Your ultimate guide to online meditation

Everything you need to know about meditation, including how to find the best type for you, how to get started, how to keep going, and how to get the most from your practice.

Online meditation

Meditation is the art of calming the mind and focusing attention. There are many benefits to practicing meditation, including reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep, a greater sense of peace, and improved overall physical wellbeing too. 

The biggest benefits of meditation come with consistent practice, which is why we’ve created your ultimate guide to online meditation. This is your one-stop-shop, providing everything you need to know about meditation; how to start a meditation practice, the benefits of meditation, different types of meditation, and how to get the most from your meditation practice for greater wellbeing. In this guide, we’ll cover: 

  1. What is meditation?
  2. Benefits of meditation
  3. Myths of meditation
  4. How to set up your meditation space
  5. How to get started with your meditation practice
  6. How to maintain a meditation practice
  7. Guided vs self-guided meditation
  8. Different types of meditation 

1. What is meditation?

Meditation is one of the most ancient forms of mental, physical and spiritual health practices. The practice spread to the West thousands of years after it was adopted in the East and is now widely recommended as a stress management tool. The word ‘meditation’ comes from the Latin root word meditatum, meaning ‘to ponder’. This then became the word meditacioun, meaning ‘thought, reflection, study’. 

Within yogic texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, meditation is known as Dhyana, referring to contemplation and a meditative state, leading to self-knowledge and samadhi or ‘bliss’. Meditation can be different for everyone, and today it is thought that over 275 million people practice meditation regularly. 

There’s an abundance of research on meditation showing that it can help reduce anxiety, stress and depression. It can help us cultivate more compassion, reduce pain and improve memory, and so much more. As you’ll learn in our guide, there are many different styles of meditation and ways to meditate. There are also a lot of misconceptions when it comes to meditation too! Read on to learn all you need to know about meditation. 

2. The benefits of meditation

So, what are the benefits of meditation? Research shows that meditation can help cultivate a sense of calm and peace, benefitting both emotional and physical wellbeing. Here are 10 benefits of meditation: 

9 benefits of meditation

Reduces stress and anxiety:

Meditation can help reduce stress by reducing cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) and re-focusing the mind on the present moment. Mindfulness meditation in particular is believed to improve our ability to deal with stressful situations and build resilience. Reviews of over 200 studies show that meditation is especially therapeutic for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Much of our anxiety comes from thinking about the past or the future. Bringing the mind into the present moment with meditation can help reduce anxious feelings and improve our ability to be present. 

Increases attention:

Do you find it difficult to focus at work, or do you find your mind wandering when you’re with friends and family? Perhaps due to the instant and fast-paced nature of the modern world, the average attention span of humans has decreased to around 8 seconds (from around 12 seconds in the year 2000). Being able to focus attention is something yogis have worked on for thousands of years. Meditation can change the structure and function of the brain through relaxation, and trains the brain to become aware of one thing at a time. Through consistent practice, we’re then more able to focus on one thing at a time in everyday life, helping us be more present with loved ones, and more productive at work. 

Follow Esther Ekhart’s 20 Mindful Minutes Meditation Course to help you develop an embodied mindfulness meditation practice. 

Improves memory:

Long term meditation practice has been linked to increased cortical thickness in the brain, particularly in regions potentially associated with memory. Further studies show that a simple meditation program can have multiple benefits for older people with preclinical memory loss. 

Reduces pain:

Research shows that meditation uses neural pathways that make the brain less sensitive to pain and increases use of the brain’s own pain-reducing chemicals. As meditation can reduce stress, this also has a direct impact upon reducing pain signals. 

Improves sleep:

When you feel calmer and more relaxed after meditating, this can have significant benefits for your sleep. The brainwaves active during deep meditation can be similar to those in the early stages of sleep, so if you need help relaxing before bed, try our Wind Down Meditation with Laia Bove.    

Lowers blood pressure:

Stress and anxiety are linked to high blood pressure, and research shows that by meditating to reduce feelings of stress, we can reduce blood pressure too. In fact, researchers concluded that practicing transcendental meditation may have the potential to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure by approximately 4.7 and 3.2,, Hg.

