Have you thought about trying to meditate, but never had the time or necessary instruction? Would you like to learn how to start, and how to stick with a daily meditation practice? Here are some basics that will explain how meditation can help you gain profound inner calm, better health, more creativity and a lasting capacity for happiness. As a longtime meditator, I can assure you the entire process is neither difficult, uncomfortable nor time consuming. Even one minute a day can work wonders.
Place for Meditation
Meditation can be practiced almost anywhere that is quiet and uncluttered, but it is essential that you make every effort to meditate in that space at the same time every day. Within a few days you will begin to identify your meditation practice with your meditation space.
Whether you’re able to dedicate a spare room exclusively to your meditation practice or simply designate a corner in your living room, bedroom or den matters little, but it is important that the space be comfortable and have good air circulation. It is best if your meditation space is separate from those areas that are identified with your household duties and responsibilities. Choose a location that is away from heavy traffic areas (like the kitchen) and away from the computer, television, telephone, children and pets. Find a setting where you are not likely to be interrupted. While it’s not necessary to decorate your meditation space lavishly, a beautiful painting or picture of an influential spiritual teacher can provide inspiration.
Time to Meditate
Your meditation will progress best if you meditate at the same time every day. Establishing this habit is an important step in deepening your practice. Remember that each of us has an ongoing relationship with our animal body. Anyone who has ever trained a puppy, for instance, knows that animals are most comfortable and cheerful when activities take place according to schedule.
When beginning to meditate, any time you can comfortably set aside for your practice will serve you well. The best times for meditation are early morning (just prior to and during sunrise) and late evening, when your commitments are fewer and you’re least likely to be interrupted. At first, try to select one or two brief periods (two to three minutes) when you can meditate without inconveniencing others, being disturbed, ignoring your duties, or feeling rushed or preoccupied by other tasks.
If you rise a little earlier in the morning or meditate just prior to sleep at night, you can easily incorporate meditation into your daily routine. As your practice deepens, try to extend your meditation time by increments of one or two minutes. Sitting for twenty or thirty minutes may be a worthwhile goal, but only if it’s in harmony with the highest principle of all Yoga Science: ahimsa (non-injury, non-harming). Remember, be patient and kind with yourself. It’s more beneficial to sit for five minutes every day, with some preparation, than to sit for thirty minutes one day, then skip the next two.
Remember, your meditation practice will be shaped by your own unique circumstances and relationships. You’re not competing with anybody else. Whether you have one minute, two minutes, five or fifteen minutes to meditate, that’s perfect. Start off with a short period of time––something manageable. Be aware of your present limits, honor them and respect the differences between you and others. No matter what amount of time you commit to your meditation, be regular and consistent. As in all of Yoga, your intention and honest effort are always the most important aspects of your practice, not how much you accomplish. “Blessed are the pure of heart,” Jesus the Christ taught, “for they shall see God.” The key is your intention.
Your Mantra And Distractions
During the normal waking state, your mind continuously employs the five senses in search of pleasant experiences. In meditation, however, your relationship with the senses changes. You sit quietly with your head, neck and trunk straight. You gently close your eyes and mouth, and willingly close off the senses, the normal avenues through which information comes into your awareness. In meditation, you are not looking, smelling, tasting, hearing, or touching. Instead, you are focusing all your conscious attention on the mantra. A mantra is a word or a series of words usually containing the name of the Divine Reality. Every spiritual tradition uses mantras. Although the words may vary, each mantra represents a concept of Perfection that, when given your conscious attention, generates love, fearlessness and strength to help you fulfill the purpose of your life.
As you begin to sit in meditation listening to the mantra, something very interesting happens. Imagine for a moment that someone firmly grips your hand and pulls you toward him with great strength. What happens? Because the hand and body are connected, the body comes forward as your hand is pulled––even though you intended to stay in your chair.
Like the hand and the body, the conscious and unconscious mind are also connected. As you sit in meditation, you intend to give all your conscious, one-pointed attention to your mantra. That works well for twenty or thirty seconds, but since the mind is habituated to varied and changing stimulation, it very quickly gets bored with only one solitary thought to observe. To enhance the conscious mind’s pleasurable experience it independently decides to “change the channel” to a different program from the unconscious.
