With the demands of modern life, it’s no surprise that more and more people are turning to meditation to tune out daily stresses, the constant bombardment of the internet and social media, worries of the future, and of course, looming career deadlines.
It often feels like there are not enough hours in the day to get our to-do lists done, to make sure the kids are home safe and doing their homework, all the while, make sure we’re getting our daily workout in.
We’re often so busy we feel there is no time to stop to take a breath, let alone to meditate!
But while meditation may be seen as just an added task on your ever-growing to-do list, you’ll be surprised how a simple 10 to 15-minute meditation can help you not only overcome your stresses, but to actually increase your productivity, and help you find inner peace and balance.
Numerous studies show that meditation also help us elevate both our brain function and general physical state. Some benefits include how:
- Meditation helps you feel a greater sense of calm and productivity throughout the day.
- Meditation increases blood flow in your brain, enhancing focus, memory and overall cognitive function.
- Meditation balances your body’s systems — eases chronic pain, anxiety, stress, improves heart health, boosts your mood, metabolism and immunity.
Needless to say, there are many benefits of adopting a regular meditation practice, and the above are just a few of them.
But meditation is blanketed with many misconceptions (that you may have) that is worth debunking.
Three Common Misconceptions Of Meditation
1.“Meditation is just for people who are “woo-woo.” I’m different, it won’t work for me.”
There are many ways to meditate and millions of “normal” people meditate every day, focusing on their breath, or using simple guided meditations.
Meditation isn’t just for hippies, vegan yogis, or gurus on a retreat in India. Think of it as a gym for your mind that millions and millions of people do — regardless of their level of spirituality or cultural differences — and so can you!
2. “Meditation has no scientific proof. It’s just a placebo effect happening in your mind.”
Meditation is certainly not merely a placebo effect — although science shows that placebos actually do work! But modern brain monitoring technology demonstrates the increasingly vast evidence that meditation has positive effects on body, brain and mind.
3. “Meditation is boring.”
Meditation is not boring because after some practice, you’ll be able to tap into your natural state of bliss — your internal happiness. Think of it as a natural way of feeling really good, or getting high (if that’s your thing).
It may feel boring at first when you start out and before you begin to master and fine tune your preferred way to meditate. But keep at it, and you’ll naturally become more excited to meditate as the meditation process starts to work for you.
So don’t stress about meditation or beginning a meditation practice. Get excited! It’s a fun and enjoyable exercise that only takes a little practice to start loving it and seeing and feeling the benefits!
In this article, you’ll learn the basics of how to meditate and deepen your understanding of how to reap the benefits of meditation by following a few easy guides and suggestions of how to commit to a regular practice.
- The Most Ideal Environments for Meditation
- The Common 6 Postures Of Meditation
- How To Position & Relax The Rest Of Your Body While Meditating
- How To Breathe During Meditation
- How To Manage Your Thoughts & Clear Your Mind While Meditating
- How Long To Meditate For
- When You’ll Start Noticing The Benefits Of Meditation
Anyone can meditate, and anyone can benefit from meditating, no matter what type of practice. Use this article as a meditation guide to learn how to effectively meditate so you can enjoy the many benefits that comes from meditation.
Let’s get started!
The Most Ideal Environments For Meditation
The Ideal Times To Meditate
While many people meditate in the morning before facing the tasks and pressures of the day and to energize and set the tone for the day, there really is no best time to meditate.
Other people like to set their meditation practice during the evening before heading to bed to “unwind” from the day’s stresses, and set themselves up for a blissful, deep and relaxed sleep.
Whether you are a “morning person” or a “night owl,” choose a time of day that you’ll benefit greatly from. Either meditate in the morning to set the tone of productivity, calmness and happiness for the day, or meditate at night to de-stress and send you off to a rejuvenating sleep.
You may even want to experiment with meditating during the day — just find a quiet, uninterrupted space. And there’s no reason why you can’t meditate more than once throughout your day. Just find what works for you and do it consistently.
If you like to plan ahead, adjust your meditation practice into your week to ensure it happens. It’s one of the most important things you to do for yourself.
The Ideal Places To Meditate
Sure, you can meditate anywhere — at home, your office, your car, outside in nature, on the subway, even in a busy street! However, it’s good to set up a space where you can meditate regularly, an area that evokes relaxation and is special and meaningful to you.
