The goal of meditation is to focus and understand your mind—eventually reaching a higher level of awareness and inner calm. Meditation is an ancient practice, but scientists are still discovering all of its benefits. Regular meditation can help you to control your emotions, enhance your concentration, decrease stress, and even become more connected to those around you. With practice, you’ll be able to achieve a sense of tranquility and peace no matter what’s going on around you. There are many different ways to meditate, so if one practice doesn’t seem to work for you, consider trying a different type that works better for you before you give up.
Getting Comfortable before You Meditate
Choose a quiet, peaceful environment. Meditation should be practiced in a peaceful location. A tranquil environment will enable you to focus exclusively on the task at hand and avoid external stimuli and distractions. Find a place where you will not be interrupted for the duration of your meditation—whether it lasts 5 minutes or half an hour. The space does not need to be very large—a walk-in closet or even an outdoor bench can be used for meditation as long as you have privacy.
For those new to meditation, it’s especially important to avoid any external distractions. Turn off TV sets, phones, or other noisy appliances.
If you play music, choose calm, repetitive tunes to avoid breaking your concentration. You can also play white noise or quiet nature sounds, like running water.
Your meditation space does not need to be completely silent, so you won’t need earplugs. The sound of a lawnmower or dog barking shouldn’t prevent effective meditation. In fact, being aware of these noises without letting them dominate your thoughts is an important component of meditation.
Meditating outside works for many so long as you don’t sit near a busy roadway or another source of loud noise. You can find peace under a tree or sitting on some lush grass in a favorite corner of a garden.
Wear comfortable clothes. One of the major goals of meditation is to calm the mind and block out external distractions.This can be difficult if you feel physically uncomfortable due to tight or restrictive clothing. Try to wear loose clothing during meditation practice and make sure to remove your shoes.
Wear a sweater or cardigan if you plan on meditating someplace cool, or bring a blanket or shawl you can wrap around yourself. You don’t want the sensation of feeling cold to consume your thoughts.
If you are in a place where you can’t easily change your clothes, do your best to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Try just taking off your shoes.
Decide how long you want to meditate. Before you begin, you should decide how long you are going to meditate. While many seasoned meditators recommend 20-minute sessions twice a day, beginners can start by doing as little as 5 minutes once a day.
Once you have decided on a time frame, try to stick to it. Don’t just give up because you feel like it isn’t working. It will take time and practice to achieve successful meditation. Right now, the most important thing is to keep trying.
Find a way to keep track of your meditation time without distracting yourself. Set a gentle alarm to alert you when your time is up. Or time your practice to end with a certain event—such as the sun hitting a certain spot on the wall.
Do some stretches before you start to prevent stiffness. Meditation usually involves sitting in one spot for a certain period of time, so it is important to release any tension or tightness before you begin. A couple of minutes of light stretching can help prepare both your body and mind for meditation. It will also prevent you from focusing on any sore spots instead of relaxing.
Remember to stretch your neck, shoulders, and lower back—especially if you’ve been sitting in front of a computer. Stretching out your legs—with an emphasis on the inner thigh—can be helpful when meditating in the lotus position.
If you don’t already know how to stretch, consider learning different stretching techniques to try before you meditate. Many meditation experts recommend doing light yoga stretches before meditation.
Sit in a comfortable position. It is very important that you are comfortable while you meditate, so finding the best position for you is the goal. Traditionally, meditation is practiced by sitting on a cushion on the ground in either a lotus position or half-lotus position, but this position can be uncomfortable if you lack flexibility in your legs, hips, and lower back. You want to find a posture that allows you to sit with a balanced, tall, and straight posture.
You can sit—with or without crossing your legs—on a cushion, chair, or meditation bench.
Once seated, your pelvis should be tilted forward enough to center your spine over your “sit bones,” the 2 bones in your behind that bear your weight when seated. To tilt your pelvis into the right position, sit on the forward edge of a thick cushion or place something about 3 or 4 inches (7.6 or 10.2 cm) thick under the back legs of a chair.
