Meditation is a technique for strengthening the mind that has been practiced by human beings since the dawn of civilization. The English word ‘meditation’ comes from the Latin word meditari, meaning ‘to contemplate,’ or ‘think about’.
Through a regular practice of meditation, anyone can increase their thinking power to develop more focus, attention, self-awareness, intelligence, patience, compassion—the list goes on.
How does meditation work?
According to some estimates, the average human being has anywhere from 70,000 all the way up to 600,000 thoughts per day. Of course, many of these thoughts occur on the level of the subconscious. Still, they significantly impact our day-to-day experience of life.
Meditation slows down your thoughts by focusing your mind and senses on a specific task. For example, mantra meditation involves repeating a specific word or a phrase. Another popular form of meditation is simply to focus on the breath.
As living beings, we naturally want to experience pleasure. Each one of our five senses has a built-in pleasure-seeking function, almost like a heat-seeking missile. This is why advertising is so powerful; as soon as our eyes see something we like, we feel an intense desire to have it.
Meditation harnesses the power of the mind to reign in the five senses and direct their pleasure-seeking nature inward. When this happens, we experience an inner happiness, a relaxed and satisfying feeling of calm. Instead of racing around looking for pleasure, our mind and senses are peaceful.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation can have a far-reaching impact on quality of life. Let’s look at how it can benefit several key areas:
- Physical health. Oxygenate your blood and muscle tissue, relieve tension, and manage chronic pain.
- Mental health. Increase your self-esteem, self-confidence, and enthusiasm for life.
- Relationships. Communicate more effectively and gain greater awareness of and control over your thoughts and feelings.
- Work. Focus more easily, get more done and feel better about your work.
- Romance & love life. Increase your patience, compassion, and satisfaction.
- Spirituality. Enhance your gratitude and relationship with the divine.
With all of the recent technological innovations of the last century, humans today live very fast-paced lives. At the end of the day, our minds are often so scattered that all we can think to do is relax and watch television.
For this reason, most people who are new to meditation have a very difficult time. As with anything, meditation is something that gets easier with practice. By setting simple goals in the beginning, you can make steady progress, and in a short time you will experience amazing results.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Meditation
Ready to give it a try? Follow these steps to get started and experience the power of meditation for yourself:
- Select your style. There are many kinds of meditation. Learn more about the different types of meditation to find one that suits your personality and interests.
- Pick a time and place. You don’t have to commit to a full meditation routine in the beginning. Just pick a time and place when you will try meditating once. After that, you can plan the next time you want to do it.
- Set a timer. When meditating, it is important to try to minimize distractions as much as possible. Setting a timer is a great way to allot yourself a fixed amount of time without having to worry about checking your watch every 5-10 minutes.
- Meditate! There is a saying that we are our own worst critic. Don’t be hard on yourself. Meditating is actually a natural human skill; like walking, everyone can can do it. It just takes practice.
Reflect on your experience. How did it go? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Reflection is like stretching after a workout—it helps your mind integrate all the benefits of your meditation session.
Can Anyone Meditate?
You might be wondering: can I really do this? The simple answer is that everyone can meditate. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, whether you’re a Christian, a Hare Krishna, an agnostic or an atheist.
Every human being has a mind, and meditation is at its most basic level just a mental workout. Even kids can do it. The principles of meditation are so versatile that they can be adapted to suit anyone’s individual circumstances.
Below is a list of ten different types of meditation. Experiment with several options until you find the one that fits you best.
This type of meditation is popular among Buddhist practitioners. Zen and Vipassana are two forms of Buddhism that both use the breath as a support for their meditative practice. Also known as “mindful breathing,” this is one of the easiest ways to try out meditation.
What You Do: Conscious breathing is as easy as it sounds. Find a comfortable place to sit, either on the floor or in a chair, and take time just to focus on your breath. You can even do this type of meditation lying down before you go to sleep.
- Notice the quality of your inhale and exhale. Are you taking full, deep breaths?
