11 Easy Ways to Meditate (Or, There’s No Such Thing As Being Bad At Meditation)

This is a pep-rally post: I want you all to do the challenge, and I want to make it easier because meditation can seem really hard! Actually, though, it’s not that hard—it’s really not. But I didn’t know that before, and so, herewith, 11 things that might make a daily meditation practice feel a little more manageable. I know everyone’s practice is totally different! So this is just me sharing what I have learned, because had I known these things when I started (and stopped, and started, and stopped), I think it might have stuck with it a lot sooner.

I hope it helps, and please also share your tips in the comments.

1. Use a timer. There are apps for that, and they make cute gong sounds when the time’s up. You can set it for five minutes to start, and then just decide in advance that for the next five minutes, you can’t do anything but sit there. You can think about anything you want, but you can’t DO anything. Five minutes may feel like an eternity, but if you can brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day, or you can gchat with your best friend for four hours every day, you can sit still for five. Just decide you will, and then do it.

2. Don’t worry about whether or not you are doing it right. There are a million different ways to make bread. Every loaf has a few key ingredients. Beyond that, they may vary in flavor, texture, time in the oven—but it’s all still bread. Think of meditation the same way. As long as you have the basics down—sitting still, not doing other stuff at the same time, being quiet, then doing it again tomorrow—you’re doing a fine job.

3. Understand that when thoughts come up—and they will—it doesn’t mean you blew it. The mind never shuts up completely—even when we think it’s quiet, there are other channels running in the background. It’s OK even if those channels are blaring on high volume in the foreground, also. Over time this will just happen less.

Trust the process. And in the meantime, accept that your mind is not going to shut up, probably ever, and that’s OK. It will quiet down over time, though.

4. Get comfortable. When you first start meditating, you might find it’s really uncomfortable to sit cross legged in the middle of a room. (That’s because it is uncomfortable—until one day it isn’t anymore.) In yoga, they teach you to prop up your butt with pillows or blankets to get your hips higher than your knees. Why? Because it’s much easier to stack your spine and sit up if straight you do.

So prop up your butt. And since you are more likely to sit for five minutes if you aren’t worried about how much you suck at sitting, lean against a wall. The goal here is to be still—not to look like Christy Turlington in the (RED) campaign.

5. Picture yourself sitting there. OK, let’s get weird for a second: If you can picture yourself sitting there, you can understand, if only fleetingly, that your mind and your body are not the same thing. They say in meditation classes that you should “observe” your thoughts. This has always struck me as abstract and confusing. How many brains do I have? How can I observe my thoughts if they are coming from the brain I’m supposed to be observing them from? Turns out it’s actually possible (see below) but instead, I like to focus on the image of my own physical body, sitting wherever I am at that moment. Sometimes, I cast that image in bright white light, also (LOL).

6. Name your thoughts as they come up. “I should make pasta for dinner.” You probably should! But you can’t do that for at least the next five minutes, so instead, say to yourself “You just thought about what you’re going to eat for dinner.” If you can identify your thoughts, no matter what they are—”That guy in the elevator was cute,” “I’ve run out of underwear, I should probably do my laundry”—it takes you out of their grip and stops your mind from following that thought any further. It’s really hard to plan romantic getaways with elevator boyfriend or sort your laundry into piles if you have to stop at every thought and acknowledge it.

7. Smile. Not like in Eat Pray Love. We’re not talking exaggerated facial contortions here—just smile sweetly and subtly. When you’re smiling, even when you smile voluntarily (which is to say “fake-smiling”) your brain changes. It’s kind of nuts, but it’s true: Fake-smiling activates the same signals of enjoyment in the brain as real-smiles. Since some goals of meditation are contentment, compassion and a sense of wellbeing, this is a great shortcut. I’ve found that when I start with a fake smile, it turns into a real smile pretty quickly—and not to be a total cornball, but it’s really powerful when that happens. Try it!

