On Meditation

Meditation is an almost infinitely complex practice but the basics are quite simple and benefits come quickly. Below are instructions to help you understand why it is important and how to start.

Why Meditation? Meditation is essentially the practice of gaining control over the mind. Given that stress is, at its core, a reaction by the mind to the events of everyday life, this control is an effective, proven way to reduce the impact of stress in your life. Especially to the extent that stressful reactions are due to the mind “running away” with worries that may or may not be realistic, learning to quiet the mind is so important that we include it as one of our core challenges in the Motivation Alliance.

What is Meditation? Meditation is not resting or simply relaxing. It is an active but calm state of clear focus. People have used meditation for thousands of years not only for spiritual purposes but for simply promoting a clearer, calmer and less stressful existence.
You can practice with either a sitting meditation or a walking meditation.

Sitting Meditation. In a sitting meditation, find a spot where you can remain undisturbed for at Woman Meditatingleast 5 to 10 minutes. You should be alone and have no electronics or other distractions at hand. Typically, you will be seated on a firm pad on the floor. Because it is important that your spine remain straight (but not tense), a cushion or pillow that is thicker at the rear and thinner toward the front is ideal. If sitting on the floor is not appropriate, find a chair that encourages an upright posture.

  • If on the floor, cross your legs so that the bottom of the right foot just touches the bottom of the left thigh. The left foot is then brought in against the right thigh.
  • If you are able, place the left foot on top of the right calf. This will pitch you slightly forward and make the rest of the lower body position easier to achieve.
  • On the floor or in a chair: place your hands in your lap, just below your navel with the left hand resting gently in the right. The thumbs are allowed to naturally rise above the palms and the elbows should be loose and open.
  • Alternatively, you may try keeping the arms loosely at the sides with the hands resting on the thighs, palms up, with the thumb and index finger lightly touching.
  • The spine is kept straight and, ideally, slightly forward (again, a pad can help).
  • Do not tense the back but find the place where the vertebra naturally “stack” to keep you erect.
  • The head is tilted slightly forward and the neck is tucked in and back. You will know you have the right angle when the tongue naturally contacts the back of the top teeth without effort.
  • The eyes are cast down and slightly forward. They should be partially, not completely, closed and focus should be allowed to go soft.
  • Be aware of tension in the shoulders; release it as you start and find the place where the shoulders naturally “hang” but the head is naturally raised (like someone is pulling very gently on a string at the very crown of the skull).

With just a bit of practice, you will go from needing instructions to finding this to be a natural, comfortable and familiar position. If your practice lasts longer than 5 or 10 minutes, you may find that the legs begin tingling, go to sleep or otherwise become uncomfortable. Do not let this bother you: you haven’t “failed” at meditation if you cannot hold this position! Just let the legs find a more comfortable spot and continue. However, always begin your meditation in the recommended position and, over time, you will be able to hold it for longer and longer periods of time.

Walking Meditation In a walking meditation, you can go almost anywhere that is relatively calm. Trails in nature are best but any path that does not have insistant distractions (e.g. many people, loud or garish marketing messages) will do. As with seated meditation, electronic distractions should be eliminated.  Walking is ideal for “mindfulness” meditation where we deepen our awareness of our body, its motion in space, and our place in the world as well as the object of our meditation (e.g. breathing).

Focus and the Object of Meditation Meditation has two phases: a calming of the mind to prepare for deeper reflection and the reflection itself. For our purposes, you are successful if you finish at least five minutes of the calming of the mind. We encourage you to learn a style or technique for reflective meditation but will not cover it here.

The first thing to realize is that calming the mind is not easy. Do not judge success by whether you have achieved a complete cessation of thought and purity of focus: you are likely to fail often, especially when starting meditation practice. Just as you wouldn’t expect to ski or ride a bike the first time you tried, you will not gain and maintain quietude of the mind when first starting meditation. That is perfectly okay since most of the benefits of meditation come simply from the basic practice of sitting or walking quietly and attempting to focus on your breath.

Watching the Breath to Calm the Mind Meditation is not a matter of “clearing” the mind by force of will. Attempting to make it so will simply draw focus away from the meditation and on to your “success.” Instead, take a brief moment to experience your thoughts and then turn your attention to your breathing. Watch the inhalation and let it deepen, naturally. Watch the exhalation and sense how it releases your body. Do not force deeper inhalation but permit it to occur. When you are stressed, your breath grows
shallower and more rapid. In releasing just normal, everyday stress, your breath will naturally deepen

If it helps, visualize the inhalation phase as gathering a peaceful white light, a universal energy or the wisdom of the ages. Visualize the exhalation as releasing tension or clearing negative thoughts or feelings – much as smoke from a candle disappears into thin air. These visualizations should remain extremely simple and uncluttered: you should not try to “see” or “feel” them in any detail or you risk spiraling into thoughts about the imagery or even self-doubt about whether you are visualizing “correctly.” Just gather breath in and release it out.