You can also a use a meditation bench, which is usually built with a tilted seat. If you’re using a bench that’s not tilted, put something under it, so it tilts forward between .5 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5 cm).
Tip: Don’t feel restricted to sitting if that’s not the most comfortable position for you. You can also meditate standing, lying down, or even walking—the most important thing is to be comfortable!
Straighten your spine once you’re seated. Good posture during meditation will keep you more comfortable. Once you’re in a comfortable position, focus on the rest of your back. Start from your bottom and think about each vertebra in your spine as balancing one on top of another to support the whole weight of your torso, neck, and head.
It requires practice to find the position that allows you to relax your torso with only slight effort being used to maintain your balance. Whenever you feel tension, relax the area. If you can’t relax it without slumping, check the alignment of your posture and seek to rebalance your torso, so those areas can relax.
The most important thing is that you are comfortable, relaxed, and have a balanced torso, so your spine can support all of your weight from the waist up.
The traditional hand placement involves resting your hands in your lap, palms facing upward, with your right hand on top of your left. However, you can also rest your hands on your knees or leave them hanging down by your side.
Close your eyes if it helps you focus and relax. Meditation can be performed with the eyes open or closed. As a beginner, it is often best to try meditating with closed eyes in order to avoid visual distractions.
Once you have grown accustomed to meditation, you can try practicing with your eyes open. This tends to help if you find yourself falling asleep when meditating with your eyes closed or if you experience disturbing mental images, which happens to a small number of people.
If you keep your eyes open, you will need to keep them “soft” by not focusing on any one thing in particular.
You don’t want to go into a trance-like state. The goal is to feel relaxed, yet alert.
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What should you do if you feel like meditation isn’t working, but you haven’t meditated for as long as you intended to?
Cut your meditation session short.
Continue trying for the amount of time you intended to meditate.
Extend your intended meditation time so you get extra practice.
Trying Basic Meditation Practices
Follow your breathing. The most basic and universal of all meditation techniques, breathing meditation, is a great place to start your practice. Pick a spot above your navel and focus on that spot with your mind. Become aware of the rising and falling of your abdomen as you breathe in and out. Don’t make a conscious effort to change your breathing patterns. Just breathe normally.
Try to focus on your breathing and only your breathing. Don’t think about your breathing or pass any sort of judgment of it (e.g., “That breath was shorter than the last one.”). Just attempt to know your breath and be aware of it.
Focus on mental images to guide your breathing. Imagine a coin sitting on the spot above your navel and rising and falling with each breath. Or picture a buoy floating in the ocean that’s bobbing up and down with the swell and lull of your breathing. Alternatively, imagine a lotus flower sitting in your belly and unfurling its petals with every intake of breath.
Don’t worry if your mind starts to wander. You are a beginner, and meditation takes practice. Just make an effort to refocus your mind on your breathing and try to think of nothing else.
Repeat a mantra to help you focus. Mantra meditation is another common form of meditation that involves repeating a mantra (a sound, word, or phrase) over and over until you silence the mind and enter a deep, meditative state. The mantra can be anything you choose, so long as it’s easy to remember.
Some good mantras to start with include words like “one,” “peace,” “calm,” “tranquil,” and “silence.”
If you want to use more traditional mantras, you can use the word “Om,” which symbolizes omnipresent consciousness. Or you can use the phrase “Sat, Chit, Ananda,” which means “Existence, Consciousness, Bliss.”
Silently repeat the mantra over and over to yourself as you meditate, allowing the word or phrase to whisper through your mind. Don’t worry if your mind wanders off. Just refocus your attention and refocus on the repetition of the word.
As you enter a deeper level of awareness and consciousness, it may become unnecessary to continue repeating the mantra.
Masha KouzmenkoMASHA KOUZMENKO
Our Expert Agrees: One common misconception about meditating is that it’s supposed to clear your mind of any thoughts. Meditating is actually about observing and focusing your thoughts for relaxation and mindfulness. Repeating a mantra can help you to do this.
