Meditation is an ancient, transformative practice. And our modern world has proven its many benefits. Some of the scientifically proven benefits of a regular practice include more joy, peace, balance and confidence, more restful sleep, less stress, lower blood pressure, improved digestion, reduction of chronic pain, and an increased ability to face challenges with serenity instead of reactivity.
Meditation can boost every aspect of your life including your health, well-being, your performance, and it can bring a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment to your entire experience of life. It’s a way to find fresh solutions, see endless possibilities. A way to find more happiness, more creativity, insights and inspiration for your life.
Meditation allows us to be more effective people within our own world, to have a greater sense of interdependence and unity, to be more compassionate and sensitive towards others and towards our planet.
But what exactly is meditation?
Meditation is the process of stilling and calming our thoughts and emotions so that we can be present in the moment, and so find more clarity and a deeper sense of our true nature.
“Meditation is the experience of the limitless nature of the mind when it ceases to be dominated by its usual mental chatter.” David Fontana
I see the mind as a lake. On the coast of Lake Huron where I live, on windy days, the water is thick with sediment, mud and foreign objects that have been churned up and carried to the shore by powerful waves. The force of the waves is felt and we can’t see a thing below the surface: if we swim we don’t know what we will step on or when the bank and our footing will drop off. From a boat, we will not see dangerous rocks close to the surface. But on calm and peaceful days, the water is crystalline, we can see the rocks, plants and fish, deep down in the water. When everything is clear, we can see the true nature of the lake, with all its beauties and dangers. Like a clear day, meditation can help us to create calm and peaceful conditions so we can see our own true nature and our true desires.
How do meditation experts meditate?
We meditate by first stilling our bodies and then training our minds to focus our attention on a single object or idea. It's about concentration. We might focus our attention on our breath, on a mantra, on a candle flame, or a visualization.
There are many different styles and techniques, from various traditions around the world. And meditation can also be a simple as a breathing exercise, or just opening your ears up and focusing on the sounds around you. Part of the fun is exploring meditation techniques to find what feels best for you.
Do I use guided meditations or meditate on my own?
This is a big question. Guided meditation or self-guided? Do I use a meditation app or remain free from devices? To find the answer, you have to explore both. I would suggest that guided meditations can be a great way to get started. If you are like me, I would guess that before long, once you’ve learned some easy meditation techniques, you will prefer the peacefulness of your own meditation and to be free from devices and voices.
If you want to get started with a guided meditation app, I suggest Insight Timer. It’s free, it's a time and a meditation app in one, with 30,000 free guided meditations to choose from. You can explore by choosing the length to practice (from 5 minutes to 30+ minutes) or a specific intention. It's very easy to use.
So what is holding you back from starting a meditation practice?
Do you think you don’t have time? Do you think it’s too hard? Do you think you can’t sit still long enough? Are you worried you will never be able to “clear your mind”? Do you think it’s self-indulgent? Do you think it doesn’t work?
These are the myths of meditation. The truth is: you can do it. Meditation can be easy and enjoyable and something you’ll want to do every day once you get started. The more you practice, the easier it will be, and the more benefits you will get.
These 12 tips will show you that these potential blockages to your personal practice are not real, and will help you to have the right mindset, to create the most comfortable conditions, and to help you practice with ease.
HAVE CONFIDENCE, YOU CAN DO IT
The first thing is to put yourself into the right mindset. Forget all the concerns that have blocked you from meditation in the past. It may seem intimidating to try and sit in one spot, “not thinking” for a long period of time. But it’s actually easy to do, particularly if you start off with just a few minutes of practice and if you practice daily. Anybody and everybody can do it, and YOU CAN DO IT TOO with a little help. So put aside everything you think you know about meditation and look at the practice from a new perspective, with an attitude of openness and curiosity, a keen desire to learn. In this way, with a beginner’s mind, you will be open to see and feel what best resonates with you, to find the building blocks of an enjoyable, sustainable practice.
FIND THE RIGHT TIME
Find a time of the day that you can stick to every day. Being consistent is key to building a routine that becomes a habit. Ask yourself, do a few minutes of peaceful meditation before I start my day feel like the right thing for me? Would I prefer to relax with meditation right before going to bed? Find the time that fits best with your lifestyle and the way you want to feel, and then do your best to show up at that same time every day.
