The following are answers to some of the questions most frequently asked of us by those interested in or just beginning the practice of meditation.
What is meditation?
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, so there are countless variations and definitions of the practice. Most forms of meditation offer relaxation — primarily through a quieting of the mind — and create a “pause” from the rapid pace of our lives to let our mind and body “catch up,” re-balance, and re-center.
Some styles of meditations rely on complete silence, some employ the repetition of specific words or “mantras,” some offer guided imagery and/or affirmations, some focus on specific energy centers or “chakras,” some utilize specific sounds and music, some have very ancient roots, rituals, and religious traditions. And there are many more varieties and combinations. Some meditations focus primarily on relaxation and the well documented health benefits associated with this. Other meditations go beyond relaxation to help us reconnect with the deeper clarity, power, peace, and wholeness within us.
What’s the best meditation for me?
It’s hard to imagine any of the wide variety of meditations that would not be beneficial. Of these varied types of meditations, the “best” type is simply the one you find most beneficial… the type that best matches you. So do experiment… and trust your feelings and instincts.
It’s also worth noting that though we may begin meditation for one reason (stress release, improved concentration and focus, deeper rest, etc.), we may soon discover other and more profound benefits (inner peace and balance, stronger sense of self and purpose, physical and emotional healing, etc.).
How often should I meditate?
Meditation should not be or feel like an “obligation” — though, needless to say, you will have to make time to do it. [Also see next question.] Once a week is a good start. If you can meditate more often, all the better.
Doing a brief morning meditation can be extremely beneficial, as it sets the right tone for your day. The morning is a very powerful time, and even spending 5-10 minutes in meditation can establish an inner balance that will help support you throughout the day. The morning is also an ideal time to align yourself and your energy with your intentions, your power, and the “higher” support for what you wish to create that day.
Likewise, a brief meditation in the evening, or at the end of your work-day, helps you re-balance from the rigors of the day. Over the course of a day, these demands (work, school, family responsibilities, etc.) can gradually draw us out of balance and out of our “center.” A brief meditation helps you recover this balance and re-center. It also gives your mind, body, and emotions a healthy interval for some much-needed rest.
How do I know if I’m meditating correctly?
The first rule of meditation — at least the meditation we teach — is: You cannot do it wrong.
Meditation should, first and foremost, return you to you. And you cannot experience you (or your process) incorrectly. In fact, trying to “do it right” — efforting — is really the only obstacle to meditation. So when you find yourself “working at it” or struggling… that’s your signal to pause, return to your breathing for a moment, and let this impulse go.
Meditation helps us “release” — release our stress and heaviness, release our mental “chatter,” release our physical and emotional tension, release our fears and judgment. Understand that release is not something we “do.” Holding is something we do. Holding takes effort. Release happens naturally when we let go of our holding — when we cease to effort. (In fact, one of the very powerful longer-term benefits of meditation is that we will integrate this art of “release” into our daily lives… so that we end up “accruing” less stress, less heaviness, less emotional tension, and less fear as we move through our days.)
And as a follow-up to the previous question, if doing your daily or weekly meditation begins to feel like an “obligation,” you’ve likely let your meditation become “work.” You’ve strayed into that “do it right” mode. Meditation should not be hard or heavy. And it’s not something you need to worry about “perfecting.” Meditation should be, first and foremost, your time for peace and lightness: a time in which you have permission to rest, and a space in which you feel safe to release and open.
Certainly, if you’ve had a stressful day, it may take some time to relax into this meditative state. So do have some patience with this. But again, the lighter you are and the less you “work” at this, the sooner and easier this sense of balance and peace will come.
Does meditation “work” right away?
Yes… and no. Every meditation will almost certainly provide some immediate relaxation and relief from stress, fatigue, and emotional tension. In any given meditation, however, your experience can range from profound and wonderful (in terms of the depth of nurturing, clarity, release, and healing you find) to simply calming and balancing. And while one day your meditation may be incredibly vivid, the very next day you may struggle a bit. So, be prepared for this.