Try concentrating on a simple visual object to relieve stress. In a similar way to using a mantra, you can use a simple visual object to focus your mind and allow you to reach a level of deeper consciousness. This is a form of open-eye meditation, which many meditators find helpful.
The visual object can be anything you wish. The flame of a lit candle can be particularly pleasant. Other possible objects to consider include crystals, flowers, or pictures of divine beings, such as the Buddha.
Place the object at eye level, so you don’t need to strain your head and neck to view it. Gaze at it until your peripheral vision starts to dim and the object consumes your vision.
Once you are focused entirely on the object, you should feel a sense of profound serenity.
Practice visualization if you prefer to focus inward. Visualization is another popular meditation technique. One common type of visualization involves creating a peaceful place in your mind and exploring it until you reach a state of complete calm. The place can be anywhere you like; however, it should not be entirely real. You want to imagine a unique place that’s personalized for you.
The place you visualize could be a warm, sandy beach, a flower-filled meadow, a quiet forest, or a comfortable sitting room with a roaring fire. Whatever place you choose, allow it to become your sanctuary.
Once you have mentally entered your sanctuary, allow yourself to explore it. Don’t work to “create” your surroundings. It’s as if they are already there. Just relax and allow the details to come to the forefront of your mind.
Take in the sights, sounds, and scents of your surroundings. Feel the fresh breeze against your face or the heat of the flames warming your body. Enjoy the space for as long as you wish, allowing it to naturally expand and become more tangible. When you are ready to leave, take a few deep breaths, then open your eyes.
You can come back to this same place the next time you practice visualization, or you can simply create a new space.
Do a body scan to find and release tension. Doing a body scan involves focusing on each individual body part in turn and consciously relaxing it. To begin, sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breathing, then gradually move your attention from one part of your body to another. Notice the sensations you feel as you go.
You may find it helpful to start at the bottom and work your way up. For example, concentrate on whatever sensations you can feel in your toes. Make a conscious effort to relax any contracted muscles and release any tension or tightness in your toes. When your toes are fully relaxed, move upwards to your feet and repeat the relaxation process.
Continue along your body, moving from your feet to the top of your head. Spend as much time as you like focusing on each part of your body.
Once you have completed the relaxation of each individual body part, focus on your body as a whole and enjoy the sensation of calmness and looseness you have achieved. Focus on your breathing for several minutes before coming out of your meditation practice.
With regular practice, this technique can make you more aware of the various sensations in your body and help you deal with them appropriately.
Try heart chakra meditation to tap into feelings of love and compassion. The heart chakra is one of 7 chakras, or energy centers, located within the body. The heart chakra is located in the center of the chest and is associated with love, compassion, peace, and acceptance. Heart chakra meditation involves getting in touch with these feelings and sending them out into the world. To begin, get into a comfortable position and focus on the sensations of your breathing.
As you become more relaxed, imagine a green light radiating from your heart. Imagine the light filling you with a sensation of pure, radiant love.
Picture the love and light radiating throughout your entire body. From there, allow it to radiate outward from your body and enter the universe around you.
Take a few moments to simply sit and feel the positive energy within and around you. When you’re done, gradually allow yourself to become aware of your body and your breath again. Gently wiggle your fingers, toes, and limbs, then open your eyes.
Try walking meditation to relax and exercise at the same time. Walking meditation is an alternate form of meditation that involves observing the movement of the feet and becoming aware of your body’s connection to the earth. If you plan on performing long, seated meditation sessions, try breaking them up with some walking meditation.
Choose a quiet location to practice your walking meditation with as few distractions as possible. Remove your shoes if it’s safe to do so.
Hold your head up with your gaze directed straight ahead and your hands clasped together in front of you. Take a slow, deliberate step with your right foot. After taking the first step, stop for a moment before taking the next. Only 1 foot should be moving at any given time.
When you reach the end of your walking path, stop completely with your feet together. Then pivot on your right foot and turn around. Continue walking in the opposite direction using the same slow, deliberate movements as before.