Enhances unity and connection:

According to author and meditation teacher Jeff Foster, meditation can be a powerful way to help us feel a sense of non-duality. Non-duality, he says; “is something you can actually understand with your mind; but you know it with your heart... It’s like when you look out at the ocean, you see hundreds, thousands of waves, of all shapes and sizes, which seem to be very separate from each other. We are like the waves. Every person, every animal, every tree, every drop of rain, every planet. We appear to be separate beings, but actually, we are all expressions of the One Life, the ocean of consciousness. No wave is actually separate from the ocean at all.”
When we feel a sense of non-duality, this can help us access an ‘awakened experience’ or a sense of ‘oneness’. 

Read more from Jeff Foster on Meditation, Yoga & Non-Duality here. 

Strengthens compassion:

Meditation techniques such as Metta Bhavna or Loving Kindness Meditation can help increase our sense of compassion by activating areas of the brain involved in emotional processing and empathy. Research also shows that the positive effects of loving kindness meditation are even more powerful than other wellbeing tools such as time spent outdoors.  

Learn more about loving kindness meditation and follow a script for your meditation here. 

Reduces depression:

For many people, the main triggers of depression are stress and anxiety. By meditating, we can reduce stress and anxiety and train the brain to focus on a positive or more calming thought. One study that followed participants for 8 weeks saw that people using mindfulness meditation saw their anxiety improve nearly as much as people who were taking antidepressants. 

Still not sure if meditation is for you? Read Tips For Meditating (When You Think You Can’t) by Tracey Cook here. 

There are many preconceptions about meditation; do I have to be calm to meditate? Is meditation about silencing the mind? Do I have to sit in lotus position to meditate? The good news is that meditation really can look different for everyone.

3. Myths about meditation

There are many preconceptions about meditation; do I have to be calm to meditate? Is meditation about silencing the mind? Do I have to sit in lotus position to meditate? The good news is that meditation really can look different for everyone. There are many myths about meditation, such as: 

  • You have to be calm to meditate
  • Meditation is about having no thoughts
  • Meditation is about controlling your emotions
  • You have to sit cross-legged to meditate
  • Meditation is difficult

Meditation is none these things, it’s about what it means and feels like to you. When it comes to working with our emotions, meditation can actually be a powerful way to help us deal with and release difficult emotions. Follow our Dealing With Difficult Emotions program to learn how to work with and release fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, self-doubt and more. 

4. How to set up your meditation space

Google the word ‘meditation’ and you likely see images of pristine yoga studios, calm-looking people in expensive clothing, or fancy cushions and blankets. You don’t need any of these things! It’s ideal to practice in a seated position with an upright torso. You could sit on the ground, on a chair, on a cushion, or lean against a wall. You can even stand up if it works better for you! If you are unable to sit upright or stand due to pain or discomfort, check out this tutorial. 

Find a space that is relatively quiet, such as a bedroom or living room at a quiet time of day. Or even pop in some headphones or wear noise-cancelling headphones so you can meditate on the train or bus on your way to work. (For obvious reasons, don’t try to meditate whilst you’re driving!). 

5. How to start your meditation practice

So, how do you start meditating? We have some tips from Kirsty Tomlinson, including: 

  • Don’t worry about whether you’re doing it ‘right’: Just as your heart is meant to beat, your mind is meant to think. The purpose of mindfulness meditation is simply to become aware of what’s going on without reacting to it. 
  • Be comfortable: It’s preferable to meditate in a seated position rather than lying down as the latter may encourage sleep. And whilst sleep is also good for you, it isn’t meditation! Sit on a meditation cushion or bench or lean against the wall. Otherwise, sit in a chair, or even stand, if you like!
  • Be consistent: Daily meditation is much more likely to be beneficial than meditation practiced once a month. If every day feels too much at first, try not to go for more than three days without meditating so that it still becomes a habit. Choose a time of day that best suits you, whether it’s just after waking, while commuting, or before bed.  
  • Start with 5 minutes: A common reason people tend to give for not starting or sticking with meditation is that they don’t have time. However, most of us probably do have 5 minutes per day. Make meditation realistic to begin with. Opt for a 5 minute practice – Esther Ekhart has created a special playlist of 5 minute meditation classes – check them out here. 
  • Be kind to yourself: If your mind wanders or you get lost in thoughts, it’s ok! Meditation is a life-long practice that is there to support us through the ups and downs of every day. Some days you’ll feel peaceful and serene; on other days it may be difficult to sit with your thoughts. However your meditation feels, have compassion for yourself – with continued practice you’ll see it’s worth it! 