- If you have any tension in your body, breathe into it. Imagine your breath sweeping up the tension and carrying it out of your body with every exhale.
- When your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your breath.
Who is Conscious Breathing Right For? Conscious breathing is a simple type of meditation that can be a good fit for anyone. Because it doesn’t involve spirituality or metaphysics, it’s a great meditative practice for classrooms, offices, or other public programs.
Mantra meditation is one of the oldest forms of meditation. In Eastern traditions, practitioners meditate on the sacred syllable ‘OM’ as a form of mantra meditation. Religions around the world incorporate mantra meditation into their worship by chanting names of God or other spiritual leaders like Jesus, the Buddha, or the Prophet Muhammed.
What You Do: Mantra meditation simply involves repeating a mantra, or sacred phrase, either out loud or within the mind. You can do this while sitting, standing, walking, driving, playing music—mantra meditation is one of the most versatile forms of meditation.
- Find a mantra that connects to your belief system. This will help inspire you in your practice.
- Try repeating the mantra at different times of day, in different situations, to let your mind become accustomed to the sound of it.
- If your mind wanders to other things, gently bring it back to the sound of the mantra.
Who is Mantra Meditation Right For? Mantra meditation is particularly suited to people interested in religion or spirituality, since there are many mantras that connect with particular faiths. For example, the Shema in Judaism, the Hail Mary and the Jesus Prayer in Christianity, and Hare Krishna, Om Namah Shivaya, and Om Mani Padme Hum in Eastern traditions.
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment. In the Pali language of ancient Buddhism, this is known as sati, or alertness, and in Sanskrit it corresponds to the term sattva, or sustained being-ness.
Studies by researchers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn have shown the effects of mindfulness practice in reducing stress and helping treat chronic pain and other physiological ailments.
What You Do: During a mindfulness meditation session, the practitioner observes their mental activity, free from judgment or any other distracting thoughts. Taking the stance of an observer, you simply watch your thoughts and other sensations as they enter and leave the mind.
The goal of mindfulness is not to stop your thinking and feeling processes, but to become more aware of them.
- A good way to start is to bring your attention to different parts of your body.
- Watch out for judgmental thinking or other types negative thoughts. These will make you give up before you get very far into your practice.
- If you do notice a negative thought, simply acknowledge it as you would a passing stranger.
- If you have trouble sitting still, you can practice mindfulness while cleaning or doing other simple household chores.
Who is Mindfulness Meditation Right For? Mindfulness is especially helpful for artists, writers or anyone whose self-negativity interferes with their creative process. By watching your thoughts, you gradually recognize that you are in control of them, and not vice versa.
According to Buddhist monk and best-selling author Thich Nhat Hanh, “Walking meditation is first and foremost a practice to bring body and mind together peacefully.” Aligning the physical movement of walking with the rhythm of your breathing brings a calm sense of energy and awakeness.
What You Do: This practice is just like it sounds. Find a pleasant place to walk, settle into a comfortable pace and see the thoughts as they arise in your mind. As you bring your awareness to your physical body and its place in your environment, your thought-stream will slowly subside.
- Feel the ground beneath your feet. Be aware of your connection to the organism of our Planet Earth.
- If you are outside, notice the natural beauty of your surroundings, even in ordinary creatures and plants.
- If it is too cold out or if you cannot find a suitable place to walk nearby, you can practice walking meditation indoors. Just find a clear space in your home or apartment where you can pace back and forth, 10 or 20 steps at a time.
Who is Walking Meditation Right For? This type of meditation is ideal for people who are drawn to nature and who prefer being outdoors over sitting still in a quiet room. Walking meditation is also an excellent low-intensity form of exercise for those who work office jobs and who want to incorporate more physical activity into their life.
Known in Sanskrit as trāṭaka, gazing meditation is the practice of fixing your vision on a single object. Many practitioners use sacred symbols, holy images or a candle flame as the focus for their session.
What You Do: Select your object of contemplation and find a quiet place to sit where you won’t be interrupted for up to 20 minutes.
