Meditation Answers & Solutions Go-to Guide

Whether you’re just curious about how and why to start meditation or you’re looking for DVDs, supplies or info on meditating to help with a specific health condition, start here. Our guide brings together the most-wanted answers and info about meditation — including a beginner’s guide, FAQ, meditation styles, how to sit, meditation as medicine, creating a meditation space and more.

How to Meditate

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The easiest way to begin meditating is to simply stop and focus consciously on your breathing. This is an example of one of the most common approaches to meditation: concentration. Try it:

1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed gently (don't squeeze them shut).

2. Don't try to control your breath; just breathe naturally.

 

3. Concentrate your mind on your breath and the movement of your body as you breathe.

 

4. If your mind wanders, simply let the thoughts go out of your mind and return your focus back to your breath.

 

Try this meditation practice for 2–3 minutes to start, then try building up your "endurance" a little at a time.

 

Keep in mind that the purpose of meditation isn't about achieving benefits or results. In fact, the goal in meditation is to not have a goal. It's simply to be present. We're such a goal-oriented society that it's tough to get our minds around this — much less think about, well, nothing. Dare yourself to let thoughts go without capturing them on a list, handheld device or social media site. (We know it's hard.)

Meditation Styles & Positions

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Just as fitness is an approach to training the body, meditation is an approach to training the mind. And as with fitness, there are many meditation techniques to choose from.

From what you focus on to how you sit, learn which meditation styles and positions are best for you.

Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point — e.g., watching your breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong or counting beads on a rosary. In this form of meditation, you simply refocus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. You just step away from the random thoughts, and proceed directly to serenity. Through this process, your ability to concentrate improves.

 

Mindfulness meditation asks you to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through your mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it rears its head.

 

Daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks focuses on cultivating compassion by envisioning negative events and putting a positive spin on them via a compassionate perspective.

 

There are also moving meditations techniques, such as t'ai chi, qigong and walking meditation.

 

How should you sit when you meditate?

 

If you've tried to get into lotus pose (or any semblance of a cross-legged seated position) and found that your legs just don’t bend that way, you’re not alone, says yoga and meditation expert Rodney Yee. So we asked Yee to dive into the hows and whys of other positions that can be more comfortable or practical for meditation.

 

"Full lotus pose is considered by many to be the uber-pose for meditation, but it’s not accessible to everyone," says Yee. "It requires open hips and a lot of practice. But complete ease in your position is very important to achieve when just starting out with meditation, because it will encourage you to meditate more frequently.

 

"Hero pose and crossed-legs pose both facilitate the movement of energy in the body," he adds. "You get a lot of grounding just by doing them — there’s already a connection to the earth that you don’t get in a chair. You can also prop up these poses to many, many levels using tools like a yoga block, blanket, or meditation cushion."

 

See our detailed photo how-to on meditation positions including variations on hero pose and crossed-legs pose; meditating in a chair; or using a wall, yoga blocks or blankets to position you for meditating more comfortably for longer periods of time.

 

 

How to Create a Meditation Space

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If "God is in the details," as the saying goes, the places where you live and work are the ideal places to stay connected with your meditation practice and make your spirituality part of your everyday life. Those details can go a long way toward helping you feel more centered, grounded and happy.

Where should you locate your sacred space?

 

You don't necessarily need a whole room. You can set the stage for meditation or an introspective state of mind almost anywhere, including:

 

A desk or small table — A single object, arrangement or mini-altar can be enough to help you tune out the world's chatter and get into the ritual of meditation.

 

A corner of a room — You'd be surprised how a small space can be transformed by a bamboo screen or shoji screen and a mat or meditation chair.

 

In a secluded area —  Set up a spare room or a corner of your bedroom that's reserved especially for meditation and stock it with a few meditation supplies.

 

In the garden — Indoors or out, sometimes nature's voice is just what you need.

 

What kinds of items should you include in your sacred space?

 

This is your personal space. Knock down walls if you need to. What speaks to you, inspires you, moves you?

