If you’ve ever tried to learn a sport under the guidance of someone more experienced, you’ve probably noticed how effortless it appears for an expert while you, as a beginner, struggle. That can be frustrating, but being a novice is actually a great way to get a thorough workout. Because a beginner is less efficient, it requires less time to burn more calories for a novice than an expert. Similarly, because meditation is an exercise for the mind, neophytes can also reap some immediate rewards.
For many, the hardest thing about learning to meditate is to stay focused on the breath. The mind wanders, but all we have to do to regain focus is bring our attention back to the breath. This is where beginners prosper: Like exercise for the body, the more we repeat a movement, the stronger we get, building powerful mental muscles quickly because of that untrained mind. Every time, we bring our attention back to the breath, the “muscles” that control mental focus get stronger.
On top of that, simply learning new things improves brain plasticity by forging the neural connections that help keep the mind healthy as we age.Many studies have also demonstrated that the rewards for meditation come quickly. For example, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center explored the effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and discovered that participants with no prior experience and a little over an hour of training could reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activity dramatically through meditation.
Similarly, a team of psychiatrists and neuroscientists at the University of California San Diego reported that athletes showed an increased ability to focus after an eight-week course in mindfulness training. And in another recent study, Harvard researchers found that meditation changed the physiology of the brain, resulting in decreased anxiety and depression with novices exposed to eight weeks of meditation training.
It might take more practice to slide into the coveted flow state, but don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of advantages to being a beginner. Chalk it up to beginner’s luck—and breathe.