How Do You Meditate?
Volumes have been written about the process to cultivate a state of meditation. There may be as many methods and good suggestions as there are meditators. If you consider your meditation a journey rather than a destination, no matter how you meditate, you will be sure to enjoy learning what works best for you.
Here are some components you'll want to consider when putting together a personal practice. It can also be a great support to meditate with others.
Pick a place: Meditation is the most portable practice around. Many people meditate on public transportation and simply close their eyes. In those cases, all you need is a space to sit or stand and a way of minimizing interruptions.
Creating a place to meditate can be as simple as closing the door, if you have the luxury of one, putting your phone on airplane mode and closing your computer. For a continued practice, you’ll find that a clean spot you can designate just for meditation will create, over time, a magic carpet effect, similar to how reserving your bedroom for only quieting activities (vs work or TV) will whisk you right into sleep.
Many people like to create beauty or meaning in their meditation area by having fresh flowers or placing pictures of meaningful objects or people. The ritual of preserving such a space, like the Japanese tea ceremony, often becomes a meditation in and of itself.
Pick a time: Depending on whether you’re a person of steady habits or a creative genius, the time you pick may or may not be at the same time everyday. If your stress hits the roof, you may need an emergency meditation minute and any time will do, you just need to pick it. While this is obvious, it’s easy to forget this as many of us can let our perfectionism prevent us from meditating at all simply because of how or when we think meditation ought to happen.
Good times to meditate are during natural pauses in the rhythm of your day, whether that’s first thing in the morning when you wake or right before you go to bed. Be on the lookout for when contact with nature presents you with an opportunity to meditate - you’ve reached the top of the hill or dusk is settling over the city beyond your window. There’s a natural call to silence and if you heed it, even for a second, you may find that meditation happens on its own.
Pick an intention:
This goes back to the question “Why meditate?” It’s important to answer this for yourself just so you can recognize if you’re meeting your own objectives. A meditator buddy once told me, "if you don’t put orange juice on your grocery list, you’ll find you leave the grocery store with everything but that." Sitting down for meditation or any practice can be just like that: if you don't set a goal, then you're liable not to to have any sense of purpose.
And then of course, once you define what you’d like to attain, hold it lightly so that there's room for the natural pace of things. Expectations held too tightly can choke the air right out of your practice and blind you to the lovely unexpected developments that will happen along the way.
Pick a posture: There are many postures recommended for meditation from the classic cross-legged position, to standing mindfully or lying down, to simply pushing back from your desk and meditating in your everyday chair.
It’s good to explore which posture feels best, which may change over time as your body changes. What all postures conducive to meditation have in common is that the spine is free and long, with the head in a direct line over the hips.
Don’t hesitate to use a chair – you’ll want to be kind to your body, especially over time. If you use a chair, try keeping your feet flat on the floor with your legs parallel so that you can feel anchored. That sense of solid foundation can help you relax and settle into a meditative state more easily.
Lying in bed can be challenging as you may fall asleep if you’re just starting a meditation practice, but if it will get you meditating, don’t hesitate to try it.
Best advice: create a posture that allows your body to feel steady and comfortable as easily as possible.
Pick a method or focus
How is this different from a intention? A focus is what you're aiming for (e.g. more peace) while a method is how you plan to get there (e.g. watching your breath).
Popular ways to meditate include:
- watch the breath. simply observe the flow of your breath as it comes in and out of your body
- repeat a phrase that is meaningful to you, or a mantra like OM that you repeat either out loud or softly to yourself
- scan your body for sensations and simply observe them
- pick an image like a serene lake and visualize that. Some folks like to pick a physical object to focus on and to rest their gaze softly, with eyes half-closed on the flame of a candle or a geometric pattern
- listen to a guided meditation or meditative music
The benefit of picking a focus is that as you meditate, when you notice that you've become distracted (composing a grocery list or writing that report for your boss), you can gently bring your awareness back to that focus.
Pick a length of time
Whether you meditate once a week for five minutes or an hour a day, an easy way to create an instant meditation win is to set an amount of time and stick to it. Say you’ll meditate for a minute and set the timer on your phone. No matter what else, you will have created a pause in your day and just that is a modern day miracle.
When beginning or restarting a practice, try starting with short amounts of time. The idea is not to add yet another thing to your to-do list that will weigh you down. Make it easy for yourself and when those 2 or 3 minutes start becoming something you look forward to, increase the amount of time gradually. Not that it's a race, but we suggest betting on the tortoise.
Finally, the best ingredients to keep your meditation going:
- Commitment: just stick with it;
- Compassion: be gentle with yourself no matter what happens or doesn’t;
- Detachment: it is what it is;
- Reflection: take a moment to consider (vs. analyze or judge) your experience of meditation. It’s excellent if you can write down the landmarks of each meditation experience, but just pausing a couple seconds to mentally list what happened (stillness, agitation, a deepening of the breath) will provide you with an invaluable owner’s manual for your own fascinating self.
Like a circle of loyal friends, cultivating these qualities within yourself will pick you up when you’re down, keep you present to the growth that does happen, at your own, personally perfect pace (in the Rolling Stones sense of you don’t always get want you want but you just might get what you need) and delight you as you discover the countless and surprising ways that the benefits of meditation show up in all other areas of your life.
What are your best tips for meditating? Let us know in the comments below!