The power of breathing meditation is that, by remaining focused on the simple inspiration/expiration cycle, other thoughts are left no room. They will, of course, intrude and distract but, when they do, you have a simple tool to take control again: simply return to consciously following your breath. Soon, they lose the power to control and your body is released from the cycle whereby the mind piles thought onto thought in a spiral of anxiety.

Falling Asleep As noted above, meditation is an active but calm state of clear focus. Because of the release inherent in meditation, however, you may well grow sleepy – especially if you are in a high state of stress to begin with or if you are meditating right before bed-time. If you would like your meditation to last longer or are looking to push your practice deeper, you should consider moving your practice to a time of day where you have more energy. If you simply wish to unwind and relax, however, you might find that this is acceptable. In this case, do not attempt to meditate past the point where fatigue takes over as this will interfere with your future practice!  Instead, end your meditation and move on to the rest of your day or up to bed.

Learning More There are vast resources available for anyone that wants to learn more about meditation. The American Meditation Institute offers a comprehensive resource with plentiful links and an area for health professionals. How-to-Meditate.org offers many practical instructions in a more traditionally Buddhist framework. The web site of the World Community for Christian Meditation offers instruction and links within a Christian framework. Meditation in the Jewish tradition is covered at the web site of the Awakened Heart Project for Contemplative Judaism. Meditation in the Islamic Tradition is discussed at the IslamicSunrays.com web site.

310 thoughts on “On Meditation”

  1. I am going to try this before bedtime. Maybe Ill acheive a higher level of sleep!

  2. this article was very clear on the methods and outcome of meditation. I found it very useful

  3. This sounds like a wonderful mid-day way of stress relief. Thank You I cannot wait to put this into use!

    1. There are a couple of things that you can do to avoid falling asleep. First, you might want to choose a different time of day. Meditating immediately after a large meal (especially one with a sugary beverage or dessert) is not likely to go well. Second, if you’ve been trying to meditate right before bed, try starting 30 minutes earlier so you aren’t all the way down the energy curve (that’s when I meditate). Finally, you might want to change your meditation spot. If you’ve been using a comfortable chair, you might want to place a mat on the floor with a folded towel or meditation cushion under your pelvis. That is: a more forward and upright position might help!

  4. Meditation does work when you can find time to do it. It does help you relax.Just concentrate on your breathing does alot.

  5. After sitting in a chair 8 hours, staring at the screen with 5 programs,answering phone and seeing patinets on old system and working insurance “workbuckets” I go home walk half hour or hour. I talk to the dogs scratch the bulls head and feed cows. I look at the beauty of everything around me as I love the outdoors. I quietly give thanks for the opportunity to appreciate my gift of love for day and night. Even tho night falls early, I am still outside breathing fresh air. I have had broken back, broken neck and foot in last 4 years but I still keep going. It is the quiet meditation during walking and working outside that gives me peace.

  6. I will try to meditate two or three times a week to help with the high levels of stress in my life right now.

  7. Meditation is so relaxing for the mind as well as the spirit. It helps you to develop some “me-time”.

  8. I hope with the meditation, I will be able to reduce the stress I am having now!

  9. Great article!!! always useful to reinforce ways to improve your quite time and get the most out of it.

  10. This article was very helpful. I am going to try it on my maternity leave !

  11. Meditation really relaxes me after a stressful day. Enjoyed reading the article. Very helpful.

  12. I have incorporated this into my lifestyle and miss it when things get hectic

  13. morning is a good time–helps me prepare mentally for the day ahead without stressing out

  14. I have been doing a meditation exercise for asthma related issues. This is so relaxing after a long day at work.

  15. Thank you for the tips. It helps to have reminders to reflect upon to enhance the experience.

  16. PERFECT WAY TO RELAX AND HELP BRAIN AND BODY TO PARCITIPATE NORMAL INFO STRAIGHT FROM DREAM AND FAR VISION .

  17. i will try this, maybe it will help eliminate the tension at the end of a work day.

  18. My doctor recommended meditation for my high blood pressure. It has helped tremendously. When I meditate for 10 minutes before work, I can tell a difference. Working in the healthcare field, our jobs are very stressful. We need just a small ammount of quiet time to reflect and in turn helping to achieve lower levels of stress.

  19. I read most of the responses. It seems most are having trouble getting to sleep, that is my problem too. I will try this and revisit the site.

  20. I love to meditate while driving. Turn off the radio and just listen to my breathing.
    This works best when I’m on the open road….no traffic.

  21. This was introduced to me through the RISEN program and I have continued with this practice. This is a great article.

  22. trying to follow these instructions- hard to sit on floor but I find when I walk my daily mile at first my mind is racing with everything I must accomplish for the day, but as I continue I find that I calm myself down. I need to work on meditation some more.

    1. Melinda, the trick with sitting is that you have to have a thick mat or, better yet, a meditation pillow and mat. It made a huge difference for me. Good to see you are using the walking meditation though – it is a great alternative.