START WITH JUST A FEW MINUTES
Before you begin, decide how long you want to practice. Any amount is perfect. A wonderful daily meditation will be 15-20 minutes long. But if you are new to meditation, start with just a few minutes, 5 minutes is a very do-able start for everyone, and work up from there.
GET COMFORTABLE, GET STILL
One of the most important elements of a successful meditation practice is to find a comfortable sitting position that works best for your body and your practice so that you can focus on the meditation rather than being distracted by body sensations. There are various options for you to choose from.
I prefer sitting on a set of meditation cushions: I love the feeling of connection to the earth and to the ancient practice that this solidly rooted posture gives me. The purpose of a meditation cushion is to elevate your hips off the floor allowing your lower back to rest in its natural curve, keeping your spine comfortably aligned. As a general guideline, choose a height that will allow your knees to be lower than your hips when you sit on the edge of the cushion. If your knees don’t reach the floor you can prop them up with rolled blankets or yoga blocks.
A meditation stool/chair is a good option if you have problem knees.
And you can also sit on a straight back chair. If you choose the chair option, make sure you sit upright on a straight-backed chair, not leaning against the back of it. Place a small cushion between your lower back and the chair in order to ensure this upright position. However you decide to sit, your spine should feel tall and spacious, with its natural curves intact. Place your hands on your knees or in your lap, and close your eyes. Try to sit in soft stillness, and feel free to adjust your posture if you need to.
SET A TIMER
A timer will remove the problem of “how long has it been now? … am I done yet?...” If you want to use your device, a simple, specifically-designed app will allow you to relax into the meditation (I like My Meditation Timer). Remember to turn off all notifications on your phone to avoid interruptions! If you prefer an analog approach, you could get yourself a small physical timer such as an egg timer.
FOCUS YOUR ATTENTION
Focusing on an “object” such as your breath (either as it flows in and out of your nostrils, or the rise and fall of your belly as you breath) or a simple mantra (try silently repeating OM or SO HUM) will help you to side-step the busyness of your mind and move it away from negative thoughts. If you choose to follow a guided meditation, you will focus on the words of the guide.
LET GO OF THOUGHTS
Thoughts will come, emotions will pop up, it’s inevitable. The “monkey mind” will jump all over the place until it knows how to settle itself into the present moment. So just accept this without judgment, and when you notice your mind wandering, gently let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back the focus of your meditation. Be patient with yourself, and trust the process. It gets easier with practice.
REMEMBER: THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO DO IT
You are not trying to get anywhere specific with your meditation, not trying to achieve a goal, or control your experience. There is no way you can succeed or fail - you are just there, practicing. So take advantage of this little break from your busy active life, give yourself permission to just go wherever your meditation takes you. It’s all good. You will know you are doing it right by the way you feel once you have experimented and settled into a practice routine - better focus, better sleep, more joy and happiness.
TAKE THE LAST MINUTE OF YOUR MEDITATION FOR GRATITUDE
I always spend the last minute of my meditation thinking about what and who I am grateful for that day. Gratitude is a powerful practice and I invite you to adopt this idea of a Gratitude Minute. Set your timer to include one minute of “cool down” at the end of your meditation and use that minute to think about everything you are grateful for. Think of what surrounds you, think of the people in your life, think of what has happened today (or yesterday) remembering that even the small things and small gestures can bring us much joy.
CONSIDER YOGA + MEDITATION
Yoga and meditation are practices that complement and enhance each other. So instead of just focusing on one or the other, merge the two into one beautiful and fulfilling practice. Each one in a different way helps to build mindfulness, to stay more present to each moment. Taking a mindful, contemplative approach to your yoga will enable you to develop both body and breath awareness, and to experience the postures from the inside out. Yoga postures will prepare your body and mind to be restful and ready to sit in meditation. The perfect combination.
GO DEEPER WITH OUTSIDE RESOURCES
If you want to go deeper into meditation, find a qualified teacher to initiate you and guide you in person on your practice - your progress will be faster. Plus, most of the time we meditate alone but meditating in a group has a special energy that can be quite inspiring. There are many places to learn meditation or practice with a group. Meditation studios and mindfulness centers are popping up all over the place. Buddhist centers, Buddhist monasteries (yes there are many in North America) are wonderful places to learn. You can take a meditation retreat, there are retreat centers in all four corners of the world. Google meditation in your area to find a teacher close to you.
BOOK LIST: Books I personally recommend to help you get started with meditation.