8. Use a simple mantra—and don’t overthink it. I remember the first time I heard about people using mantra I felt like a reject for not having one yet…

Then my teacher Lesley D. taught me one: “Let go.” (Tou-ché.) Another one I love, from my teacher Dechen: “Yes, Thank You.” “Yes” on the inhale, “thank you” on the exhale. You can also use “ohm,” or whatever else you like. You pick, but don’t overthink it like I did. Pick one, commit to it, and get breathing.

9. Close your eyes—or maybe just keep them open. A divisive point, for sure, but meditation practices where you keep your eyes open or at half-mast trip me up. But I have a girlfriend who has the opposite problem: She closes her eyes and can’t focus. Point is, do what works for you.

10. Try an compassion exercise. Some of us like structure! A nice meditation for people who want a technique is compassion or loving-kindness meditation. There are different versions of this—you can google around and find one you like—but here’s the one I learned. First, you call to mind your own self and say silently “May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be healthy, may I be free.” Next, call to mind someone you love, and say the same, but replace the Is with yous, obviously. Next, call to mind someone who is pissing you off or making you sad, and do it for them. From there, you can extend this meditation out to the entire world (“may all beings everywhere be happy” etc.). This part loses some people. If you’re one of them, then when you’re done with the person who you’re upset with, do someone else you love so you end on a good note.

Finally, 11. Don’t expect to see bright blue flashing lights/meet God for the first time/find eternal bliss/solve all your problems/pass through to another dimension.

I was lucky enough to see a very special monk speak a while back here in New York and the topic of the lecture was “Compassion and the True Nature of the Mind.” Like, whoa. Even he made jokes about how heady that sounded. He said that the “true nature of the mind”—that thing we’re all trying to get to through meditation—is really, really simple. It isn’t a shiny new toy. It’s not sexy. There’s no story to tell your friends. You aren’t trading in your current mind for a better one. It’s hard to describe, and this kind of talk can get pretty esoteric and frustrating pretty quick, but the point is: There is no magic, weird, out-there thing to find—in fact, it’s the opposite. Meditation is like peeling back layers of crap and then in the middle is a simple, sweet thing that has been there all along, and always will be.

(Maybe that’s just me. If YOU have found the secret passageway to that other dimension, please let us know.) Now, what tips do you have to share?

Amazing image via

Comments
50 Responses to “11 Easy Ways to Meditate (Or, There’s No Such Thing As Being Bad At Meditation)”
  1. anni says:

    #10 is something i do when i can’t sleep! i don’t repeat the long mantra (though now i might start…), but i go through a list of people i know (at random – it’s fun to see who shows up!) and wish them happiness. it definitely helps to quiet my mind so i can sleep more quickly… plus good vibes never hurt anyone. :)

  2. christina says:

    I know everyone advises against laying down, but I think adaptability is important so I sort of make up my own rules at times. Since my shoulder is torn in a few places, it is super-hard to sit, so on Monday just before I read this I did a walking meditation in honor of my daughter who has cerebral palsy & cannot walk. Just focusing on the body as it moved was enough to quiet my mind & I felt very grateful & sent her good energy at the same time.

    Yesterday, my shoulder was killing me (a phrase I am working on quitting saying…) so I did a yoga pose which is a small backbend, just laying flat on the ground with a block under my shoulder blades. Once I could quiet my pain I had a lot more success being still.

    I spent a LOT of energy blocking out my pain for so many years that sometimes it hurts more now that I allow myself to feel it / send breath to it. But little by little, my sporadic yoga/meditation practice is helping & nothing else ever has. I really have a desire to keep it up, so I’m trying to make fewer excuses.

  3. April says:

    I just wanted to drop off this youtube link: http://youtu.be/qil5mmjuaIs

    It’s Amy Ippoliti (Anusara yoga teacher extraordinaire) explaining the 5 most common alignment mistakes in meditation.

    so if some of the new meditators are finding that they’re experiencing discomfort/pain while sitting: she covers why that is and how to improve it.