While practicing walking meditation, try to focus on the movement of the feet and nothing else. This intense focus is similar to the way that you focus on the rising and falling of your breath during breathing meditation. Try to clear your mind and become aware of the connection between your foot and the earth below it.
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When doing breathing meditation, you should focus on a spot…
At the base of your throat.
Near your heart.
Incorporating Meditation into Your Everyday Life
Try to meditate at the same time every day. Scheduling your meditation practice for the same time each day will help it become part of your everyday routine. If you meditate daily, you’ll experience its benefits more profoundly.
Early morning is a good time to meditate since your mind has not yet become consumed with the stresses and worries of the day.
It is not a good idea to meditate directly after eating. If you’re digesting a meal, you may feel uncomfortable and less able to concentrate.
Take a guided meditation class to hone your techniques. If you want additional guidance, consider taking a meditation class with an experienced teacher. You can find a range of different class types by searching online.
Local gyms, spas, schools, and dedicated meditation centers offer classes in many locations.
You can also find a wide range of guided meditations and instructional videos on YouTube.
For a more immersive experience, look into attending a spiritual retreat where you will spend several days or weeks in intensive meditation. Vipassana Meditation offers free 10 day retreats at centers throughout the world.
Tip: You can also try different meditation apps that help you get started. The Insight Timer app has free guided meditations and lets you choose both the amount of time you have and the level of guidance you’d like.
Read spiritual books to learn more about meditation. Though not for everyone, some people find that reading spiritual books and sacred writings helps them understand meditation and inspires them to strive for inner peace and spiritual understanding.
Some good books to start with include A Profound Mind: Cultivating Wisdom in Everyday Life by the Dalai Lama, The Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts, “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, and One-Minute Mindfulness by Donald Altman.
If you wish, you can pick out elements of wisdom that resonate with you from any spiritual or sacred texts and reflect on them during your next meditation session.
Practice mindfulness in your everyday life. Meditation doesn’t have to be limited to your practice sessions. You can also practice mindfulness throughout your day-to-day life. Simply work on being aware of what is happening both inside and around you at any given moment throughout the day.
For example, in moments of stress, try to take a few seconds to focus solely on your breathing and empty your mind of any negative thoughts or emotions.
You can also practice mindfulness when you eat by becoming aware of the food and all the sensations you experience as you eat.
No matter what actions you perform in your daily life—whether it’s sitting at a computer or sweeping the floor—try to become more aware of your body’s movements and how you feel in the present moment. This focus and awareness is living mindfully.
Try grounding exercises to help you be more present. Grounding is a technique to help you practice mindfulness in everyday life. All you need to do is focus directly on something in your surroundings or a specific sensation in your body.
For example, you might focus on the blue color of a pen or folder on a table near you or examine more closely the feeling of your feet on the floor or your hands resting on the arms of your chair. Try doing this if you feel like you are distracted or you find your mind is wandering, or if you are feeling stressed.
You can also try focusing on multiple sensations at once. For example, pick up a keyring and pay attention to the sounds the keys make, the way they feel in your hand, and even their metallic smell.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle in addition to meditating. While meditation can improve your overall health and wellbeing, it works best if you combine it with other healthy lifestyle practices. Try to eat healthily, exercise, and get enough sleep.
Avoid watching too much television, drinking alcohol, or smoking before meditation. These activities are unhealthy, and they can numb the mind—preventing you from achieving the level of concentration necessary for successful meditation.
View meditation as a journey rather than a goal. Meditation is not a goal that you can complete, like trying to get a promotion at work. Viewing meditation just as a tool to achieve a certain goal (even if your goal is to be enlightened) would be like saying the goal of a stroll on a beautiful day is to walk a mile. Focus instead on the process and experience of meditation itself, and don’t bring the desires and attachments that distract you in day-to-day life into your meditation practice.
When beginning, you shouldn’t be too concerned with the quality of the meditation itself. As long as you feel calmer, happier, and more at peace at the end of your practice, your meditation was successful.
How to do meditation?
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