Join the 20 Mindful Minutes meditation course; a 10 day online meditation course with Esther Ekhart to help you develop an embodied mindfulness meditation practice. 

6. How to maintain your meditation practice

Now you know how to start a meditation practice, how do you keep it up? The true benefits of meditation often come with consistent practice. Whether you practice for 5 minutes, 20 minutes or 2 hours per day, committing to a regular meditation practice can help you carry the benefits of enhanced peace, calmness, presence and less stress with you throughout each day. 

Esther Ekhart shares 5 tips for a regular meditation practice here, including: 

  • Create a personal meditation spot in your home
  • Meditate at a set time
  • Use a timer
  • No matter how you feel, just sit
  • Be friendly to yourself

If you find your mind wandering or difficult emotions arising, remember that these things happen It’s the nature of the mind! Revisit the Myths of Meditation to remind yourself what meditation is not, so you can focus on what it means to you. 

Remember to make your meditation sessions realistic. If you only have 10 minutes a day, try our Zen In 10 ten-minute yoga and meditation classes for your daily dose of calm. 

For those moments when you wonder if meditation is really for you, we invite you to read Tracey Cook’s article on Tips For Meditating (When You Think You Can’t). She even suggests starting by meditating for just one minute – because you can do anything for one minute, right? 

7. Guided Vs Self-Guided Meditation

If you want to start meditating, you may wonder if guided or self-guided meditation would suit you best. The best way to know how is to try both. Here are some benefits of each:

Guided MeditationSelf-Guided Meditation
Can help you relax quicklyTakes a little longer to relax
Easier to focus the mind on somethingYour mind may wander more often
Can help manage anxious thoughtsTeaches you to sit with your thoughts and emotions
A great choice for beginnersMore suited to those with experience 
Can introduce you to new meditation techniquesHelps you deepen your own technique 

The Zen in 10 guided meditations help you fit guided meditation into your busy day. You’ll experience a 10 minute yoga class and a 10 minute meditation or breathing practice every weekday for 2 weeks from a mix of teachers 

Experiencing difficult emotions? Check out our Dealing with difficult emotions program and learn to work with emotions such as fear, anxiety, restlessness, anger, shame and more, in a heathy way.  

8. Different types of meditation

So, now you know the benefits of meditation, how to start meditating, and how to maintain a meditation practice, which type of meditation should you choose? There are many different types of meditation with different techniques and intentions. The best type for you will simply depend upon which type of meditation resonates with you most. Here, we’ll dive into different types of meditation and how you can benefit from them:

Mindfulness meditation

Meditation helps us live in the present moment. While meditating, we practice being aware of our actions, thoughts, feelings and emotions. This is especially true when it comes to mindfulness meditation. Within mindfulness meditation, we focus on being completely aware of feelings and thoughts as they arise – observing them without becoming attached to them. Mindfulness meditation invites us to release judgement and instead practice curiosity of the mind, tuning into our thoughts, emotions and sensations. The benefits of mindfulness meditation include:

  • Being able to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions
  • Understanding yourself better
  • Feeling calmer 
  • Improving attention and focus
  • Improving compassion
  • Enhancing your ability to be present 
  • Reducing anxiety and stress

As well as potential physical benefits such as lowering blood pressure, treating heart disease, alleviating the physical affects of stress, and improving digestion by activating the parasympathetic (‘rest and digest’) part of the nervous system. 

Join the 20 Mindful Minutes Meditation Course with Esther Ekhart with over 10 videos to introduce you to mindfulness meditation, and guide you through the practice to experience the benefits. 

Loving Kindness meditation

Loving kindness meditation originates from the Buddhist tradition, and is also known as Metta Bhavna meditation. This practice involves repeating a set of phrases sending out your wish that you and all beings everywhere may be happy, peaceful and healthy. The phrases usually look a little like this:

May I (you / we) be happy
May ! (you/we) be peaceful
May I (you / we) be well

Sharon Salzberg, leading meditation teacher and author of Lovingkindness says of loving kindness meditation; 

“… in reality, the practice of loving-kindness is about cultivating love as a strength, a muscle, a toolthat challenges our tendency to see people (including ourselves) as disconnected, statically and rigidly isolated from one another. Loving-kindness is about opening ourselves up to others with compassion and equanimity, which is a challenging exercise, requiring us to push back against assumptions, prejudices, and labels that most of us have internalized.” 