 

Mementos: personal items that are meaningful to you

Talismans: symbols of peace and safety

Visual Art: your own, your friends', post cards of famous works

Photographs of loved ones and special places

Statuary: traditional symbols of divine and protective energies

Stones and shells that hold memories from special places

Candles and incense

Color, light, texture, fabrics, carpets, mirrors, fountains, chimes

Plants, flowers and other living things

Musical instruments and favorite calming music or ambient music CDs

Personal divination tools such as the I Ching, Tarot, or Runes

Sacred texts or words of wisdom from any faith

 

Read on for more about how to set up a meditation space.

Meditation FAQs

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Q. How can I keep my mind "empty"?

A. "By not running away from thoughts that come up," says meditation expert Rodney Yee.

"Just sit with it," he says. "You might have your own little conversation inside your head about it, like, 'There I go again; I'm thinking about what I did yesterday, and I'm supposed to be just sitting here and watching my breath.' But that doesn't mean you have to go anywhere with that thought."

 

Take yogi Kate Hanley's advice and treat that thought like a bad boyfriend.

 

Q. Do I have to sit cross-legged to meditate?

 

Not at all. In fact, you don't even have to sit — you can walk, or sit in a chair, or sit any number of ways that are conducive to quieting the banter in your brain without getting distracted by fallen-asleep extremities. It IS best not to lie down, since you're more likely to get some Zzzs than clock any meditation minutes. Get more detailed answers to this question in the Meditation Styles & Positions section of this guide.

 

Q. What is walking meditation?

 

"Walking meditation is a way to practice moving without a goal or intention," writes Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Ten Exercises For Well-Being. "Mindful walking simply means walking while being aware of each step and of our breath. It can be practiced anywhere, whether you are alone in nature or with others in a crowded city ... even between appointments. Placing our footsteps one after the other slowly and in silence, we can create joy with each step. Walking meditation can release our sorrows and worries and help bring peace into our bodies and minds."

 

Yee says walking meditation is a more advanced form of meditation and, for some, a less optimal form than seated meditation. "Of course, for someone who can't sit still," he concedes, "walking may be better. Ideally, I like to teach people how to sit quietly, because many will have the best benefit from that."

Meditation Videos, DVDs & Classes

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Today you can learn to meditate in just about any setting or format you'd like. If you're at the office and need to clear your head, but can't really hole up in a room alone, try our online meditation rooms. Anyone can spare 2 minutes for some calming photos and music.

If you have a bit longer, check out a few free online guided meditation video clips. Usually they're 3 to 5 minutes long and have a specific benefit or focus, such as a meditation for insomnia or meditation to ease menopause symptoms.

 

DVDs offer a great way to learn because you can rewind and listen to the instruction again if you miss something while you're trying to clear your mental cache. Before you buy, preview several meditation DVDs to make sure you like the instructor's style and the program quality looks top-notch.

 

If a live meditation class or one-on-one instruction is more what you have in mind — but you'd prefer to learn in the privacy of your home or aren't ready to shell out the bucks for a teacher — check out Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman's Gaiam Yoga Club virtual classes. The videos and podcasts dedicate a full week plus one daily practice per week to guided meditation over the course of the 12-week program. It's the next best thing to personal instruction, without the big price tag. And the audio podcasts are ideal for really getting out of your head (or into it, depending on the kind of day you're having) — just you, your earbuds and Rodney or Colleen's soothing voice guiding you to sweet escape.

Meditation as Medicine

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Numerous scientific studies have shown that meditation alleviates stress and the physical and emotional problems stress can lead to. Meditating can help with chronic pain, heart disease, migraines, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and many other ailments.

Practicing meditation slows breathing rate, blood pressure and heart rate; and some studies even show that a meditator's brain may be more "fit" than the next guy's. If you're suffering with a health condition or making lifestyle changes to prevent illness, check out some guided meditations for specific health conditions.

 

While many of us do think of meditation as a solution to a problem — a way to rid ourselves of worry, stress or anxiety — there’s much more to this picture.

 

For example, researchers have shown that meditation can increase compassion, love and forgiveness. Visualization, a practice closely linked with meditation, is being used by more and more people to help heal physical or emotional illness. And some have found that practicing meditation over time can help them access deeper, more expansive effects from meditation. You may begin feeling more spiritually fulfilled, experience a profound therapeutic effect or gain greater sense of happiness and peace in your life.