Regular time of day: morning is best (4-6am being the optimal time, when the world is still and the mind is surprisingly alert), evening is second best. A short morning and evening practice at any time that suits your lifestyle is ideal to begin with. It’s best to meditate on an empty stomach, but in the modern world, we try to let food settle for at least an hour, if we can, before practicing.
Regular place: choose a small, quiet space away from household traffic. A place you can always go to, and that others will respect. Use it only for meditation, and make it a sacred space, free from worldly clutter. You might like to set up a small altar with a candle, some incense and something from nature (a shell, a flower), and/or a photo or statue of a deity or master. You might also like to keep a meditation journal, or spiritual journal nearby.
If you live with others, it might be useful to let them know when you are about to meditate, and to ask not to be disturbed for a certain period of time. If you can use the same time every day, they will likely fall into a routine with you.
Stretch a little (even a simple forward fold for a minute or so): this will help your mind relax and hopefully help you to sit more comfortably (if you have an asana practice, it can be ideal to meditate directly after this practice).
Decide how long you will sit and what techniques you will practice (e.g. 12 rounds of nadi shodhan pranayam, 12 rounds of spinal breathing, and five minutes tethering your focus to the third eye.) This is called making a sankalpa, or an intention. Knowing what you will do and how long you will do it for, it will aid in focusing the mind and help to sustain your meditation.
Open your practice: You might like to chant Om three times, or to say/sing a prayer or invocation, or light some incense to begin. It might even be as simple as placing a meditation shawl on your lap or around your shoulders, but it’s helpful to repeat a small gesture to let the mind know that meditation has begun.
Allow thoughts to settle: once you begin, notice the thoughts and let them unwind a little for a minute or two at most. This is part of helping the mind to relax and release. Observe or witness the thoughts, try not to get stuck in them or make emotional attachments to them.
Pranayama: includes kapala bhati, nadi shodhan etc, or even just simple deep belly breathing. It’s best if you choose the same pranayam and use it for at least a few weeks to see how it works for you, rather than choosing different practices each time you meditate—if you stick to the same practices it helps the mind to get into a regular, focused routine.
Concentration: includes mala practice, internal mantra, focus on a chakra, etc (again, it’s best to stick with one practice for a while). You're working to achieve a state of alert awareness wherein the mind is tethered to a focal point, and gently drawn back when it wanders.
Meditation: after each pranayam or concentration exercise take a few minutes to sit in stillness; that is, let go of the practice and sit in the still space that’s been prepared by the practice. The seat of your focus might be the heart centre, the top of the head, or the third eye, or it might be the subtle awareness of breath on your upper lip. When your mind begins to wander you can move to the next practice you’ve decided upon. If you happen to move into the beautiful natural thought-free flow of meditation, do stay there for as long as you are able.
Gratitude: When your time is up, take a moment to be grateful for your practice, for your space, for the time you gave to yourself. You might imagine the gratitude in your heart extending outwards to fill your subtle body, your room etc.
Close your practice: Perhaps say a prayer, or touch your forehead to the floor, or chant Om. Find a closing practice that suits you. Stretch as you rise, and move out into the world with renewed peace and clarity.