Meditation is not difficult, but there are a hundred ways you can get off track. You maybe already know that. Most of the questions I get about meditation from beginners are about the basics. These 15 tips will put you mostly on the right track. You certainly should pay attention to them and find yourself a simple course to send you on your way down the path. The rewards of meditation are great! Please stick with it and reap the rewards!
If you need a meditation program, I suggest the easiest book you can read on the subject Meditation for Beginners – a 22-day course. I wrote this book to make it as easy as possible. 150+ positive reviews at Amazon. Let me know if you like it, or if you have further questions. You can email me here.
16 Meditation Essentials!
1. Meditation for Beginners Book
Read this book on the subject because, yes, I’m biased but I cannot help it. I wrote this book specifically to help people understand as fast and as easily as possible HOW to meditate with as little of the nonsense that is part of the whole religion behind it. There need not be any religion. There need not be any chanting. There need not be any memorization of Pali or Sanskrit words. You need not adhere to the 8 or 88 Buddhist precepts. You need not abstain from sex, drinking, smoking, or anything.
You can just be you and begin as you are. Don’t fill your head with fluff, just fill it with a very simple formula to meditate and progress along the path. This path is naturally inside your head and mine, and everyone’s head. It’s there. I don’t know how it got there, but believe me the process is there in your head waiting to be found. Meditation allows you to find it.
The book is just $3.99 in ebook format.
2. Choose a Quiet Place to Meditate
The place where you choose to meditate need not be silent. Who has a silent room that’s like a cave? I never have. And I’ve meditated in caves, and it’s not the experience you might be thinking it is! It’s too quiet. It’s eery. We need some sort of background noise at least to let us know we’re the real world so we can relax. As you progress you might prefer the silence of a cave. Up to you!
I sat on the rug in my spare bedroom when I began meditation and it was just right. If the room was warm (Florida), I turned the air conditioner on low and not blowing right on me.
3. Sit Comfortably
You don’t have to sit on the floor in a lotus or half-lotus position. That’s for the flexible people out there. We’re not all flexible and it’s entirely unnecessary to sit like that. However, those are the two stable sitting positions you can use without a chair so if you can do one of them and you don’t have a chair, then do so.
As I said above, I sat on the floor in a bedroom at my house. The floor was comfortable enough with the padding under the rug but some people prefer to sit on a meditation cushion. Use one if you want. Use a chair if you want. Lean back against the wall. Lean back against the couch. It doesn’t matter AT ALL.
Sitting on the floor I was able to progress through the 8 jhanas in under a year. I very rarely had perfect form, I just found a steady position that allowed me to relax fully. Many times I leaned back against the futon behind me. Sometimes I sat on the futon. Sometimes I sat in my office chair. It really doesn’t matter.
4. Don’t Eat or Drink Before Meditating
Don’t eat a meal or snack before you meditate. Your mouth will keep producing excess saliva. You may get food caught in your teeth and your tongue can’t seem to stop looking for it. When you eat before meditation, you may get sleepy. You don’t want to be sleepy during mediation, you should be awake, alert, and ready to play the game. The game in Tip #11.
Don’t take any tea, coffee, or anything with caffeine. Don’t drink a sugary beverage or eat a piece of bread or cake, all of these things affect your meditation. Don’t smoke (anything) before, and don’t be under the influence of any drug. Just go into it in as pure a state as you can. Ideally, you can even fast for a day before meditation, it’s great for sharpening the mind and making it ready to concentrate on the breath.
Try to put at least an hour before when you eat and meditate. Two or three is better. If your stomach is growling, you are not going to be able to meditate all that well though! Try to find a happy balance.
5. Wind Down Before You Start
Part of the trick to having a better meditative session is to gradually wind yourself down before you begin meditating. I’m talking about physically and mentally.
You may do some yoga before you meditate. You may just turn off music and other noise and walk around the house doing chores like washing dishes in mindfulness before you begin. You may take 3 deep breaths every now and then for the ten minutes before you start. You may ensure the dog has been let out, the family knows you’ll be meditating in a few minutes, and the iron is off, stove is off, water isn’t dripping, etc.
Set the stage for your meditation so you can sit and meditate a little more productively. It helps a lot.
One great way to wind down is to do some walking meditation before sitting. This helps a lot!
6. Wear Loose-fitting Clothing or Better – No Clothing
Remove shoes, socks, pants, shirt, whatever. I meditated in undies and shorts mostly, but often just undies. What’s the difference? I found I was able to concentrate easier when I had less touching me. If you have jewelry, take it off. Hair bindings, take them out. Remove eyeglasses, bracelets, necklaces, rings, literally everything you can remove.
Try to reduce all stimulation from touch that may arise during meditation. It’s the same concept behind finding a quiet place. Less auditory stimulation – right?
With meditation, you’re going to be playing a game where you are repeatedly focusing and re-focusing your mind’s attention on the breath at the nose. Any sort of sensation your body sensory channels pick up is going to cause a break in that attention. Try to have as few breaks in attention as possible. They’ll happen sure, but wearing clothes and jewelry can add dozens, maybe hundreds of breaks in attention during one sitting.
7. Meditate by Yourself – Avoid Groups
If you’re meditating for the fun of it, to find Buddhist friends or meditation friends then yeah, meditate with groups every time. It is going to be VERY hard to progress while meditating in a group situation for most of us.
