Meditation, perhaps once-radical, is now virtually mainstream. People all over the world practice meditation to calm the mind and de-stress the body. A 2012 national research study reported that 8 percent of U.S. adults, 18 million people, used meditation. The popularity and accessibility of meditation continues to soar.
The positive effects meditation has on physical health, emotional well-being, and high performance is not exclusive to individuals. Corporations, schools, and hospitals have brought meditation into the fold for stress release and mindfulness. Competitive athletes, artists, and musicians use meditation for present moment awareness. The masses have begun to sit up and take notice of the benefits of meditation.
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to:
- Reduce stress and anxiety.
- Enhance emotional balance and positive experiences.
- Increase longevity and studies are beginning to look at its effect on immunity.
- Improve brain functioning.
The following are four lessons to help you meditate more easily, maximize your meditation benefits, and become an experienced meditator.
The More Effortless the Meditation, the Greater the Results
Many are taught that the more effort you exert in life, the greater the results. In meditation, the opposite is true. The more comfortable and relaxed you are, the greater its benefits. Allow meditation to be a simple pleasure. It is luxurious to allow yourself to settle into stillness and return to your natural state of being.
Use these techniques to meditate more easily and effortlessly.
- Settle into the most cozy, comfortable, upright-seated position possible.
- Put aside the worries of your day. You can always pick them back up after meditation, if you choose. (Be aware that after meditation, there may no longer be worries.)
- Gently close your eyes and turn the senses inward. As you inhale, take immense pleasure in the rest you are about to receive.
- Allow your breath to flow naturally without forcing or controlling it.
- Before meditation, put your attention in your heart and silently ask four questions. These questions begin a dialogue with the universe. As you ask these questions, don’t force the answers. Simply listen to the answers that come to you.
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
- Why am I here?
- For what am I grateful?
- Let go of formal meditation do’s and don’ts. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Meditation recommendations are mere suggestions. Follow your intuition and find the technique that is most natural and comfortable for you.
Thoughts During Meditation Are Normal
You may become frustrated because you can’t stop your thoughts during meditation. You think that having thoughts during meditation means that you aren’t meditating correctly. Thoughts during meditation, however, are perfectly normal. In fact, they may be something to celebrate. Thoughts during meditation are a sign of stress release.
Controlling your mind or forcing out thoughts is not the purpose of meditation, or even the aim. Rather, the purpose of meditation is to enrich your life. And if you approach each meditation with lightheartedness and accept whatever thoughts arise during your practice, you will receive the full benefits of meditation.
The next time you meditate, recognize thoughts for what they are: an immediate indication that you are receiving the stress reduction and detoxification benefits of mediation. Follow this simple process for the duration of each meditation:
- Notice thoughts as they arise.
- Avoid following your thoughts down a path. As soon as you notice your attention has wandered, gently bring it back to your meditation.
- Be kind as thoughts arise. Compassionately and without judgment, return your attention to the source of the meditation. It is a gentle back and forth from thought to source, which may be your breath, mantra, or another object of attention.
- After your meditation, rest in silence for two minutes before slowly resuming back to normal activity.
There Is No Such Thing as a “Good” or “Bad” Meditation
Don’t look for a particular experience during meditation or fall into the trap of labeling your meditations as “good” or “bad.” Every experience you have in meditation is correct.
You may feel drawn to a peaceful meditation with few thoughts; however, experiencing stillness during meditation has no greater benefits than one in which your mind is active or your body is restless. Each meditation is unique and will offer you exactly what you need at that time.
Over time, you may find that you spend more time in inner quiet, but the greatest experience of meditation is felt every day as you move through life.
Before each meditation:
- Come with an attitude of curiosity.
- Let go of expectations.
- Gently remind yourself of the true purpose of meditation: to enrich your life.
- Be aware of subtle changes in your mind and body.
- Honor yourself for prioritizing meditation and self-care.
- Look for the benefits as they emerge in your daily life.
Schedule Time to Meditate
One of the biggest obstacles to meditation is finding the time. Rather than making meditation something you have to fit into your busy schedule, allow meditation to be a time you look forward to.
- Where can you weave meditation into your daily routine?
- Is there anything you can delegate or eliminate from your life to make time?
- What commitment of time can you make that feels relaxing, realistic, and doable?
Experiment with your schedule to find windows of time. In the beginning, you may have to reorganize your day. Consider where you can create time by reducing time spent on electronics, waking up earlier, or clearing out time zappers. The time commitment of meditation is small compared to the benefits you will receive.
Meditation is a profound gift of self-care. It allows you to slow down and unwind the busy-ness of life. And over time, meditation changes your perspective from not having enough time to elevating the way you choose to spend your time. Once you establish a regular practice, you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the benefits begin to show up in your life.
Check in periodically to notice how your life has improved. You may want to start a meditation journal to more easily track your journey. Some of the benefits you will see unfold immediately, such as stress reduction. Others, such as pain relief, improved sleep, or harmonious relationships may evolve over time. Be aware of the days and moments in which you feel better than the ones before.
As you notice benefits starting to emerge in your life, very little will take you away from time in meditation. You will look forward to settling into your practice. Your perception of time will change. You may notice you are more productive and efficient with your time. If you find you don’t have as much time as you’d like to meditate, do whatever you can, when you can. Every minute spent in meditation moves you toward greater health and happiness, and a return to wholeness.
Now go within and ask, “What choice will I make to receive the benefits of meditation?”
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Learn a simple, effortless form of meditation and receive your personal Primordial Sound mantra—an invaluable tool for deepening your practice—with our Primordial Sound Meditation Online Course. Learn More.