There are many benefits of practicing loving kindness meditation, including increased positive emotions, reduced self-criticism, increased empathy, improved vagal tone, reduced symptoms of chronic lower back pain, slower biological ageing, and immediate relaxation benefits. 

For more on how to practice loving kindness meditation, and a full loving kindness meditation script, check out this article by Jenny Savage, and practice a 30 minute loving kindness meditation with Tashi Dawa here. 

Walking meditation

So you thought you had to sit still to meditate? Think again! Walking meditation is one of the most widespread forms of Buddhist practice, and can be done any time whilst walking. (Although we advise not crossing busy roads whilst practicing your walking meditation!) It doesn’t require hiking, taking holidays from work, being able to read maps or even having much physical fitness. You can practice it every day walking home from work or the bus stop, climbing up and down the stairs, or even pacing around the room. 

Walking meditation differs from seated meditation in that is an opportunity to experience the body in action. The most important thing is to be conscious and totally present in the act of walking. The Buddha even gave 5 benefits of walking meditation:

  • One is fit for long journeys
  • One is fit for striving
  • One has little disease
  • That which is eaten, drunk, chewed, tasted, goes through proper digestion
  • The composure attained from walking up and down is long lasting 

To practice walking meditation, choose somewhere safe to walk and simply put one foot in front of the other. As you walk be completely present with the act of walking. For different types of walking meditation – including outdoor walking, circle walking and the labyrinth walk, read our article on walking meditation here. 

Transcendental meditation

Transcendental meditation, or ‘TM’ meditation, is a form of mantra meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh yogi. It is not intended to be a religious practice, and focuses on promoting relaxed awareness, stress relief and self-development. Transcendental meditation involves the use of a mantra, which is usually repeated silently, and is traditionally practiced for 20 minutes twice per day. 

Although mantras have been used for thousands of years, relatively modern research now shows that Transcendental meditation and mantra meditation have significant benefits for the mind. 

Neuroscientists, equipped with advanced brain-imaging tools, are confirming some of the health benefits of this ancient practice, such as its ability to help clear your mind and calm your nervous system. In a recent study, researchers measured activity in the default mode network region of the brain — the area that’s active during self-reflection and when the mind is wandering — to determine how practicing mantra meditation affects the brain. From a mental health perspective, an overactive default mode network can mean that the brain is distracted.

Researchers behind this study asked a group of subjects to recite Sat Nam (roughly translated as “true identity”) while their hands are placed over their hearts. The subjects’ default mode networks were suppressed during the mantra meditation — and suppression grew as mantra training increased.

For more on the benefits of using mantra in meditation, read Anna Sugarman’s article, in which she shares some of her favourite mantras, such as ‘perfect peace and poise are mine today as I concentrate all of my power and ability upon expressing the divine will’;I’m right here’, Om’, ‘Lokah Samasthah Sukhino Bhavanthu’, and the Gayatri Manrtra. 

Try the Sa-ta-na-ma mantra meditation with Katy Appleton.

Practice meditation to cultivate self love with Marlene Smits. 

Vipassana meditation 

Vipassana meditation is a form of mindfulness meditation from the Buddhist tradition. The benefits of vipassana meditation are said to include:

  • Enhancing our ability to observe without judgement
  • Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Helping with stress management
  • Improved self-confidence
  • Better empathy 
  • Gaining deeper insights into thought patterns

Many also believe this way of meditating is particularly helpful in achieving enlightenment!

The practice of Vipassana meditation involves sitting in a comfortable position, and beginning by observing the breath. As you continue to sit, observe any thoughts or sensations that arise. Buddhist traditions advise labelling thoughts and feelings as they come up, rather than getting caught up in their meaning. For example; if you notice your mind is wandering, think ‘wandering’; if you are reflecting, label the thought as ‘reflecting’. In this way, we are not ignoring any of the thoughts or bodily sensations that arise, but instead learning to be with them as they are. 

Check out our meditation classes!

Hopefully we’ve convinced you of the benefits of incorporating meditation into your life! Check out our 500+ classes here.

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Emma NewlynEmma is a 500hr registered yoga teacher, writer and holistic therapist based in Sussex, UK. With a passion for yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, she loves bringing these ancient methods to the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way through her writing and courses. Emma leads the Yoga, Ayurveda & Holistic Health course in person the UK and also online Modern Ayurveda & Holistic Health courses, giving students tools and techniques to enhance their health and wellbeing.