This “range of experience” is difficult to explain, except to say that meditation is an extremely “organic” process. Because it aligns you with your own “higher” energy and knowing, it will provide what you need and what you’re ready for at any given time. And this will vary.
A key factor in this variation is that, over time, meditation heals and empowers at deeper and higher levels, so there will be peaks and plateaus (… but you’re actually always moving forward). In this regard, meditation works subtly, but very powerfully with regular practice and over the longer run.
Beyond this, understand that “expectation” can be a bit of a hindrance to meditation. When we are “looking” for a particular experience or outcome, we tend to “close” our energy. Expecting, like efforting, engages the mind and can keep us from the experience we actually need. Again, it’s often best simply to be patient and to “open” to the energy of your meditation.
I find sometimes that I get caught up in my thoughts during meditation. What then?
You should expect this to some extent; more so if you’re new to meditation or if you’re particularly stressed at the time. Don’t let it worry you. Part of the normal process of meditation is allowing your thoughts to “run themselves out.” Your mind is a thinking instrument; this is not a flaw. Even if you were a “master” at meditation, if you use your mind your mind will need time to “wind down.” The less you worry about this process (worry is actually the mind “at work”), the sooner your mind will rest and recede out of your way.
Focusing lightly on your breathing is a natural mechanism to “shift” you away from your thoughts — hence the emphasis on “breathing” in most meditation practice. (“Centering” in our breathing, in meditation practice, also helps us return to our healthy, natural body/energy rhythms.) If thoughts intrude at any time, relax and return your focus to your breathing. If you can, try to treat these thoughts as separate from you. Seeing them as clouds moving freely across the sky is a very effective imagery. Don’t attach to them. Just breathe and let your thoughts move lightly on their own way. [Also see next question.]
I feel as though my mind keeps getting in the way of my meditation, especially when I’m worried about something. What can I do?
Again, this difficulty will lessen as you meditate more. Our minds are “on” constantly, so it may take time before we begin to feel some “separation” from this constant stream of our thoughts. But this will come. Again, the key is being patient and not fighting with your mind and your thoughts.
If a thought or worry happens to be weighing heavily upon your mind when you begin a meditation, let this meditation be an opportunity not to “escape” from or “shut off” this thought, but to lighten around it. In other words, use the meditation simply to release some of the heaviness — the worry or fear or pressure or perfectionism surrounding this particular “matter.” By doing this, you restore balance to your mind and free up more of your “knowing” to understand and address the matter more effectively.
And just to clarify… our minds and our meditation should not be at odds. Meditation should support every faculty and strength within us. And our mind is a great strength. In relaxing our thoughts through meditation, we are not so much getting our mind “out of the way” as much as we are giving our mind its much needed time to rest and recover. Yes, releasing from our “mind chatter” certainly plays a key role in our meditation, as this “noise” can distract us from our deeper, more centered awareness. But doing so also gives the mind a chance to settle so that it can more fully integrate the information we have gathered — and draw upon additional information that we may not “consciously” know we’ve gathered.
And again, by helping relieve heaviness and worry from our thoughts — which burden and constrain our mind — meditation helps us and our minds see more clearly and creatively. Indeed, meditation — at least, most forms of meditation — incorporate techniques that help “connect” the mind with our other faculties for knowing: the knowing of our emotional and physical bodies, the knowing of our heart, the knowing of our higher self. And this “integration” of knowledge will prove very powerful in our lives.
I sometimes just fall asleep soon after I start meditating.
This is not uncommon. As mentioned earlier, meditation is designed to connect you with what you need at the moment. And, given our strained life-styles, sometimes what we need most — for our balance, clarity, and strength — is sleep.
Having said this, if you meditate while lying down (on your bed, sofa, floor), you are very likely to fall asleep. You should be comfortable when you meditate, but the strongly recommended posture is sitting in a chair with your back (reasonably) straight and upright (to keep your spine straight) and both your feet flat on the floor. Some prefer sitting on the floor, as they feel a more “grounding” connection with the earth; this is also fine. As for sitting “Lotus” style, if this is comfortable for you, by all means do so; but, it’s not required.
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