If you find yourself in an environment that is somewhat noisy or distracting — such as a busy street, on the subway, or in a park — close your eyes and use earplugs, or listen to a guided meditation with earphones to drown out the noise around you.
If you’re able to set up a meditation space at home, set up your space with candles, incense, artwork, photos and other decorations that make you happy and invoke a sense of gratitude. Playing soft meditation music can also help to calm your mind and set the intention of your meditation.
Once you have your most ideal environment in mind, let’s look into the postures or positions for your meditation practice.
The 6 Common Postures Of Meditation
Do you sit down for meditation and wonder if you're doing it right? There are a many forms of meditation in the world but when you look at people meditating, you’ll notice that they all look quite similar.
The following are the basic meditation postures that are used to balance the mind and align the body.
1. The Quarter Lotus
Sit with your legs loosely crossed. Adjust your legs so they can fully relax. Both feet should be resting right below the opposite knee or thigh.
2. The Half Lotus
The half lotus is merely a variation of the quarter lotus. Cross your legs, and place one foot atop the opposite thigh, and the other foot underneath the top leg, resting below the knee or thigh.
3. The Full Lotus
If you’re flexible enough, cross your legs with both feet place on top of your opposite thighs. Remember that you must be fully relaxed to achieve the full benefits of meditation, so be cautious of your range of flexibility.
4. The Burmese Position
The burmese position is perfect if you are unable to sit with your legs crossed. You can just sit with both feet on the floor. Place a meditation mat or towel beneath your ankles if they tend to cramp up or get sore from the floor.
5. The Seiza Position
If your range of motion deters you from sitting, you also have the option of simply kneeling with a cushion, a rolled yoga or meditation mat, or foam roller between your legs.
6. Using A Chair
Sitting on a chair is certainly an option if you prefer (and can be useful if you can’t find a place to sit on the ground). When meditating while sitting on a chair, make sure to sit so that only half of your rear end is on the chair base (this ensures good posture and elongates your spine) and place your feet firmly on the floor, aligned with your hips and knees.
Found your preferred meditation posture? Great! Whatever posture it is, do what feels right and stick with it.
Now, let’s look at what to do with the rest of your body.
How To Position & Relax The Rest Of Your Body While Meditating
It’s important to relax every part of your body from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. You’ll be able to learn how tension really has an affect on our natural functioning of our bodies when we learn how to deeply relax in a state of clear awareness of ourselves.
One method of how to meditate effectively in a deeply relaxed state is to slowly scan your body from top to bottom (body scanning), being aware of and releasing tension in each part of your body. A meditation guide that uses this technique can work well if you’re new to meditation or just need some guidance with body-scanning for optimal relaxation.
Below are a few tips on how to relax some important parts of your body while doing the body scanning technique for deep relaxation.
Relaxing Your Spine
Keep your spine straight while meditating so you can avoid any muscle tension or back aches. When your spine isn’t properly elongated, back aches can happen because your back muscles along the spine have to compensate for your posture being out of alignment.
The best way to align your spin is to sit very, very straight. Regardless of whether you are sitting on the floor or in a chair, make sure you’re not leaning too far back or too far forward.
Relaxing Your Shoulders
Allow your shoulders to relax being careful not to slouch as it will refrain your spine from elongating. Pull your shoulders slightly back to create a strong balance with your back while opening up your front torso and upper chest.
Relaxing Your Hands
Many beginners of meditation start with simply resting their hands on their lap, palms facing down on their thighs.
Another option is to have your arms at your side, placing your right hand on top of your left next to your navel with your thumbs slightly touching. This hand resting position is known to create more energy and heat in the body, an easy way to perk yourself up if you’re fatigued. In Buddhist Tantra, the right hand symbolizes compassion, while the left hand represents wisdom. In this hand resting position, you’re bringing the two forces together. [Source]
Relaxing Your Head
The ideal position for your head is when it’s resting gently on your neck so that you are slightly tucking your chin in. Our heads are actually pretty heavy so that when we tilt chin too far downward or upward, it moves our head out of alignment with our neck.
Make sure that you are not leaning it too far forward or too far back. You’ll know that you’re not leaning too far forward or too far back when you’re able to stare straight ahead when your eyes are open.
Relaxing Your Jaw
An effective way to release tension in the muscles around your face and jaw is by simply creating small space between your upper and lower teeth and having your jaw slightly open. Place your tongue against the top of your mouth for easy breathing.
Practicing releasing jaw tension while meditating can have tremendous positive results for those of you who tend to clench your jaw throughout the day.