  4. therese says:

    Very cool. Forgot about #10. I will definitely be adding to my meditations. Can you image how much positive energy we will be sending out to the Universe because of this challenge. Great idea ladies. p.s. Buddhist practice a walking meditation so that is fine too.

  5. Peggy says:

    I meditate for 30 minutes daily and when I have time I paint directly afterwards. I have found meditation has helped me mindfully approach the blank paper without judgement or expectation much the same way that I have learned to let go and bring my attention back to the breath when I get lost in thought during meditation.

  6. Alex says:

    The mantra I like to use, which I got from my teacher Christina Sell (another Anusara yoga teacher extraordinaire- love Amy too!!) is this: on the inhale, “I am worthy,” on the exhale, “I am divine.”

    I do practice meditation with my eyes open sometimes… it is a form of practice called “open meditation.” The idea is to just look at the things that come into your field of vision, without getting attached to them- just let them pass through, but stay present with them. This is the opposite of “closed” meditation practices, like repeating a mantra, which are more about concentration and focus. I find both to be beneficial, and often choose according to how I’m feeling at the time.

    Also, love this quote from a teacher friend of mine, which also relates to meditation: “You don’t come to yoga to get the light. You already have it. You come to yoga to shed the stuff that blocks the light that is already shining.”

  7. Sarah says:

    @Alex I love the quote! Thanks for sharing it.

    I adore this challenge. It has given fuel to my intention to incorporate meditation into my daily life.

  8. Colleen M says:

    I’m loving the meditation challenge and found myself discussing these same points with one of my roommates last night. The idea of trying to stop the brain from doing anything is impossible, rather accepting what is an being with it is much nicer and more compassionate. Thanks for the challenge to commit to 5 min each day!

  9. Moksha says:

    Thank you so much for this “challenge”. For the last ten years I have been doing breath and mantra practices every day. This however is returning me to the practice of simple presence with no goal but, um, presence. There are constantly a billion ways for our minds to be engaged (even in extremely positive ways) but I suspect that one of the things people are very hungry for, whether they know it or not, is emptiness and the recognition of emptiness.

  10. Love it! Thanks, Siobhan, for squelching some of the biggest myths that keep people from meditating and accessing so much of their inner power and beauty. Ladies, apart from the benefits of wisdom, insight and peace that come through a regular meditation practice, I also noticed that the older nuns I lived among in Nepal had such radiance and inner beauty that it surpassed anything that products could do. It’s nice that we can change the world and look more beautiful at the same time! ;)

  11. Heather says:

    I love this. The part about naming your thoughts was exactly what I needed!!!!

  12. Amy says:

    I’ve never meditated before, but I have done some yoga, which seems rather similar except that while you’re breathing deeply and concentrating, you’re holding a rather awkward or painful contortion. The yoga teachers I’ve had usually say something like, “Breathe in the good energy and exhale the bad.” Which usually, when I concentrate on it, helps me to calm and get through the pose. So today when I decided to start your challenge (yay!) I started with the mantra ” Good air in, toxins out.” That was pretty similar to what I’d heard, yet it was original enough that I didn’t feel I was invoking my instructor’s voice in my head. After just a couple of breaths, I changed the first part to “Happiness in” and I immediately, involuntarily, started to smile. And it brought thoughts and images of things that made me happy – the fall weather, the smell of crisp air, etc. Before I knew it, 5 minutes was up. I can’t wait to do this again tomorrow!

  13. Tyler says:

    I get deep into the meditation while chilling with my feet up while in my desk chair. I used to use headphones but now I can use my speakers and listen to meditation music at the same time.

    I’ve found that meditation is a form of space/time travel that lets the soul/spirit/true-self travel from universe to universe from parallel body to parallel body.

