How to practice meditation
To start meditating, all you need is a comfortable seat, a dedicated period of time (anywhere from a few minutes to 20 minutes is ideal), and the willingness to be present to your experience. “You can come with any attitude you have: skepticism, curiosity or enjoyment,” guides Lorin Roche in his book Meditation Made Easy. We encourage you to come into your practice with an open mind and willingness to allow the experience to unravel naturally. “Be willing to be surprised and energised, and be willing to fall asleep because you are so relaxed,” Lorin continues.
Like any skill, meditation needs to be practised consistently in order to achieve the most benefit. “The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit,” guides author Fabienne Fredrickson. “Be patient and stay the course.”
While we don’t offer a how-to guide for different meditation techniques to practise in this publication, we invite you to use the wisdom on these pages to help inform you on which style of meditation is best for you to start practising. Then, we encourage you seek out a teacher in person or online (apps such as Insight Timer and Headspace are also great tools for your meditation practice) to help support you on your meditation journey.
When should I meditate?
There is no right or wrong time to meditate throughout the day, the timing just has to work for you. In saying this, most traditions suggest practising twice a day: firstly, after waking in the morning and secondly, in the afternoon before dinnertime. Your morning practice sets the tone for your day, whereas your afternoon practice is a nice reset to carry into the rest of your afternoon and evening. If you choose to meditate at night, it is best to ensure the meditation is soothing and relaxing, rather than energising and awakening.
Over time, you will find a natural rhythm of meditation practice that works for you. Lorin Roche’s advice in Meditation Made Easy may also be useful for determining when to meditate: “The basic principle is to meditate before periods of activity, so that your ability to work and play and socialise can be enhanced by the relaxed alertness in which you are learning to function.”
How often should I meditate?
The short answer to this question is every day, as you will reap the most benefits of the practice by meditating daily. But realistically, the practice has to fit into your schedule and is not designed to cause you unnecessary stress. If you are worrying about finding the time to fit meditation into your schedule, then it might be a nice time to reconsider your priorities in life. If meditation is something that is important to you, then it needs to fit into your day-to-day life.
How long should I meditate for?
Recent neuroscientific research reveals that meditating for as little as 12 minutes five times a week can help strengthen your capacity to pay attention, so that may be a nice goal to aim for in your meditation practice. On average, however, it takes a healthy-functioning nervous system approximately 20 minutes to settle, which also makes 20 minutes an ideal time to work towards mediating for.
Styles of meditation such as Vedic suggest practising for 20 minutes twice a day. However, even a few minutes of meditation is more beneficial than not meditating at all. If you are new to meditation, we suggest starting with just five minutes in the morning and afternoon, and slowly build your way up to 20 in five-minute increments.
The most essential thing is to commit to your practice. “One of my meditation teachers said that the most important moment in your meditation practice is the moment you sit down to do it. Because right then you’re saying to yourself that you believe in change, you believe in caring for yourself, and you’re making it real. You’re not just holding some value like mindfulness or compassion in the abstract, but really making it real,” explains author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg.
Do I have to sit still in meditation?
You may think that you must sit completely still in meditation. This may be an approach that works for some meditators, but it is not the only way to meditate and is not something we encourage solely in this publication. “Move all you want in meditation,” guides Lorin Roche in Meditation Made Easy. “You only sit still in meditation to better follow the movement of life. It is a natural repose, not something forced.”
If you feel an urge to move into a more comfortable position, do it. If you want to scratch an itch, go for it. If you would like to meditate lying down, that is fine. When you take the path of least resistance in your meditation practice, you may find that you feel calmer, more at ease and relaxed than if you were sitting cross-legged but feeling uncomfortable and refusing to find a more suitable position to meditate in.
Author David Carse explains how the embracing of stillness is a form of surrender — but not in the way you might think
Where should I meditate?
While there is no strict place where you have to meditate, finding a quiet place where you feel comfortable is most ideal. For some people who have a very busy schedule, this location might be their car before and after work, or on their lunch break. For other people, it might be a garden or place in nature near your home or workplace. Some people simply meditate on their couch or their bed, whereas others have a dedicated shala or sacred space in their home for spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation. Allow your mood to guide the location in which you choose to meditate.
“I think we all need that place. It becomes a physical expression of solitude,” shares author Michael Pollan in an interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday. Michael spoke about the importance of having a place of contemplation — not just for our meditation practice, but also as a place where we can just be.
What happens during meditation?
If you are curious about what happens during a meditation practice, the simple answer is that a multitude of things can happen during the duration of your practice. In Meditation Made Easy, author Lorin Roche describes some of the things that can occur:
Moments of relaxation, relief and calm.
An organising and sorting through of your thoughts surrounding everyday life.
Reflecting on and reviewing the emotions you felt throughout the day, offering them the space to resolve.
Small moments of quietude and peace.
Moments of near-sleep and dreamlike imagery.
Healing, which occurs through re-experiencing and then letting go of past pain and trauma stored in the body and mind.
Restoration of the nervous system, which occurs through a retuning of the nervous system to balance.
Tips for cultivating a lasting meditation practice
Set an intention. This will ground your practice in something meaningful, and provides a foundation for you to grow on and return to whenever you need to.
Focus on your breath. Another way to be present, harnessing your attention on your breath is a powerful grounding technique to help bring you into your body and the present moment.
Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. The more we practise noticing our thoughts and feelings, the more awareness we cultivate. Through this awareness, we can acknowledge what is happening with presence and compassion and without attaching to or judging what we notice. The more effectively we can do this, the quicker we can let go and move on.
Listen to your body. This is a form of mindfulness, and is a helpful anchor to drop in your practice to help keep you present.
Stay open to what arises. When we stay open to the possibility of anything arising in our practice, anything and everything is welcome. This sense of openness can then be taken with us outside of our practice and into everyday life.
Accept that the mind will wander. Your attention will wander during your meditation practice, as this is the nature of the mind. “Whenever you find your attention wandering, it’s fine. That is the magic moment of the meditation. We practise letting go; we practise beginning again,” guides author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg in her book Real Change.
“What’s in the way is the way. Whatever you are experiencing is a doorway into a more spacious place. So rather than resisting discomfort, you can learn how to open to what you are experiencing and explore it, without any need to have it be any different than what it is.” Mary O’Malley
Obstacles arising in meditation are inevitable, but how you choose to respond to them is in your control.
Here is some advice on how to transcend the most challenging obstacles in your meditation practice.
Allow your thoughts to be there
So much of our suffering comes from resisting or reacting to our thoughts. When we simply allow them to be there, something shifts. By welcoming thoughts — especially the more painful or difficult ones — we allow our brain to process what is happening and ultimately let go.
Accept your emotions
Being human means feeling the broad spectrum of emotions in life. We need to feel everything in order to heal, so this means giving yourself the permission and space to feel everything that you may not have given yourself the time to feel previously. Meditation is such a soothing and loving space to let this process unfold in.
Embrace the sensations you are feeling
When we welcome all manner of sensations — from relaxation and softness to tension and contraction — we build up our tolerance and resilience to experiencing both comfortable and uncomfortable sensations. The body can’t relax unless you allow yourself to release any built-up tension that has been stored in the body.
Tolerate the noise (internal and external)
Noise isn’t an issue unless you react to it. The more you can practise being tolerant of noise — both internally and externally — the more patient you will become and your ability to have grace under pressure will improve. This is not just in relation to your meditation practice, but also in the practice of life itself.
This article is featured in Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation