How to Meditate
Meditation is a simple practice that enables us to train the mind. Most of the time, our mind wanders. We spend time thinking, worrying, fantasizing, agonizing, or daydreaming about the past and future. Meditation returns us to the present moment.
It’s a tool that can help us combat stress, feel happier, be more peaceful, lower blood pressure, and enjoy the current moment, among many other things.
On an even deeper level, meditation can liberate the mind from attachment to things it can’t control, help us realize the vastness of our mind, and enable us to get a better sense of who we are.
The first time I meditated was six years ago, during my sophomore year of college. I turned the lights off in my room, adjusted to a comfortable seated position in my desk chair, planted my feet on the ground, laid my palms on my thighs, and brought my attention to my breath. Within a few seconds, I recognized the challenge of the experience.
My mind drifted to the doctor’s visit I had for my scratched cornea, the class that I had in an hour, the essay that I had to write, and other concerns. During the five minutes of my first mediation experience, I transitioned between small moments of conscious breathing and getting lost in my thoughts.
Over the last three years, I’ve made meditation a daily habit, and it has been a remarkable journey. Here are some of the things I learned along the way:
Meditation isn’t about letting our thoughts wander or getting rid of our thoughts. The practice is simply about bringing our attention to the present moment — our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and whatever else is with us in the moment.
The breath is an excellent anchor for meditation; we are always breathing, so it can help us focus on the existing moment.
3. Posture and Place
You can meditate in any posture and at any moment — sitting, standing, laying, on a cushion, in a chair, walking, in the shower etc. However, the mind and body are intertwined, so if the body is balanced, it’ll be easier to balance the mind. Elongating the spine and keeping the head up makes it easier to focus on the present moment. I’ve noticed, when my body is slumped, my mind drifts or I have more of an urge to fall asleep.
Meditation is also easier to do when it’s a part of our routine. Therefore, it’s helpful to have specific place and time for meditation to make it a habit. At the start of our day, we have more willpower, so that’s a helpful time to develop a habit.
I often meditate in my bed as soon as I wake up. I’ve also formed a habit of meditating on trains, so I practice during some of my commutes. Whether you choose to meditate during your lunch break, before bed or during another part of your day, try to stick to that time until it becomes a habit.
Sometimes, I prefer keeping my eyes open when I meditate. I might observe my surroundings without passing judgment or softly gaze at the floor. Other times, I prefer to close my eyes. It’s best to experiment and figure out what’s most effective for you.
I often rest my palms on my thighs if I’m sitting. Sometimes when I’m in nature or meditating with a group, I flip my palms upward, so I can better receive the energy around me. When I’m not sitting or laying down, I don’t think about my hands.
Meditation is a delightful way to wake us up to the beauty of the moment. We are able to enjoy more of our experiences, instead of always being preoccupied with our thoughts. In terms of meditation, focus is not the same as concentration. Concentration is more of a chore where we try to hold something in place. The focus in meditation is a soft attention paid to whatever we place our awareness on.
It’s inevitable that thoughts will come up. It’s normal; our brain is supposed to think. Don’t try to stop thoughts or beat yourself up for thinking. Those responses will agitate you and make your experience less pleasant. Instead, be happy with yourself for recognizing your thoughts and gently bring your attention back to your breath or whatever your focus was.
Whether you’re only focusing on your breath or transitioning between conscious breathing and thoughts, it’s all meditation. When you notice your thoughts and return your awareness to the present moment, you are forming new neuronal connections or strengthening existing neuronal connections. Noticing your thoughts is a major part of the journey.
It can be difficult to settle into meditation when we’re dealing with strong emotions. In those cases, I often try to just observe the thoughts that arise with the emotion. Although challenging, I try to track my breathing, accept my emotion, and witness the thoughts associated with the emotion as they pass by.
Another helpful practice is to place my awareness on how the emotion affects my body. For example, I might notice a knot in my abdomen, tightness in my chest or another sensation associated with the emotion. This allows me to stay present and let go of the stories that my mind creates.
There are numerous tools that we can use to facilitate meditation. Here are some that I’ve used in the past:
- Start by taking a few deep or elongated breaths to help myself settle, before allowing my breath to return to its normal rhythm.
- Count forwards or backwards with each breath
- Think about the word “in” with each in breath and the word “out” with each out breath.
- Pay attention to the rise and fall of my abdomen with each inhale and exhale
In addition to methods mentioned above, there are also applications that can be helpful. Insight Timer is a free app that I use. I generally only use it for the timer (it has a variation of gong sounds), but there are also many guided meditations. I’ve listened to a few of the guided meditations and enjoyed all of them.
10. Enjoy the Journey
Don’t meditate to achieve a goal. Meditate to meditate. When you place expectations on the experience or attach it to another goal, it becomes less enjoyable. Release the idea that you have to be in control and don’t try to conceptualize the experience. Instead, just accept the experience for what it is.
You can also consider a facial expression you associate with gratitude and acknowledge the feat of making time for yourself.
Simple Meditation for Beginners
- Sit comfortably on a cushion, couch or chair
- Straighten your spine and hold your head in line with your spine
- Place your hands on your thighs
- Close your eyes or gaze down at the floor in front of you
- Focus your attention on your breath and on how your body moves with each inhalation and exhalation
- Breathe at your normal rhythm and if your mind wanders, gently return your focus to your breath
- Maintain the meditation practice for two or three minutes
- Add time to your practice as you gain more experience (I added 1 minute each day when I first made it a habit)
There are multiple forms of meditation. I usually focus my attention on my breath. But some other forms include body scans, mantras, movement (tai chi, yoga), observing an environment without passing judgment, visualization, and sound.