How to Meditate for Beginners - the Basics

"For fast-acting relief, try slowing down" - Lily Tomlin

Like any good how-to manual, this three-part How to Meditate for Beginners starts with the basics.

When you first try learning anything new, you are most keen to know how that particular activity is done.

You don't really care about its nuances or the importance of creating certain enabling conditions for its successful completion.

All you obsess about is how to actually do it. Like when you badly want to play the guitar or drive a car or cook a meal.

But, when we talk about meditation, before we can talk about the how, we need to address the...

When and Where?

The best time to do your meditation is early in the morning (after taking care of physical cleanliness), in a quiet, dark room.

It has been said that when the conditions are conducive, meditation arises spontaneously. Hence, it is important to aid the meditation process by eliminating distractions and withdrawing from all external stimuli.

Mornings are better than any other time of the day as we are refreshed and rested after a good nights sleep and our minds are naturally less cluttered.

The Sanskrit term for early morning is amrit vela or 'time of nectar.'

Indian yogis believed this to be the optimal time for meditation. Modern science's recent discovery that this is the time when the most important hormones of the pituitary gland are secreted also confirms the ancient wisdom of meditating in the morning, preferably before sunrise.

But, if time is scarce in the morning, do not use that as an excuse to skip meditation. Any time of the day is better than none at all.

When it comes to meditation, the early bird does indeed catches the worm. Let's move on to the other critical aspects of meditation:

How long for?

Unfortunately, no universal time duration can be dictated and it is largely a matter of individual preference. But, the longer you sit, the more benefit you will derive.

Start with 10-15 minute sessions. Even 5 minute sessions are OK, if you find it too hard to sit initially. But, increase the duration progressively to 45-60 minutes.

As your practice deepens, you will find that sitting longer becomes a pleasurable activity rather than a chore.

Posture?

  • The ideal posture is sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the floor (see different leg positions in Zazen meditation) with hands resting in your lap - palm down on each knee, or palm up with tips of thumb and index finger held together (gyan mudra), or with right hand in the left, palms upwards 
  • Straighten your back as if stacking one vertebrae on top of the other. Your spine is the main conduit of your central nervous system, so it is important to keep it erect
  • Relax your shoulders and pull your pectorals back slightly to avoid hunching
  • Keep the head evenly balanced and tuck your chin slightly inwards while imagining an invisible string pulling your head up from the baby soft spot at the top of your head
  • Let your tongue touch the palate 
  • Relax your face
  • Close your eyes

Meditate for your set time, using your preferred meditation technique.

You should be able to relax in the above sitting position without feeling any strain. However, if you are unable to do so and feel tensed up in certain parts of the body, then practice doing the progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). 

It is extremely effective in inducing the relaxation response and it behoves both the beginners and advanced practitioners of meditation to spend two minutes doing PMR before every meditation session.

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I would love to hear your meditation experiences. And, if you are a beginner, your questions and apprehensions about meditation. Comment below or contact me directly through the navigation bar on the left of this page.