Relaxing Your Gaze
Contrary to what most people think, try to keep your eyes open in a half-closed relaxed way. Set your gaze two to four feet in front of you on the ground, or just slightly downward. This way you’ll be able to block out any possible distractions while staying alert to ward off any temptations to doze off. While you may naturally pick a certain place to center your focus on, try to maintain a loose gaze and rest your eyes there.
While it’s widely believed among meditation gurus to keep your eyes slightly open [Source], it’s important to do what’s most comfortable for you so if closing your eyes feels best for you, go for it. Just be sure to make a conscious decision to do so before you meditate so you are not switching back and forth between eyes closed vs. eyes open — a disruption to your practice.
Now that you know the body-scanning technique and how to relax different parts of your body, what do you do with your breathe? Read on to find out:
How To Breathe During Meditation
Mindfulness of breath is a tremendously powerful practice. Depending on the type of meditation you do, you may or may not focus entirely on your breath. Regardless of meditation type, you should be setting your intention to focus on your breath as best you can.
A great way to start is to feel your breath going in and out of your belly, passing through the back of your throat and through your nostrils — feeling the gentle rising and falling of your upper torso. For added awareness of your breath, try placing your hands on your belly or chest, feeling the breath moving in and out. Rest your hands once you’ve found a comfortable awareness of your inhales and exhales.
Bring your breath to its natural flow of speed and depth and welcome each breath as it is. It may start off as slow and shallow, then deepen as you continue breathing. However your breathing flows, accept it and be aware of it’s natural state.
Let’s now look into what most people find the trickiest part of meditation: What to do with your thoughts and how to clear your mind. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through it!
How To Manage Your Thoughts & Clear Your Mind While Meditating
Most people think that the purpose of meditation is to clear your mind. But let’s face it, it’s almost impossible not to have a single thought pop up in your mind.
What should I have for lunch? Stop thinking about lunch!
Did I forget to set that appointment up? Quit thinking about errands!
I can’t wait for this weekend. Stop looking ahead, focus on the now!
We get it. Our minds are in constant motion. We have an incessant, hyper-active monkey running around in our mind, yapping away.
But to quiet that monkey-mind of yours, you can actually do a few simple things before you meditate to achieve a deep relaxed state of mind.
You can start by acknowledging your mind and body connection. Take a long walk or treat yourself with a nice cup of tea. Go through a few journalling exercises, exercise or dance to your favorite music. Once you’re ready, begin your meditation in a comfortable and quiet place.
Be easy on yourself when your mind wanders. Every time your mind begins to shift its focus away from your intention or breath and you get lost in thought, you can clear your mind by simply bringing your attention back to your breath and doing the following three things:
1. Remind yourself that thoughts are natural and fighting against your thoughts are counter-productive
Having a tug-of-war with your mind won’t help it relax and clear it of inner chatter. As the saying goes, what we resist persists!
Having thoughts are natural — you just need to remind yourself that it happens to everyone and return your attention to your breath or intention of your meditation. Just like how exercise strengthens your body, meditation builds your mental muscle of focus.
2. Be aware of and label/categorize the thoughts as soon as they arise.
As with everything, a thought is a version of some type of energy. In this case, a thought is a neurological brain wave. You’re not trying to get rid of that thought or that energy, you’re just trying to create clarity between thoughts.
When you become aware of a thought, acknowledge its presence and label it. Tell your thought, “Hey I acknowledge you, but I’m going to need you to come back later.”
This mindfulness training of your thoughts allows them to float peacefully by, then peacefully away as you return to your breath or other intention or focus.
3. Express compassion instead of criticism to your thoughts
Compassion is a key component of mindfulness and creating a new positive habit. When your mind goes off on a different direction from your focus, simply address your thought with compassion and kindness instead of criticism to get back on track and clear mind.
Even if you have a tenacious monkey-mind that’s constantly probing for your attention, developing compassion and kindness towards your thoughts in your meditation practice is part of the objective of meditation itself — to be able to respond to life outside of meditation in a compassionate manner so you’re less reactive and negative in everyday life.
So chill out your monkey-mind by showering it with love!
If you still find it difficult to meditate without your monkey-mind distracting, try guided meditations. Many attest to how it’s a great way to prevent your mind from wandering off by following an easy set of guided instructions.
So you’re able to tame your thoughts and monkey-mind, but how long do you need to try to do it for?
