How to Get Started With Meditation

Believe it or not, daily meditation can have a great impact on your sense of calm. Learning how to meditate for only 20 minutes a day can have significant health changes. Whether or not you have a daily meditation in mind or not, regular meditation can create sense out of our hectic lives. This meditation article addresses how to meditate, and how to choose your own daily meditation practices.

Meditation: Practice the Art of Peace

"Calmness is the ideal state in which we should receive all life's experiences," writes Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship, in the book Inner Peace. Yogananda is regarded as one of the great spiritual teachers melding East and West. Through meditation, he writes, one can cultivate a wonderful inner quiet that will melt away stress and nervousness.

But to meditate, one must break away, however briefly, from the world. Turn off your cell phone and pager, disconnect the fax machine, shut down the computer and turn on the answering machine...allow no interruptions during this special time.

Meditation is the perfect antidote for the constant intrusion of technology in our lives. In fact, recent research has shown that meditating twice per day for about 20 minutes can actually reduce blockages in your blood vessels, significantly lowering the risk of sudden death by heart attack or stroke.

Tips for Meditation

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Where Should I Meditate? You may wish to set aside a special corner of one room, your own private sanctuary, a calm, quiet and peaceful place. You might furnish the area with objects or icons that have spiritual meaning for you, developing a little altar or shrine. Use what will put you into a contemplative frame of mind. You may want to enlist the help of Mother Nature. Spend time at the ocean listening to the surf crashing upon the rocks...walk through a shaded forest trail with a cathedral of trees overhead...stand near a stream with water playing over the rocks or a waterfall...or watch the moon rise or birds fly overhead.
  • How Should I Sit When I Meditate?Although the classic posture is to sit with legs folded and hands resting quietly on the lap or the knees, the key is to find a way of sitting that is comfortable for you. And remember, you can meditate anytime, anywhere...even driving in your car.
  • Should My Eyes Be Open or Closed? Keep your eyes open if possible, to keep all of senses open. The goal is not to fall asleep, but to find yourself in a state of "relaxed alertness." Nor are you seeking a trancelike experience, or an altered state of consciousness. Keep your eyes "soft" — that is, do not focus on anything in particular — and your mouth slightly open.
  • How Long Should I Meditate? Many texts recommend 20 minutes, twice daily, but it's not how long you meditate; it's whether the practice "brings you to a certain state of mindfulness and presence, where you are a little open and able to connect with your heart essence," writes Sogyal Rinpoche in the "Tibetan Book of Living and Dying."

To begin, try short sessions of four to five minutes; then break for one minute. "It's often during the break that meditation actually happens!" writes Rinpoche. It may also be useful to get into the habit of setting aside the same times every day, be they for prayer or meditation. David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., a Benedictine monk and author, recommends rising 15 minutes earlier than usual to give your day a "contemplative dimension." Without these precious moments, he says, "your whole day can slip away into a mad chase," but with them your entire day can be imbued with meaning and joy.

Basics Meditation

Four Basic Ways to Practice Meditation

  • Follow your breath This is the most universal of all mindfulness techniques. First, exhale strongly a few times to clear the base of the lungs of carbon dioxide. It is helpful to review the technique for following the deep breathing method of imagining a lotus blossom residing in your lower abdomen; as the breath fills the belly, the petals of the blossom expand; as you exhale, the petals close back up.
  • Observe an icon or object Allow your mind to rest lightly on an object. If you come from the Christian tradition, this might be an image of Christ, the Virgin Mary or the Holy Spirit.

If you are inspired by Eastern spiritual traditions, you might reflect upon an image or icon of the Buddha. You can also use a flower, crystal, or other object that has meaning for you. Lightly allow your attention to sit there, quietly and peacefully.

  • Recite a mantra A mantra literally means "that which protects the mind." So reciting a mantra protects you with spiritual power. It is also said that when you chant a mantra, you are charging your breath and energy with the energy of the mantra. Again, choose something with meaning for you within your spiritual tradition: recite the Rosary, for example. Tibetan Buddhists use a mantra for peace, healing, transformation and healing. "Recite the mantra quietly, with deep attention, and let your breath, the mantra and your awareness become slowly one," writes Rinpoche.
  • Do a Guided Meditation. Guided meditation is akin to guided imagery, a powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination toward a conscious goal. (Think of a diver imagining a "perfect dive" before he leaves the platform.) Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who is a scholar, poet, peace activist and author. He suggests trying a very simple — yet profound — guided meditation that you can learn by yourself.

Seek Inspiration

Is It Really Meditation?

The techniques described here are meditation practices rather than meditation itself, which is often described by experienced practitioners as "a state of being — a state of receptivity without expectation, a merging with the Divine." All of the techniques are practice to get to this final merged state.

Therefore, meditation practice is not meditation. One might practice meditation for years to achieve a meditative state of being. An experienced meditator might meditate for an hour to achieve a few moments of meditative consciousness.

Benefits of Meditation

The Benefits of Meditation Are Subtle

While you may not feel flashes of insight when practicing meditation, its effects will become apparent to you later, when you may notice that you responded to a crisis with uncharacteristic calmness, or failed to get "triggered" in a situation that would normally disturb you. Trust in the process, let go of your expectations of achieving "results" (after all, meditation is not a contest), and you will reap the results.

The real miracle of meditation, says Rinpoche, is a subtle transformation that happens not only in your mind and your emotions but also in your body. And, this transformation is a healing one. "Even your cells are more joyful."

Get Started With This Guided Meditation

  • Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. (In) Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. (Out)
  • Breathing in, my breath grows deep. (Deep) Breathing out, my breath goes slowly. (Slow)
  • Aware of my body, I breathe in. (Aware of body) Relaxing my body, I breathe out. (Relaxing body)
  • Calming my body, I breathe in. (Calming body) Caring for my body, I breathe out. (Caring for body)
  • Smiling to my body, I breathe in. (Smiling to my body) Easing my body, I breathe out. (Easing body)
  • Smiling to my body, I breathe in. (Smiling to body) Releasing the tensions in my body, I breathe out. (Releasing tensions)
  • Feeling joy (to be alive), I breathe in. (Feeling joy) Feeling happy, I breathe out. (Feeling happy)
  • Dwelling in the present moment, I breathe in. (Being present) Enjoying the present moment, I breathe out. (Enjoying)
  • Aware of my stable posture, I breathe in. (Stable posture) Enjoying the stability, I breathe out. (Enjoying)

Source: "Blooming of a Lotus"(Parallax Press)by Thich Nhat Han

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