  23. Helpful information. While relaxing in bubble bath, I read article aloud while soaking in knowledge put me in a calm state of mind after a stressful day. Will add mediation to my “me” time.

  24. It’s amazing how much the meditation has helped since I added it to my walking…

  25. I feel these suggestions may help me calm down prior to attempting my night-time ritual. I am going to give them a try. Thanks for a very interesting article.

  26. I have been doing meditation for almost 25 years and have learned many techniques in that time. I usually meditate when I get home from work – I find it a good way to ease the tension of the day. One of the best ideologies that I have found is working with Kundalini and the Chakras; Kundalini is a Sanskirt ideology that has been in practice for millennia and deals with the natural energy flow of the body. When blockages of energy occur in a certain area of the body – it can cause all sorts of problems from pain to mental illness. Meditation is part of the bloodstream of the universe and has the ability to allow us to tap into the realm of calm and rejuvenating energies.

  27. Meditation is a wonderful way to relieve stress! When I feel that I am having a very stressfull day meditation is my way to unwind. I feel reading all the comments above is very helful and I made a copy to share with friends and family to share!

  28. I had not thought about “active meditation” while walking, I usually think about everything on my To Do list! I will definitely try this. Very helpful!

  29. Since trying this the first time I try to work it into my day every morning and afternoon/evening, it is great for the stress felt from everyday life.

  30. Enjoyed this article very much. Walking is my choice of meditation. Great stress reliever.

  31. I try to do this every night before I go to bed. I do it in my bedroom away from all electronics. I finish with devotions.

  32. I tried this whenever im so stress and over fatigue, it made me relax and feel a new person afterwards.

  33. Good information. I really needed this, I find it hard to relax with all the stress I have in my life!

  34. Lots to digest and incorporate. Looking forward to being able to meditate the stresses out!

  35. I’ve been looking for a stress reliever and a way to clear the useless worry from my mind and meditation sounds like the answer. Good article and simple instructions on how to get started. Thank you.

  36. Thank you. I didn’t realize that my daily walks in the woods on our property was a form of meditation. I love to walk in the quiet, peaceful forest and take note of each and every sound and detail.

  37. I am going to incorporate this in my daily tasks…sounds just the cure for stress!

  38. I WILL TRY TO INCORPORATE THIS IN MY NIGHTLY ROUTINE AT LEAST 3 TIMES A WEEK

  39. Excelent informatin. I cannot wait to try meditation. Looking to getting started.

  40. I am going to try this before bed and to schedule some time during the beginning of my day

  41. This sounds like something I would like to try prior to heading in to work. I hope it works!

  42. I have been doing transcendental meditation for over 20 years. I use meditation to relieve stress but also use it as a valuable tool help lower my blood pressure, help me to fall asleep, and so much more. Stress affects our health far more than we realize.

  43. I am going to try this to help decrease the stress in my life and assist me in being a healthier and peaceful person.

  44. I think this help me with falling asleep sooner rather the usual nightly sessions of tossing and turning before finally falling to sleep.

  45. I have doing this in the evening before bedtime. Good time to start to relax and get rid of the stress of the day.

  46. i will incoporate the meditation techniques daily in my crazy schedule to calm me.

  47. I just like to say for me meditation is very relaxing mind settling, lots of open space unable to reach or touch anything, so at peace like a baby not an care in the world, I love.

  48. hoping this will benefit me in the long run. im sure it will.

  49. Good article and another way to keep stress under control.Very helpful!

  50. Meditation can be used for so many things. Here are a couple of examples how I have used it in my daily life and in my work life.

    Before leaving home in the moring to start the day. I take 5-10 to sit and meditate or decompress. When I walk out the door I feel relaxed, focused, and recharged!

    If I am anxious about an upcoming meeting, annual review, or presentation, I take 5-10 prior to the event to ground myself and practice meditation. When I engage in the task, my autonomic nervous system (ANS) is relaxed and therefore I do not experience the rush of physical anxiety (increased heart rate, shaky voice, pins and needles discomfort, etc.).

    During psychological experimentation, I trained participants in the use of meditation to control their ANS under stressful or nonnormal conditions. I found that individuals who were more “in tune” with their bodies had a higher success rate with identifying when they were stressed and demonstrated the ability to reverse the bodily reactions (apply meditation to relax).

  51. Meditating is a good practice for when i become anxious and overstressed

  52. I already use many of these techniques. If done correctly and seriously, they are a great relaxer and stress reliever.

  53. something I really need to try. I know I will have a hard time in the suggested positioning

    1. Toni,

      A lot of people do! The important thing isn’t the position so much as the practice. If a walk in nature or a comfortable (but upright) chair works better then, by all means, use the alternative.

  54. I tried this and it helped me to relax, particularly my back discomfort.

  55. Great info! I will begin doing this technique. I think everyone needs to not only read this but practice it. Life becomes very intense at times!

  56. Thank you for this information. I do practice meditation, but this information gave me more options to consider for improvement.

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