The word meditation conjures up images of serene individuals in contemplative seated positions and the promise of a future life of peace and bliss. With ongoing research continuing to support the benefits of a regular meditation practice for everything from stress management to improvements in cognitive function, then it’s unsurprising there is increasing interest in how to incorporate meditation realistically into everyday life.
There are many types of meditative practice and finding what works for you can take time. You may be someone who prefers breathwork (focussing on your breathing), or using a mantra (a sound or phrase), using a gazing technique, or moving meditation, for example, Zen walking or tai chi. I say this as you may need to try different styles to find the one that resonates with you — it may be one or many depending on how you are feeling and where you are. That said, the following are some guidelines for creating a space at home to practise seated meditation to being with. Pretty much all you need is a space, a suitable posture, and a practice to practise!
Creating a Meditation Space
It can be very useful for your practice to dedicate a particular place where you will go to meditate. This could be a particular room in your house, a corner of a room, a favourite chair, etc. Ideally, mediation practise should be done sitting with the spine upright so beware your favourite comfy chair if you are tempted to slouch, and do not lie down if possible as the temptation to fall asleep may be great.
You could decorate your special space with a rug, a mediation cushion or stool, and have a shawl or blanket nearby to wrap yourself in when you practise. You might like to decorate part of the room or area with a covered table with candles, an oil burner, picture or statue. None of these things are necessary to meditate, but they can help to set the scene whereby as soon as you enter that space you know you are there to practise. It is important when you begin to meditate that your meditation space is quiet. You will need to remove distractions where possible, so it may be helpful to take the phone off the hook (for those who still have a landline), switch off your mobile, and ask anyone you live with not to disturb you whilst you practise.
Mind Your Posture
The posture you adopt whilst you meditate is important. It should be upright but still relaxed. This is because along with our physical forms we also have energy bodies (the subtle anatomy), with kundalini energy rising up along the path of the spine. By sitting upright we help the unhindered rise of this energy. Lying down, as mentioned, encourages sleep in many people so it is preferable to avoid lying down to meditate. There are exceptions to this, for example, when practising Yoga Nidra, which is traditionally practised whilst lying down in a particular position (for those who do yoga, this is savasana). It is important to be comfortable whilst sitting to practise so you could use a chair, preferably one with a straight back and firm as you need to sit away from the back of the chair ideally to remain upright and straight.
Alternately a cushion or two may placed on the floor. A traditional cushion is a zafu. Sitting either cross-legged or with one foot in front of the other slightly (this can reduce the dreaded ‘pins and needles’ occurring) will be more comfortable when sitting for long periods of time. If you do not have a cushion, a folded or rolled-up towel could also be used. The advantage of sitting on something is your knees will fall lower than the hips and this is typically more comfortable when sitting for a while. Kneeling is possible, and there are meditation stools that will make this more accessible. I do not recommend you kneel unless used to doing so, without a specially designed stool and, even so, kneel on a blanket or something soft to help prevent discomfort.
Bear in mind that as you most likely will not be used to sitting still, you may experience some discomfort initially. You will need to use common sense whilst practising to determine whether or not you can tolerate some discomfort, or whether you should move to a more comfortable position — listen to your body — physical pain is a cue to move. As you continue your practise, you usually find that you can sit for longer periods of time without as much stiffness occurring.
The Practise of Practice
The third thing you need to meditate is simply a mediation practice! There are many types of meditation practice, and you will soon find those that suit you better than others — there is no right or wrong in your choice. You may like to begin with learning to monitor the breath — a script is available here. Or perhaps a guided visualisation. There are many on YouTube to choose from — look for seated meditation.
A general guide would be to aim to meditate for half an hour each day, however, any practice is better than none, so when you start out do what you can to incorporate regular practice into your lifestyle, even is this is 10-15 minutes. Soon you will not know how you managed before you meditated regularly.
Challenges Will Often Arise
One final important point to make—there will inevitably be obstacles to your practice. These could manifest themselves as difficulty in ignoring distractions, chattering thoughts (the ‘monkey mind’), sleepiness, strong emotions, or physical sensations. Meditation takes practise and requires patience. Some days will be easier than others. Most distractions arise because the mind wishes to avoid the meditation practise. Simple as it seems, the practise of meditation can be very challenging and may bring to the fore a problem you have been avoiding even if you were not consciously aware of this avoidance.
Any difficulties you are experiencing are most likely very normal, however, if they are persistent and/or you feel uncomfortable then I’d recommend you join a meditation class with a qualified meditation teacher for support and guidance.
Photo credit to: Chris Ensey