Frequently Asked Questions: A Meditation Guide For Beginners
Searching the internet I realized that there are few good meditation guides that address the concerns of beginners. Basic questions like what types of meditation are there, and what are the benefits, how long to meditate for, etc. As a meditation and yoga teacher I wish to address these concerns. I hope you find this guide and meditation FAQ useful and if there are any questions that come up that are not covered here, or in my other articles on this website, please feel free to contact me by e-mail. My contact information is listed at the bottom of this FAQ and in the About page.
Many times in this meditation FAQ, I refer to sitting meditation but this is certainly not the only way to meditate. If you are interested in learning about non-sitting meditation techniques, check out my posts on yoga. Hatha Yoga is a magnificent blend of meditation and movement – connecting mind, body, and spirit.
What is meditation?
Meditation is the focus or concentration of the mind on a single object. That object can be a person, place, thing, emotion, thought, color, or anything else that one chooses to concentrate on. As we learn to look inwardly instead of externally, we begin to explore the inner realm of the mind and we can begin to experience mental, emotional, and even physical changes. The objective of meditation is to watch, become aware, and master the mind in order to experience and get in touch with the stillness and inner peace that is within all of us.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Common benefits of meditation are a sense of inner peace, tranquility, calm, patience, happiness, pure joy, deeper self-knowledge and understand, emotional balance, and an enhanced ability to deal and manage stress. Meditation works internally to wipe away all the gunk and grime that has been collecting in our minds over the course of our lives, and as our understanding and awareness of the mind deepens, we can begin to feel a greater appreciation, love, and compassion for life. With prolonged, consistent, and dedicated practice, it is common for people to experience a newfound connection to themselves, all living things, and the universe.
There are six fundamental forms of meditation, they are: mindfulness meditation, guided visualizations – guided meditation, breathing exercises, mantras, music enhanced meditation, and movement based meditation.
Many different traditions utilize one or several of these forms into their practice. Yoga, Eastern and Western religions, shamanic practices, energy cultivation models, and self-help techniques are but a few of the traditions.
There are literally thousands if not millions of different ways and systems, but the six fundamental forms are the foundation of all these systems. For specific information and differences between these fundamental forms, please visit the techniques page under the topics tab above.
Do I need to sit with my legs cross and eyes closed? What is the correct posture for meditation?
In Eastern traditions, meditation is usually done in the lotus or half-lotus posture where a person’s legs are crossed while sitting on a cushion close to the floor. However, this is not realistic for everyone, and many Westerners feel uncomfortable sitting like this for extended periods of time. Solution, sit in a chair, or anywhere else where you can stay comfortable! The main point is to keep your back straight, neck straight, chin slightly down, feet on the ground, and arms comfortably positioned on knees or thighs. This will allow you to breath comfortably and inhale fully. Some people prefer to meditate lying down but this position is not recommended for beginners because of the high likely hood of falling asleep. A proper position should also encourage mental alertness and physical relaxation.
How do I quiet the mind, there are so many thoughts?
It is impossible to think your thoughts away because even the thought of no-thoughts is still a thought. To have no thoughts is NOT the point of meditation. Instead, learn to watch your thoughts without becoming involved or entangled in them. Every time you see a thought, watch it float by and remain detached from it. If you notice yourself thinking about something, bring yourself back to that place of detachment. With practice, perseverance, and a bit of patience you will get better at remaining in this detached place. Once you are able to stay there, you will experience fewer thoughts and naturally reach a state where no new thoughts come in. Do not become frustrated with yourself, be patient and enjoy the experience of watching.
Pick a quiet, comfortable place where you will not be disturbed. It is helpful to designate a specific place purely for the purpose of meditation. You can establish a habit and an association in your mind with that place. Once you gain the ability of go deep within yourself and shut out external noise, you will be able to go into a meditative state anywhere.
What should I wear while meditating?
Comfortable, soft clothing is preferred. Depending on your posture and how you are sitting, loose fitting or stretchy fabric may make it more comfortable to sit for an extended period of time.
How long should I meditate for?
This depends on your level of experience, how you feel, and the time you have to dedicate to the meditation. Beginners may find it difficult to meditate for more then 5 or 10 minutes while someone with more experience can sit comfortably for half an hour, an hour, and even longer. Find out what your mind and body are comfortable with and start there. It can be helpful to keep a diary of your experiences and you can include the time you spent in meditation as one way of measuring your progress.
What is the best time of day to meditate?
In ancient times in India, yogis used to wake up at six a.m to meditate, this time of morning was considered ideal and a holy time because of the energy and vibrations in the air. Some people still find that this is the best time, but others choose to meditate later in the morning, midday, or evening. Perhaps you have many responsibilities in the morning but find that there is a perfect 40 minute slot available in the late afternoon. If so, take it! People frequently find that meditation is difficult on a full stomach, and also on an empty one. Late evening meditation is not recommended because of the high probability of falling asleep. My suggestion is to experiment and find the most suitable and logical time for you.
Meditation is a tool, a science, and an art. All religions encourage and promote meditative practice but they do not call them meditation. One does not have to worship, or believe in anything in order to meditate because the experience is highly personal and experiential. You do not have to believe that meditation can bring you love, and compassion, you can experience this for yourself, firsthand.
How do I know that I am meditating well?
There is no such thing as a good or a bad meditation, but through continued practice the mind becomes sharp, focused and deeply alert. You can test this by bringing your attention to a part of your body, your nose or tongue. If, for example, you bring your attention to your tongue and quickly experience a taste, you can be sure that you mind has attained a certain degree of one-pointidness. Another way of knowing that you are making progress is if you are able to quickly go into a deep meditative state and experience a stillness and silence without many distracting thoughts or images carrying your attention away.
Should I meditate with eyes closed or open?
Here also, I suggest trying both and seeing which one is most comfortable. For many people, it is physically easiest to meditate with eyes closed and this state will encourage internal images and movies. However, if you find these images distracting, you may want to open your eyes just slightly.
What should I do if I begin to experience shakes or other uncomfortable body sensations?
An unhealthy or weak body will make it very difficult for you to sit in any one position for a long period of time. If you begin to experience shakes, try to determine where they are coming from. Are they from physical discomfort or mental unrest? Hatha yoga and all the various yoga postures was invented relatively recently in the history of yoga for the sole purpose of making the body and mind strong in order to sit in meditation for long periods of time. Shakes, excessive sweating, or other uncomfortable body sensations can be reduced or eliminated by getting up and walk around. You can also try physical exercise, stretching, or a walk outside to get some fresh air. Having done any or all of these, try to meditate again.
Do I need a Guru or teacher in order to practice meditation?
No, a teacher is not necessary but it may be helpful to find a reliable and trustworthy source to direct your questions and concerns. There will doubtlessly be experiences that you will want to share and ask questions about and in those times the internet is not quite good enough. Having a guru and all the possible requirements that come with one is an Eastern idea and does not make much sense in our modern world. If you feel that you have found a person that is a “guru”, be careful and objective in approaching that person. There are many people out there that are willing to manipulate and use their followers to further their own agendas. Stay away from such people, they do not have your best interest in their heart or in their mind.
I have more, other questions, who can I ask?
There are a myriad of different questions that can come up and it is impossible for me to answer all of them in this guide. Please feel free to contact me by e-mail and I will do my very best to respond. You can reach me at:
vlad (at) meditationsecretsrevealed (dot) com
May you experience inner peace, joy, and compassion in your life through the study of meditation, mindfulness and yoga.
July 28, 2009