits

Bits · Getting Started

How-to Get Started with Mindfulness Meditation

The guide below is meant to be followed casually. Take your time, and let meditation enter your life at whatever pace feels right to you.

1) Do your first guided meditation

Your first meditation should be a guided meditation, where a recording takes you through the process. There are several places you can find free, guided meditations. I recommend this one or any of these as a place to start. Various mobile apps are also great places to start. I like Insight Timer.

When you’ve chosen a guided meditation to follow, find a comfortable place to sit, where you won’t be distracted for a few minutes. Silence your phone. Sit comfortably. Then, follow the guided meditation.

Here’s a good text version of the meditation in case you’d rather read a bit before trying it.

2) Don’t be hard on yourself when you inevitably get lost in thought or sleepy

Being lost in thought or sleepy does not mean you’re a bad meditator. The mind does an amazing job of staying busy! And it’s natural to become sleepy when you relax. Be kind to yourself — do not judge yourself. There is no such thing as a bad meditator.

When your mind runs and you eventually notice you’ve been lost in thought, pause for a moment, be aware that you were just thinking, and kindly and gently bring your attention back to your body and breath. You can’t stop the thought or sleepiness, but you can respond with kindness and love.

When you notice you’re feeling sleepy, try opening your eyes and resting your gaze on a neutral object, like the floor. If you’re still sleepy, stand up and continue meditating, either with your eyes open or closed.

3) Try other guided meditations

There are a wide variety of free, online guided meditations that you can experiment with. Guided meditations can be about awareness, loving kindness (metta), forgiveness, the breath, and many other topics. Experiment and see what you like.

Start with short meditations — 3-10 minutes. As you get more comfortable, experiment with longer meditations — 15, 20, 30, 45 minutes.

Below you will find my favorite guided meditation resources:

Another way to get started with guided meditations is to use a meditation app. I’ve never used one. However, I’ve heard good things about Insight Timer and Headspace.

You may also want to experiment with Mindfulness in Motion practices such as yoga or qigong. Find a nearby studio or teacher to guide you through these practices, or watch videos online.

4) Experiment with different postures

Try sitting on a couch or chair. Try sitting on a cushion or bench — your local Sangha (see below) will have these available to try for free. Try standing (this is especially helpful when you’re sleepy). Try walking meditation. And try lying down.

5) Learn the (mostly Secular) Buddhist principals behind meditation, which includes mindfulness — known as the Dharma

Dharma means "truth" and most Dharma resources are purely secular.

There are several ways to learn the Dharma. My suggestions are below:

Dharma Talks

These are talks given by Buddhist teachers. My favorites are listed below:

You can find other Dharma talks at Dharma Seed. My favorite teachers are Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, and Donald Rothberg, and any monastic such as Thanissara and Kittisaro.


My favorite books on this topic are:

6) Experiment with unguided meditations

Once you’re comfortable with guided meditations, experiment with unguided meditations. Start short — 5 or 10 minutes. Lengthen them as you get more comfortable. Choose whatever type of meditation feels right — open awareness, breath awareness, loving kindness, etc.

I like mindfulness of breath, using a three-part breath. First I focus on the body sensations of the inhale, then the exhale. During the pause between breaths, I focus on a body sensation, for example my feet on the floor or my butt in the chair. Usually the pause is where distraction starts, hence the focus on the body to stay focussed. This is a way to use the busy mind to stay focussed and present.

Meditation timers are very useful for unguided meditations. I use Insight Timer's mobile app to time my unguided meditations.

You may also consider getting a singing bell to ring at the end your meditations. I’m not familiar with a good online purchase option. I bought mine at a local Tibetan store.

Also, here’s a great meditation FAQ from Tara Brach.

7) Attend a community evening in your area — known as a Sangha

Your area likely has at least one meditation community, known as a Sangha, that meets once a week in the evening. Usually during these meetings, a teacher will guide you through a 30-45 minute meditation, which is followed by a 45-60 minute Dharma talk.

Experiment with attending a nearby Sangha. Try going two or three times to start. Don’t make a judgment after just one visit — you may get unlucky and attend an off night.

The three San Francisco Sanghas I recommend are: San Francisco Insight, Big Heart City, and Mission Dharma.

In Redwood City and Santa Cruz, Insight Meditation Center is great.

In the East Bay, East Bay Meditation Center is great.

8) Go on a multi-day, silent, residential meditation retreat

Your area likely has a retreat center. Search the internet to see what’s available. Ensure the day-to-day schedule, including food and accommodations, will be comfortable for you.

In the Bay Area, I strongly recommend Spirit Rock. Every experience I’ve had there, whether a day-long retreat or a residential retreat, has been amazing.

You can use RetreatList to find retreats and follow teachers.


[1] Jack’s CD collection comes with two CDs, each with three meditations. The three meditations are combined into one long audio track, making it hard to jump around between meditations. To help with this, I’ve copy-pasted the start and end of each meditation below.

Breathing Meditation:

session: 1
start: 5:17
end: 28:15

Loving Kindness (Metta):

session: 1
start: 33:47
end: 55:45


session: 1
start: 1:00:37
end: (end of session)

Working with Difficulties:

session: 2
start: 1:19

Gratitude and Joy:

session: 2
start: 15:00
end: 27:25

Mind like sky:

session: 2
start: 29:20
end: (end of session)

Dharma Bits is a list of mindfulness meditation resources that I love. I hope you enjoy them as well!

-Alex L