The goal of gazing meditation is to enter into a state of communion or harmony with the object of focus. By concentrating your gaze on just one thing, you can bring your mind into a temporary state of stillness.
- Keep your eyes and facial muscles relaxed. Tension can induce a headache.
- Experiment with difference images and objects until you find one more that work best for you.
- If you are having difficulty focusing, try adding in a mantra to help support your concentration.
Who is Gazing Meditation Right For? Because it involves a high degree of mental discipline, gazing meditation is suited for those who have tried meditating before.
Sound meditation uses music and instruments to invoke calm and contemplation. Most practitioners prefer music that is lyricless. Popular genres include classical, ambient, world music and nature sounds.
What You Do: Select your music and find a peaceful place to sit. Immerse your awareness in the rhythm and melody of the sounds. The resulting feeling will vary according to energy of the music you selected, so choose carefully!
- If you have trouble sitting still, use headphones to take your meditation on a walk through a nearby park.
- Every piece of music evokes a unique feeling. Do you want to be energized? Relaxed? Moved emotionally? Select your music accordingly.
Who is Sound Meditation Right For? People struggling from insomnia or who are recovering from a major illness or surgery can use sound meditation to relax and regain control of their mind.
Musicians and music-lovers can also use this type of meditation to expand their understanding and appreciation of sound.
Known as mettā, or “love”, meditation in Pali, the sacred language of ancient Buddhism, loving-kindness meditation is a powerful tool for deepening compassion and improving relationships.
What You Do: First, focus on yourself. Reinforce your sense of self-compassion with loving and healing thoughts: “May I be fulfilled. May I be free from suffering and all forms of danger. May I be joyful. May I experience spiritual growth and enlightenment.”
Feel free to adjust these sentences to your liking.
Next, focus on a friend or family member who is dear to you and send them the same loving and healing messages: “May you be fulfilled. May you be free from suffering…” etc.
Next, think of someone you know but who is not close to you personally. A co-worker, former classmate or teacher; it can be anyone who you neither particularly like nor dislike. Send them the same loving and healing thoughts: ”May you be fulfilled….” etc.
Finally, think of a person who you are in conflict with, or who you dislike or even despise. Perhaps a famous politician or thought-leader whose opinions and actions you strongly disagree with. Send them the same loving and healing messages: “May you be fulfilled…” etc.
- If you have trouble doing this in a genuine way, you can add “As far as I am able, I wish that you be fulfilled…” etc.
- Don’t neglect the first step of self-compassion. It is an essential foundation for feeling true love for others.
Who is Loving-Kindness Meditation Right For? Anyone experiencing interpersonal difficulties, whether in their family, friend circle or with colleagues at school or in the workplace can use loving-kindness meditation to heal and strengthen their relationships.
It is also a helpful practice for anyone wishing to become less selfish and more compassionate to others.
Prāṇā is a Sanskrit word meaning “breath” or “life force,” and yama means to control.
Practitioners use regulated and repetitive breathing exercises to promote mental and physical wellness. In India it is believed that skilled yogis and mystics of the past would use the practice of pranayama to extend their lifespan.
What You Do: There are many different pranayama practices meant to either calm, energize, or stretch the mind and body. Breath is powerful, and pranayama can be harmful if done improperly. Start with this app to get a basic introduction to the practice, or read our article on pranayama for an in-depth explanation of simple practices you can try.
- Because it is a very powerful practice, it is best to find a teacher in your area to get specific recommendations on what exercises are right for you.
- If you want to try pranayama but don’t know where to start, try Conscious Breathing (explained above). This is actually a type of basic pranayama that is safe for beginners.
- You can do 10-15 minutes of pranayama before your normal meditation session for enhanced clarity and focus.
Who is Pranayama Right For? Having a daily pranayama practice can have a tremendous impact health and wellness. Everyone can benefit from pranayama with proper training and guidance.
