Meditation includes many different practices of focused thinking and relaxation. No matter what meditation technique you choose to try, the goal is to boost positive thinking, build coping strategies, and reduce arthritis symptoms like pain or anxiety. 

Maybe you’ve even tried it – but two minutes felt like two hours and after each 20-minute session, the result was the same: You had a mental to-do list and a sore behind.

You’re not alone.

“We are so used to multitasking that we find it difficult to sit down and turn off our thoughts,” explains Scott Zashin, MD, a rheumatologist and clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. “Meditation is not a quick fix; it takes time.”

Not sure it’s worth the effort? Consider this: Rheumatoid arthritis patients who meditated 45 minutes per day, six days a week for six months reduced their psychological distress by one-third, according to a study published in the October 15, 2007 issue of Arthritis Care and Research.

While some forms of meditation involve deep thought, breathing exercises and chanting, you don’t have to spend a lot of time on the practice in order to see results, says Andrea Minick Rudolph, a therapist who teaches people mindfulness/meditation techniques to cope with arthritis pain in Harrisburg, Pa.

In fact, starting to practice meditation is easier – and far less kooky – than you might think, she says. A few minutes a day spent in quiet contemplation can help you relax, cope better with arthritis symptoms and have a more positive attitude about life, she says.

These are some helpful tips to people who’d like to start practicing meditation:

Educate yourself. First, go online and read about different forms of meditation so you can familiarize yourself with terms and details about the practice, Rudolph suggests. Read up on groups or classes in your community where you can learn meditation with the help of a professional therapist and gain the support of other people dealing with chronic pain.

Remember: Meditation is not a substitute for your treatment, but a complement, she adds.

Get an instructor. Meditation classes can be effective for beginners. Having an instructor to guide meditations and answer questions is one of the easiest ways to ease into the practice, Dr. Zashin says. Check yoga studios, churches and community centers for classes.

Focus on one thing. Counting your breaths or repeating a word can help keep your mind from wandering. “Choose a word that makes you feel calm and relaxed,” advises Kate Hanley, a meditation instructor and author of the Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity (Globe Pequot Press, 2008). Repeating the word with every exhale will help keep you focused on the meditation.

Forget the time.  Does meditating for 20 minutes seem impossible? Stop watching the clock. Instead, sit quietly, focus on your breathing and repeat a calming word or thought for as long as you’re comfortable. Slowly work your way up to meditating for longer periods.

Forgive yourself.  Don’t call it quits if you focus on a conversation with a spouse when you’re supposed to be clearing your mind for meditation. Instead, acknowledge the thought and redirect your focus. “Meditation is all about doing the best you can,” says Hanley. “It’s called a practice for a reason; it’ll never be perfect.”

Know your limits. Pain and other arthritis symptoms won’t go away with regular meditation, but you can learn to cope with them more effectively. As you start out, set reasonable expectations for what you will accomplish by this practice: Lower your stress, improve your mood, develop a more positive attitude about life.

Make meditation work for you. You don’t have to meditate for hours in order to see some positive benefits, Rudolph says. And your busy days may not leave much time for quiet contemplation. Not to worry: Spending as little as five or 10 minutes in the morning and evening just sitting quietly, breathing and concentrating on positive feelings can be a boost. You don’t need to chant or close your eyes if you don’t feel comfortable doing those things, she says. For better results, set healthy lifestyle goals as well, including eating a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity.

Remain committed. Make a commitment to practice your meditation regularly. “That’s why we call it a ‘practice,’” Rudolph says. “You’re not seeking perfection, but making your quality of life better.”