Why? We’re all self-conscious in a group. We’re all very aware of other people in the group and where they are behind and in front of us. We hear people breathing. We hear them shift position. Some sigh. Some cough. Some clear their throats. Some fart. I mean, the list is endless. Meditating in a group is almost always counter-productive. I’d say always choose to meditate alone when you can. There’s no power in a group, that’s going to help you progress. There’s no magic aura coming off the guru of the group that is going to help you ‘get there.’ In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Sit at home in an empty room if you’re serious about getting anywhere with meditation.
8. Sit in the Dark
Sit in the dark or with very little light so if you do open your eyes, you don’t see much and you don’t see clearly.
When I first started meditation I lit a stick of sandalwood incense and put it in a cup with sand. I’d turn all the lights out and it was already dark outside. I’d keep my eyes closed if possible, but if my mind was too jittery and I couldn’t concentrate, I’d stare at the orange glow of the incense for a while until the mind calmed down. It works a lot of the time. Give that a try.
A key ingredient to having a fruitful meditation session is calming the mind so there are not many distractions. This makes it easier for a sustained focus on the feeling of the breath in the nose.
9. Sit with One Hand on Each Thigh, Palm Facing Up
When I started, I cupped one hand in the other loosely. Very lightly. I thought that was fine. Today I have a different opinion. I think better to just let each hand rest on the thigh below it with palm up. Fingers slightly bent as the natural tension bends them. Don’t touch your hands together because the feeling of them touching is distracting just a bit. Same idea as having long sleeve shirts touch your skin, you can feel it sometimes and it’s enough to start the mind thinking about it.
Better to not touch hands together at all.
10. Meditate for 20-minute Sessions Once Per Day
Sit once for 20 minutes every day for best results. Twenty minutes is just enough time that you’re not going to feel horrible if you couldn’t focus on the breath at all, and just long enough that your body and mind could calm down and you could get 10 minutes of good concentration if it was a good session.
Lessen the bad sessions. Lengthen the good ones. If you feel great, have no pain in your back and you find you’re able to concentrate pretty good on the breath, sit a bit longer if you can. Don’t go more than 30 minutes for the first few months. Again, ideally, you’re looking at this as a reward. If you sit for 18 hours because you feel good one time, is that really a reward? No. It’s a chore. Sit for brief amounts of time and do your best to focus and re-focus on the feeling of the breath at the nose.
11. Play the Game, It’s All That Matters (at first)
Playing the game is all that matters for the first few months, maybe the first couple of years.
What’s the game, you ask? Concentrating your mind on the feeling of the breath at the nose, or wherever you feel it most. I barely feel it since I cut my nose hair and facial hair. To be honest, your nose hair vibrating is what most of us feel while meditating. Keep it in there if you want to meditate! Not joking.
I cover how to meditate in the book in Tip #1 above. It’s too involved than what I could fit in the space. It’s easy, don’t get me wrong!
As you are able to increase the time that your mind can focus on the feeling of the breath with each in and out breath you will begin to gain concentration. Better concentration. At some point you may attain some mastery of keeping the mind focused exactly where you want it on the breath. At that point, the game is at least temporarily won. It may not happen with every session, but at least you’re getting far better than you were and it shouldn’t be long until you are able to focus for 10 breaths, 50 breaths, a couple of hundred… or more.
This is the first step of meditation. It can take a long time. It may not take that long at all. It depends on your willingness to Play the Game.
12. Don’t Talk to Others about How THEY Do It
Follow the guidance in the book above and stick to that only. There are another 100 things you could add on to what is in the book, but each one will take you farther away from your goal of advancing along the path. Really. This is a major problem for most meditators. They start with a system and gradually move away from it by adding other things to it and taking ideas away that are crucial in helping you to go further down the path.
There are basically just 2 types of meditators. The first type is concerned with advancing through the stages of meditation and in gaining benefits that will help in day-to-day life. The second kind is someone who is looking at meditation as a social resource. Meditation groups, attending Buddhist temples or some other religion’s services or events, joining chat groups about meditation… all of these things are pulling you away from being a type 1 meditator. Make a choice, you cannot have it all!
13. Don’t Seek Out Exotic Locations to Meditate
Sit in your room on the floor for best results. Really. There’s no magic to it. It may be boring for you. If it’s boring and you don’t like it at all, just become a Type 2 meditator and find a group to liven things up. Your meditation journey will stagnate, but you’ll be having a lot more fun!
14. There Are No Gurus
There isn’t anyone meditating who is any better than you as a person. There isn’t anyone more holy or in touch with the supernatural, god, spirits, Buddha, or any of it. Meditation is a simple physical exercise that affects the mind. Once you are able to master the mind’s focus you will reap many benefits.
None of these benefits come from a guru, from a spirit, from a god, from anything. They’re just there and part of you like they are part of me. Human beings are naturally able to go along the path of progress with very little knowledge and absolutely no divine intervention.
15. Write Me When You’re Stuck
Really, I don’t mind. I love it. Usually I do a video response and post it at the website so others can learn from it. I won’t use your last name if you don’t want me to. You can find my contact page here.
16. Don’t Get Serious About Meditation
Meaning, don’t put any expectations on it. Changes will come. Growth will come. Benefits will come. You don’t know when. You can’t guess. I can’t guess. Play the game in Tip #10 and don’t stop playing the game. That’s the only important part. Don’t be serious while you play the game either. It’s a game, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t accomplish some self-imposed goal during any of your meditation sessions.
Take it easy. Make meditation a reward for a stressful day. Look at meditation as a nice quiet gift to yourself each evening before you go to bed. Don’t put expectations on yourself or your practice. Take it slow and enjoy each session as you follow the book’s guidance. You need nothing more, but do write for clarification if something is bothering you. 😛