According to the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda, chakras are disc-like hubs of energy that regulate every person’s emotional and mental well-being.
In the human body, there are seven chakras situated along the length of the spine. Meditating on these chakras can help restore internal balance, and this practice can be used to address a wide variety of physical and emotional issues.
What You Do: First find a peaceful place to sit where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes. Next, bring your awareness to the root of your spine. This is known as the mūlādhāra, or the root chakra that is the foundation for your entire emotional and noetic systems. Ask yourself:
- Does this chakra feel strong and energized? Or does it feel weak and flimsy?
- Does this chakra feel constricted? Or too open? Or does it feel balanced and healthy?
- Is there anything I could do, or any lifestyle changes I could make, that would help repair or strengthen this chakra?
Let your own intuition guide you while contemplating these questions.
Finally, visualize your root chakra as robust and vibrant, brimming with life and power. Maintain this visualization for 2-3 minutes.
When you are done, you can repeat these steps for each of the seven chakras.
- If you are short on time, select one or two chakras to focus on during your meditation. This is a great restorative practice that can be done during breaks at work, in the car while commuting, or whenever you have spare time.
- As you become familiar with your chakras, you will begin to notice which ones are over- or under-worked. Set aside time to repair, nourish and activate these chakras specifically.
- Remember that the all seven chakras act together as one system. By strengthening one or two of them, your whole body will benefit.
Who is Chakra Meditation Right For? Anyone can benefit from chakra meditation, whether you are experiencing anxiety, issues with anger, low self-esteem or interpersonal conflict.
However, because this practice requires a higher degree of concentration than other types of meditation, as well as visualization, it is not ideal for beginners.
If you would like to try out chakra meditation but are new to meditation, start with this chakra mantra meditation.
Known in Sanskrit as pratyāhāra, this type of meditation involves withdrawing the five active senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch from the outside world, and concentrating their power within yourself.
It is said that the ātma, or Self, is a source of infinite pleasure. In advanced stages of meditation, one relishes the Self and experiences complete happiness.
What You Do: As a tortoise withdraws his limbs into his shell, the goal of tortoise meditation is to bring your attention one hundred percent within yourself. This takes a lot of practice!
First, find a sitting place that is firm but comfortable. Next, select an object of meditation. Many sacred texts recommend the syllable OM. Clear your mind of all thoughts, sounds and other impressions until only your object of meditation remains.
With practice, you will be able to quickly arrive at a high level of concentration. This meditation culminates in direct awareness of the Self, who lies beyond and behind all objects.
- Be patient. Meditation is a lifelong practice. Results come slowly but surely.
- Experiment with multiple types of meditation until you find one that works well for you. Gradually you can apply what you learn to tortoise meditation.
- Avoid intensely stimulating activities for up to 6-24 hours prior to meditating.
Who is Tortoise Meditation Right For? Tortoise meditation is very challenging. It will have only a minimal benefit for those who are new to meditation, and it may even turn beginners off of the practice of meditation all together.
People who practice yoga will have an easier time with Tortoise Meditation.
Expect to feel restless. Today more than ever, our minds are accustomed to constant stimulation and instant gratification. You may find that your mind rebels against you when you try to meditate.
When this happens, try a more active form of meditation like walking meditation or mantra meditation. This will help your mind stay engaged.
Don’t expect instant results. Meditation requires determination and regularity to produce results. Practice daily if possible, or at least once per week. With time your experience will improve.
Expect to feel uninspired. In the beginning, you will need to frequently remind yourself of the benefits of your practice, or else you might give up.
Don’t expect to be a pro. Success in meditation also depends on how you spend your time when you aren’t meditating. Most people today lead hectic lives filled with stress, frustration, excitement and trauma.
Leading a healthy, wholesome and charitable existence will enable you to more quickly progress in your meditative practice.
Expect to be transformed. Meditation is a powerful and time-tested practice for experiencing rapid growth and self-discovery. With a regular practice, you be able to easily give up old, unwanted habits and create the life you want for yourself.