I get this question a lot from friends: what exactly do you do when you meditate? Although my roommates have had the strange experience of walking in as I lay sprawled on the floor with my eyes closed, this remains a very private practice for most. In order to demystify the mechanics of meditation and help others feel comfortable getting started, I wanted to lay out the basics of my routine.
What is meditation?
Per Yale's "Science of Happiness" course that I took via Coursera, meditation is defined as the practice of turning your attention away from distracting thoughts to one focal point, like the breath, body, sensations, or compassion. I meditate anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes a day, generally about 4 to 5 times a week. Most often, my practice is 5-20 minutes.
Where do you meditate?
My bedroom, on the floor or using a cushion (which at this point is either a pillow or stuffed animal). It's starting to make more sense for me to invest in an actual meditation cushion though. I'm eyeing this one on Amazon.
When do you meditate?
- In the morning before work: I find this to be the most beneficial, mostly because I notice that I am happier, calmer, more aware, and generally more in control of my impulses (including appetite!) throughout the day.
- After working out: It’s pretty easy to meditate after a tough workout, because your heart is beating through your chest and calling all of your attention to that focal point. Since all you want to do is breath, it’s easy to sink into that and really relax into the practice. Plus, endorphins are already flowing, so the act of breathing is even more enjoyable.
- Before bed: Sometimes, this is the only time of the day that works. Sometimes, I fall asleep while doing it. Sometimes, I intend to fall asleep while doing it. But taking even 5 minutes for your mind at the end of the day is better than no time for your mind at all.
- At a yoga class: This is an easy one if you’re just getting into the practice. Most yoga classes include an element of breath work and meditation, so stop by a local class at your gym or sign up for a free week at a local studio to start dipping your toes in the water.
- With friends: Meditation doesn't have to be a private affair. I’ve flat out asked my roommates if they wanted to meditate with me before and we all laid on the living room floor and did it together. I also make my boyfriend do it with me every so often. It feels a little silly to initiate and even do, but its a worthy habit to normalize.
I’ve now practiced for over three years and seen my life improve dramatically, along with my health, relationships, self-esteem, presence, and experience of daily happiness. For more on how meditation has helped me, check out the following posts:
- Origin Story: Blue Sky Mind
- Using Mindfulness to Cope with Anxiety
- How to Cope with Setbacks While Traveling
How do you meditate pose-wise?
- Laying Down: This is how I started meditating, so it’s the most familiar posture for me. It’s also the most comfortable! I really struggle with simply sitting upright in lotus or cross-legged. I end up getting a sharp pain in my upper back. Instead, I lay flat on my back in a Shivasana-like pose, which made it very easy to get started. I still find this to be the most relaxing pose, so tend to favor it when I’ve just worked out or when I’m falling asleep.
- Kneeling: As I’ve grown in my meditation practice, I’ve adopted a kneeling pose. For me, this looks like shins on the ground, sitting on the back of my calves, butt on my heels, hands on my thighs, and back straight up & down. It’s much easier on my back then sitting in lotus, and allows me to stay more alert throughout my meditation. The only downside is that its hard to sit very long in this pose at first, and my feet still fall asleep after about 20 minutes.
- However, Bored: Sometimes, I’m so grateful for moments of boredom. I feel like there are very few in our daily lives, now that cell phones and digital media are so ubiquitous. But there are still times when I find myself in a meeting or standing in line where I cant reach for my phone. Instead of despairing the boredom, I take a deep breath, let it go, and use the moment to relax every muscle in my body. I often pay special attention to my face, back and shoulders and of course my breath. It doesn't often last for more than a few seconds, but it’s a great trick for turning a boring moment into a present one.
How do you meditate with aids?
I use a few different apps and two different podcasts to aid my meditation practice.
- Insight Timer: My latest preferred meditation app! This is such a gem if you like guided meditation (especially good for beginners). There are thousands of free guided meditations. There's more of a community built into this app than either Calm or Headspace, so guided meditations are rated, reviewed, and shared across millions of meditators.
- Calm App: My former preferred meditation app, mostly because I like the sound of the narrater’s voice. I would recommend the “7 Days of Calm” starter pack to anyone new to the app. I use the free version, so mostly stick to the Timed and Guiding Light options. I love how this app records my monthly progress. Usually, I find that my life satisfaction levels are correlated with the number of times I clock in over a month, so it's useful to keep track of that information.
- Headspace App: I use Headspace to switch things up. They also have a helpful free tutorial that I used when I was just getting started. However, I find that most of their good stuff is stuck behind a paywall.
- Tara Brach Podcast: Tara Brach puts out multiple free dharma talks and meditation podcasts each week. Her meditations are different than the above apps, in that they are generally longer (15-30 minutes) and involve more spoken word. I turn to these when I'm needing some spiritual guidance for my practice.
- Meditation Oasis Podcast: Probably my favorite meditation resource of all time, which is why most of these free podcasts have moved behind an app paywall. Mary Maddox, who narrates each meditation, has an incredibly soothing voice and extremely relevant/helpful themes. For someone serious about getting into meditation, I would consider buying into her platform. For beginners, her free podcasts are a dream.
- 10% Happier Podcast: If you're interested in learning more about meditation from a self-proclaimed "fidgety skeptic," then this podcast is awesome. Dan Harris approaches meditation from a light hearted and dry humored sort of way that makes the whole practice a lot more accessible.
All of these aids are linked in my Resources page!