5 tips for getting started with online meditation

This week marked my final week of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course that I’ve been taking through Brown University. As I look back and reflect on the past 8 weeks, I’m so grateful for the tools, resources, and relationships that the program has brought into my life.

For those unfamiliar with MBSR, it is an 8 week evidence-based secular mindfulness training program that focuses on helping people with stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help students explore patterns of behavior, thinking, feeling, and action. The program was originally developed in the 1970s at UMass Medical Center by Jon Kabatt-Zin. Since then, it has continued to grow all over the world and many attribute the MBSR program as a major reason for mindfulness being in the mainstream today.

Personally, I have been practicing mindfulness meditation on and off for the past ten years and have a long-term dream of being a meditation teacher. I decided to sign up for the formal MBSR program to help me solidify my daily practice and take the first step towards my teacher certification.

When looking at the program at Brown, I noticed that they offered an online virtual version and couldn’t help but be intrigued. With my background in virtual learning and education, I wanted to see what the experience was like and whether they could be able to replicate the feeling of a meditation class in an online environment.

After signing up, I discovered the course took place on Tuesday evenings from 6 – 8:30pm over zoom. Yes, you read that right, the class would be 2.5 hours long and take place all virtually. I immediately started swinging between extreme excitement and pangs of anxiety about whether I would be able to make it through the full 8 weeks.

[Full disclosure: I am not only your average tech worker who constantly shifts between 10 tabs in my web browser at all times, but I also have ADHD which makes it next to impossible to sit in a place for multiple hours at a time].

Despite my inner voice, telling me there was no chance I’d be able to make it through such an extended period of time meditating, albeit, virtually. I am happy to share that I made it to the other side! Online meditation is a great option for people who are unable to physically get to a meditation studio or class but want to form a community with others.

Below are some tips for anyone interested in getting started with virtual meditation classes:

Carve out a space for yourself: One of my favorite things about attending an in-person meditation class is entering into a peaceful environment with little to no distractions.

An example meditation space at The Shambala Center in Toronto

When you’re taking an online meditation class you physically don’t have to go anywhere, that’s why it’s important to create a peaceful environment to practice in. I found it really helpful to carve out a tiny space in my home office that I used during the live online sessions and my personal practices. I tried to eliminate distractions as much as possible by putting my cellphone in another room and making my Zoom window as big as possible to help dial down the urge to surf the internet during class. At one point I also had to end up locking my cats in another room because our kitten decided to do a dive bomb on top of my keyboard during our live class. While it’s unlikely you’ll have to deal with flying cats during your online meditations, I definitely cannot recommend enough eliminating distractions in your personal space as much as possible while taking an online meditation class.

Dress comfortably: Whether it’s a 2.5-hour long meditation class or a quick 10-minute sitting practice, the right clothes can have a huge impact on your ability to get comfortable and relax. I found myself gravitating towards my comfy jogger pants, shirt, and sweatshirt since my body temperature oscillates between freezing and warm when I meditate. Find out what you are most comfortable in during your sessions and rock it!

Connect with your peers: To my surprise, despite the MBSR course taking place virtually there were many opportunities to connect with others in the course. During each class we were introduced to a different type of practice. After the lesson, we had time to apply it together as a group, had group discussions, and smaller break out sessions. The discussions gave us time to reflect on our experiences and share stories on what thoughts, feelings, and sensations arose for us during the practice. At first it felt a little odd talking to a group of 20 other people I’ve never met before about how I was feeling, but that quickly faded away. Everyone in the class quickly formed connections and shared stories about their experiences. I cannot emphasize enough how much I learned from my fellow students, I miss them already.

My fellow classmates from the MBSR course!

Listen to your body, it’s okay to take a break: At the beginning of our 8-week course, our meditation teacher told us that the format of the course didn’t incorporate breaks, however if we found ourselves needing to step away for a few minutes throughout our time together we were okay to do so. I definitely took this to heart, especially during the first few weeks of the course. I would get up at least 2-3 times per session to get water or just stretch. After coming back, I found myself refreshed and better able to participate in the practices and discussions.

Be kind to yourself: Whether it’s your first time practicing or you’re a long time practitioner, it’s important to be kind to yourself throughout your meditation experience. At it’s very core, meditation, is the act of noticing. If you ever find your mind drifting off during your practice, gently notice, and bring your attention back to your anchor. The very act of noticing this happening is your practice.

Looking back over the past 8 weeks, I am so grateful for my time in the online class. I was able to become more structured in my personal meditation practice, learn new techniques, and connect with others from all around the world. Do you have any meditation tips for beginners getting started in online meditation? Post them in the comments below!

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