How to Meditate
So exactly where should you begin? Do you have to sit in a lotus position, like a human pretzel? Should you press your thumbs and index fingers together and chant OM? Well, first of all, just relax. If you can do that much, you're well on your way. The following directions offer suggestions and guidelines to help you get the most out of meditation. You don't have to follow them exactly. Trust your instincts; if something feels awkward, don't do it. And remember, give yourself a chance — meditation isn't something you'll master overnight.
Your mind is accustomed to thinking of dozens of things at once; now you're asking it to stop multitasking and hone in on one particular idea or goal. That's why the Buddha recommended three things for successful meditation (or any spiritual pursuit): Practice, practice, practice!
Let go of any preconceptions about how fast you should be “getting it,” or what kind of magickal experiences might result. If you set a lot of expectations for yourself, you're likely to be disappointed and make learning more difficult. Meditation isn't something you strive or push yourself to excel at. You ease into it.
Find a convenient place and a comfortable position that you can sit in for a while. The more comfortable your body is, the easier it becomes for your mind to direct its attention toward the purpose you've intended. At first, your mind is going to jump about from thought to thought, like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. Everything from a little twitch in your leg to a dog barking down the road can potentially break your concentration. That's why meditation is considered a discipline.
Close your eyes and give yourself permission to put the world around you “on hold” for a bit. Breathe slowly and deeply; pay attention to your breath. It may help to shake out your arms and legs or stretch a bit before you sit down to meditate. Some people like to do some light exercise, such as yoga or walking, to release tension prior to meditation.
Begin by committing yourself to just five minutes of meditation a day, then increase the amount of time over a period of weeks. Just sit quietly, with your eyes closed. At first five minutes may seem like an eternity, but soon you'll stop glancing at your watch and simply enjoy taking a brief time out to relax.
What to Expect
Each person's experience of meditation is unique, depending on personality, concentration level, and the goal of the meditation. Furthermore, your own experiences may not always be the same. Most meditators say they feel a sense of calm and inner peace. Some individuals report body sensations, such as warmth, a slight tingling in the extremities, or light-headedness.
Experts on meditation recommend meditating either first thing in the morning when you're fresh or right before your main meal of the day. Some people like to meditate twice a day, in the morning and in the evening before going to bed. Experiment and see what works best for you.
At deeper levels, you may experience a connection with Spirit (however you interpret that connection). You might also witness dreamlike visions or creative insights. Perhaps you'll achieve a sense of purpose or receive clarity that helps you resolve problems. This kind of inner knowing can't easily be described in words — but you'll know it when you feel it. Over time, meditation can help you resolve issues or change patterns in your life.
Aids to Meditation
Metered breathing is the most universally suggested meditation aid. Here's how it goes. Take three cleansing breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Continue to breathe slowly. Let one breath naturally lead to the next, so there's no break in the rhythm. Focus your attention on your breathing.
Now, just for the fun of it, breathe a little more quickly than normal for about ten seconds and see if your senses heighten or diminish. Inhale, hold that breath for a beat or two, then exhale normally. Repeat this for about five minutes and note the results. Now mix and match the breathing: inhale slowly, exhale quickly; exhale slowly, inhale quickly. Finally, try the slow, regular breathing again and notice how you feel. There's no right way — use whichever breathing pattern works best for you.
Aromatherapy can help calm and center you. Buddhists often burn incense in conjunction with meditation. If you prefer, you can place a few drops of essential oil on your pulse points. Lavender, sandalwood, clary sage, frankincense, vanilla, and pine are good choices. Only pure essential oils produce beneficial aromatherapy effects — synthetic scents won't work.
Some people find it useful to gently press the tips of the thumbs and forefingers together while meditating. Activating the acupressure points in the fingertips can encourage mental relaxation and insights. Others like to ring a bell prior to meditation as a cue or prompt.
Practice Makes Perfect
The more you exercise any skill, the better you'll get at it. The same is true of meditation. Here are some additional tips to improve the results you get from meditation.
Meditate at the same time every day. Establishing a routine trains the mind to anticipate relaxation at a certain time.
Eliminate all distractions (phone, TV, etc.).
Create a sacred space for your daily meditations.
Listen to soothing music without a melody, lyrics, or rhythmic beat.
Gaze at a candle flame — the flickering produces a hypnotic effect.
Design a ritual around your meditation.
If you wish, smudge the area or cast a circle around the place where you meditate.
Record your experiences and insights in a journal.
Be patient with yourself and keep practicing. It's not unusual to fall asleep during meditation (in fact, meditation is frequently prescribed for people with sleep disorders). You wouldn't expect to run a marathon without training, and you shouldn't expect to reach intense altered states of consciousness the first time you meditate, either.
End your meditation gently. Slowly bring your awareness back to normal. Open your eyes a little at a time. Wiggle your body a bit. Stay seated quietly for a few moments to give yourself a chance to adjust and return to everyday reality — don't get up too quickly, or you may become dizzy.