How Long To Meditate For
Any amount of meditation is better than none. Period. The most important thing is to try to commit to do it every day.
The amount of time you have can vary day to day. Some people notice distinct benefits of stress reduction and greater happiness with just 5-10 minutes of meditation daily.
If you can manage 20-30 minutes a day, or even an hour a day — great! If three minutes is all you have, then spending those three minutes meditating is much better than not doing so.
Try to do it every day and have a minimum time commitment for yourself, say 5 minutes a day. Meditating for just 5 minutes a day is 100x better than meditating for 90 minutes once a week. With consistency, you’ll start feeling more committed your practice, no matter what. And you’ll feel good about it! Even just five minutes a day makes a difference.
In time and with practice, you’ll find yourself able to commit to longer meditations. Just like with any training, start small and work yourself up. If you’re meditating with a timer, start at 5 minutes, then when you’re comfortable, increase it to 10-20 minutes, then 30-45 minutes.
Using guided meditations is an effective way to commit to a set amount of time with the aid of visual and audio instructions. Start with 5-minute guided meditations, and work yourself up to 10-minute, 20-minute, and 30-minutes guided meditations.
And now to address the elephant in the room: “When will I start to see or feel the benefits of meditation?” Don’t worry, we got this covered!
When You’ll Start Noticing The Benefits Of Meditation
What is your objective for meditation? Why do you meditate, or want to meditate?
Each person may have varying intentions.
Do you want to alleviate anxiety and stress? Are you meditating to find deeper meaning in your life? Are you meditating to foster a stronger mind-body connection? For heightened mindfulness, productivity, focus or self-love/self-esteem?
The above reasons are all meaningful reasons to meditate and practicing meditation can certainly help you achieve those positive results.
But it’s important to acknowledge that — much like developing any positive practice or habit — the benefits and results are not always immediate. Most good things in life take time to happen, and meditation is as much an art as much as it is a science.
If you commit to your meditation practice and faithfully follow it with intention, you will see positive results and growth. But it requires patience and understanding that growth comes in small steps.
You don’t get to decide to see how quickly you’ll see results. We are all so different — our needs, personalities, and mindsets are all different. It may take just a few days, weeks, or months of regular practice to see results. The most important thing is to take that first step and stick with it.
However, one great way to notice how your meditation practice is affecting you is to simply notice whether you feel different in any way at all when you finish your meditation compared to before your meditation, when you first sat down.
Perhaps you feel just a little less tense or stressed out, maybe calmer or slightly more aware of yourself and your feelings. Maybe you feel softer around the edges, more comfortable, lighter.
If you begin your meditation free from any expectation and with the motivation to quietly benefit others, then more often than not you will experience these benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Meditate
Q: How is meditation different from thinking or relaxation?
A: Your thoughts take up energy when they are created so that when you’re constantly thinking, you’re actually tiring the mind. Meditation is a way to transcend your natural state of thinking where you are aware that your thoughts are just thoughts, and you’re aware of a space of awareness independent of thoughts that exists in your mind.
Relaxation is a result of meditation. You can achieve relaxation in other ways as well, such as taking a hot bath, watching a movie, getting a massage, etc. But unlike relaxation, meditation is an active process where you are fully aware of what your awareness is doing, and attempts to transcend the thought process — whereas relaxation still engages your thought process.
Q: Can I meditate while lying down?
A: Sometimes people ask if they can meditate lying down. Sure meditation while lying down is fine, but you also set yourself up for falling asleep. If you decide to meditate while lying down, maintain a sense of wakefulness by bending your knees so that your feet are grounded on the floor.
Q: What type of meditation should I start with?
A: There’s no “right” type of meditation for everyone. Some techniques work better for certain people, while other techniques work better for others. Many people start off by simply trying mindfulness meditation. But feel free to explore the different types of meditation (there are many!). The important thing is to find what works for you.
Q: Do I need a meditation teacher?
A: No, you do not need a meditation teacher, although some find it helpful to have one just to get started. A teacher can be a valuable aid in learning certain meditation techniques and making sure it’s practiced correctly. Learning with a group of people, i.e. a meditation class, allows you to experience the benefits of meditation as a collective group.
But having a teacher is not necessary. You learn meditation from a book, from videos online, or simply learning from this article and trying it on your own until you find your preferred way to meditate. Again, there is not right way to meditate. The right way is your way with a few basic guides as outlined in this article.