  14. Bettina says:

    I, too, had problems meditating until I found yoga nidra, a style of meditation where it’s ok if you fall asleep! Because I use a recording/mp3 that specifically addresses the observer inside of you, who is always awake, even when you’re asleep. I loved it so much that I made an Android app for it–if you’d like to buy it, it’s here: https://market.android.com/details?id=spreebytes.yoganidra

    Otherwise, I find guided meditations really helpful to keep my focus.

  15. Kimberly says:

    I have been meditating for years, I first learned meditation from Paramahansa Yogananda and his Self Realization Fellowship teachings. I have recently learned from the Teachings of Abraham great meditation techniques. Both describe the breath and this I believe is the most important thing to do. Long slow breaths in and out. Counts of 5 in and counts of 5-7 out. The slow deep breathing puts you in alignment with your Higher Self and that IS the porpose for meditation. All of the great things that come from this quiet time with your Divine Self is frosting on the cake. And believe me your life will change for the better in all aspects very quickly I might add. 15 minutes a day of quiet time is really all that is needed. I use to meditate for hours, and in those meditations I did connect with Source. If you meditate for hours, yes you can travel to other realms if you wish and see Heaven for yourself…Heaven has a language all It’s Own, a sense of knowing without being told.” Love to all….and very happy journey…:)

  16. Leah says:

    I love this! I’ve been searching for a new hobby and I’ve always done the physical yoga but I wanted to start getting more to the deep parts of yoga, and meditation is something I struggle with cause there’s so much going on in my head. This article made me feel like I’m not doing anything wrong, that it will come with time and I just need to keep working on it. Thanks so much!

  17. Epic.

    Really.

    Thanks for this.

    I’d love to write more, but I’m off to breathe deep, allow my thoughts, and meditate ;)

  18. Chelsea says:

    I can’t decide whether that cloud is in the shape of a duck or a lamb.

  19. Katie says:

    I. love. you.

  20. Vedette says:

    For me, smiling is the best meditation practice of all. It always keeps me calm in all situations.

  21. Christopher says:

    I found I do better when its dark and no sound I can clear my head better and there are no ways that anyone can disturb me

  22. Garrett says:

    i breath deaply and exhale through the center of my chest, basically im leting my body breath and i close my eyes while listning to zen music i think of peaceful gardens and slip into a trance of relax, i think of the images my eyes portray, i dont go to deminsion but i see blurrs and shapes from differnt lightings, like when you go to sleep you still see images behind your eyelids, and i interpret and tell my mind to invisoin beautiful landscapes, and when this happens my body somewhat takes over wit relaxing and breathing, its awsome, and like you said, its nothing speacial but just what ive seen of land scape, to anyone reading this, look up some pretty landscape pictures (a japanese koi pond or snowy mountian top for ex.) and just think of being there and imagin the sounds of tht place. this music helps alot though, and its an hr and a half long. Heres the link to the music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVeCx0bM7Xg&feature=related enjoy and peaceful meditate, remember dont look for it, let it come to you.

  23. Sara says:

    dear, u can meditate even when u r eating, burshing ur teeth, showering, making love if u do it completely it will be the most amazing extasis and meditation ever!

    thanks for the tips anyways, I feel this is such an exchange of teachings and learnings … that´s why the language was created for… communicate =)

    and I completely share the #11 with u, no expectations!

    oh and by the way this is the first comment i put in a forum or in a website…!

    have a wonderful life..

    cheers,

  24. Colin Barclay says:

    You’re missing the point …

  25. tom wolford says:

    Thank you! I love you!
    I am bringing people together to meditate in groups, from 2 to whatever. This has been fun and exciting. I’ve been blessed with blissful meditations while, sitting, exercising, working and walking. I’ve read many different ways from many different backgrounds and I am thankful for your article to take the worry out of mediation. keep it simple and keep practicing. i tell my students and clients if you can breath you can meditate. I also want to thank my instructor Tom Jacobs for teaching me a simple form of mediation.

  26. wow so beautiful Natural Heart <3 :)

  27. Ben says:

    Meditation has to be the simplest and most challenging activity at the same time. In some ways, the least amount of effort seems to create the most effect.

    Good article!

  28. james says:

    any tips for meditating in a house that’s never quiet? (old radiators, traffic outside) also, there is never a moment in which music is not running through my head. i’m a musician, so guess it’s to be expected. still, simply thinking ‘can’t get it out of my head’ has brought a song to mind that will play on a loop until another one replaces it. any advice?

    would meditating while listening to new age music (birds, waterfalls, ocean waves…) still be considered meditating? intentional background noise would probably kill a few birds with one stone, and hey, dead birds are a good thing, metaphorically speaking, of course.

  29. Melinda says:

    I thought it was funny when I read the first response to this, because #5 is what I do to fall asleep every night. I picture my thoughts and those pictures turn into my dreams after a few minutes.
    Oh, and this might me too much info, so sorry. I have really severe menstral cramps, and I don’t keep track of my cycle because I’m lazy like that, so one time when I got my cycle and my cramps started, I had no midol. I went in the bathroom, sat in fetal postion with my arms going under my knees from the outside and then up inbetween my knees so that when I put my head between my knees I could grab a handful of hair and squeeze, then I closed my eyes. While my hubby went to get medicine, I tried to focus on breathing steadily in through my nose and out through my mouth, when I inhaled it said in my mind “in through the nose” when I exhaled it said in my mind “out through the mouth” (is that mantra?). Then it kind of turned into #5, if that makes sense. Then I went into this state and it was like I was asleep but awake at the same time. My mind wandered away from reality and it was kind of like I was dreaming while I was awake, but in the very back of my mind I was still aware of what was happening reality, I just wasnt thinking about it and wasn’t feeling the pain from my cramps anymore. When my husband got back from the store and gave me my medicine, I snapped out of it partially took the medicine keeping my eyes closed, and then went back into my awake-dream. Finally when I realized the pain had gone away, I went out of the bathroom. It felt like I’d been sitting there for 15 minutes after I took the midol. When I asked my husband how long I was in the bathroom after he got home, he said TWO HOURS!
    Its that kind of what meditating feels like? Is it possible that I accidentally meditated?

    I’ve been very stressed out lately, I’ve never tried to meditate and I’m still a bit confused on exactly what meditation is and what the goal is, if there is one other than stress relief. I’m very excited to try it. I’d try it now, but I’m afraid I’d fall asleep, and I’ve got beans in the slow cooker that I’m waiting on, so now isn’t a good time to fall asleep.

    Anyway I think I’ll do some more research on this and figure out exactly what the heck mantra is.
    This article was very helpful, thank you! And sorry for the lengthy response, but I really wanted to share that experience, for anyone whe may be interested in reading it and answering the questions in it, or for anyone who may have gone through a similar experience.
    Thank you again!

  30. Savoc says:

    about the passageway…
    one who goes through comes not back.
    it’s like the Matrix pill. you can only get to understand if you take it.
    It’s a hard digesting pill, not assured that: you have the enzymes for the thing, you won’t have anti-corpus against it, you’ll know how to deal with the real world

  31. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for this article! It was really helpful and I’ll definitely try some of these tips :)

  32. Matt says:

    For the loving kindness meditation, I like the “may i be happy, may I be peaceful”, etc. part. But if I just say this for myself and not for others is this not being selfish??

  33. Lindsey says:

    Great tips! I would say what helps me most is a mantra with pranayama. My mantra is “breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.” As I inhale and “breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.” On the exhale. There are hundreds of different ones. My pranayama sequence is breathing in for 7 counts, holding for 7, exhaling for 14 counts, holding for 7. Repeat this over and over for 5 minutes and you will feel the stress leave your body. I hope to get certified to teach soon!

  34. Sambara Moin says:

    My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. can you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a number of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome site!

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