As you deliberately reduce sensory input from the external world, many engaging and competitive thoughts begin to bubble up from the unconscious mind into your conscious awareness. “Hey,” the mind might ask––interrupting your meditation––“how long have I been meditating? Do I have enough money for my child’s college education? Why is my spouse so insensitive to my needs? Why haven’t I seen any flashing lights or had some “far-out” mystical experience?”
Before you begin to meditate, however, you pledge to yourself that for whatever length of time you sit (one minute, five minutes, ten minutes or fifteen minutes), you are going to give your complete attention to your personal mantra. No matter what other thought, image or sound comes into your awareness, no matter what charm, attraction or temptation begins to call your attention, you resolve to give your undivided attention to your mantra.
Through this process you will learn to assume the perspective of a witness. Meditation teaches you how to observe your thoughts, desires and emotions in a detached manner––without becoming involved with them. In meditation, as your worrisome, fearful, angry, entertaining, frivolous, important and desirous thoughts are bathed in the light of consciousness, you learn how to willingly and consciously withdraw your attention from them and how to skillfully redirect your awareness back to the mantra.
Within a few days, your meditation practice will accomplish several things. First, it will minimize your susceptibility to the temptation of the competitive thoughts arising from the unconscious. This skill helps you avoid being a reactionary. Second, as you willingly return your attention to the mantra, the love, fearlessness and strength it generates will be increased. You will also be building three beneficial skills: detachment, discrimination and will power, all of which will become tools you can use throughout the day in every relationship.
Music, Incense and Alarms
During the preliminary procedures leading up to your meditation feel free to burn incense, light a candle or listen to inspiring music: hymns, gospel, or any calming or centering music. You may find these additions helpful as you bathe, pray and complete your Easy-Gentle Yoga. But before you sit down for your breath exercises, survey of the body and meditation, please turn off the music and extinguish the incense. Since your eyes will remain closed during your meditation, you may keep the candle burning if you like.
Please turn off the music and extinguish the incense because the practice of meditation is training your attention to a single point of focus, to the exclusion of any other thought, image or sound. If only on a subtle level, music and incense call the senses and divide your attention––leading you away from union with the Absolute Reality in the silent sea of bliss that is your true abode.
Remembering ahimsa (non-injury) is the highest principle of Yoga, please do not use an alarm to end your meditation. Such an abrupt transition from meditation into the normal waking state can be a shock to your nervous system. You have the capacity to end your meditation at a time of your choice. You’ve probably already had the experience of going to bed knowing that in order to catch an early morning plane you have to be awake at 5 A.M. Maybe you worried that you’d oversleep, but you were wide awake even before the alarm sounded. Similarly, when you sit for meditation and pledge to yourself that you’re going to listen to the mantra for a predetermined amount of time, that same Inner Dweller that operates the autonomic nervous system will remind you when it’s time to conclude your meditation. Simply look at the clock before you meditate and tell yourself that you’re going to sit for five, ten or twenty minutes and you will soon be able to end the meditation at the chosen time––almost to the minute. As your practice deepens, you won’t even need to refer to the external clock before you sit.
Wear soft, non-restrictive clothing. Any comfortable exercise pant or pajama with a loose-fitting waist will do. Wear nothing tight around the torso––nothing that could restrict the breath. If you are wearing everyday pants, unbuckle your belt and open the top button and zipper. Do not wear tight shoes during meditation. Bare feet are best, but socks, light sandals, or house slippers are also fine.
Remove eyeglasses during meditation. Even though you might not be consciously aware of them, the weight and constriction of the glasses on the temples and nose should be avoided. They are also cues to the mind to direct attention outward.
Creating Love for Your Practice
The more you listen to the sacred sound of the mantra, the more you will be free from your limiting and debilitating habits. The mantra generates love, fearlessness and strength to help you do what is to be done, when it is to be done. After meditating for just a few days, you’ll begin to experience the pleasure of being centered in the silence of your eternal Source, and your sense of discipline will quickly yield to love.
Therefore, be patient and persistent! As you begin your meditation practice, it’s quite acceptable to sit out of a sense of duty. At first, that may sometimes be necessary. Just remember that your mantra has the power to lead you to the attainment of your deepest driving desire––freedom from physical, mental and emotional dis-ease. In a very real sense, the meaningful, creative and joyful happiness and security you seek are the consequences of having a focused, calm and consciously discriminating mind.
Budgeting Your Time
Once you’ve established a regular schedule, you’ll begin to experience the phenomenon of unconscious preparation. As your meditation time approaches, your body and mind will begin to prepare for that regular, anticipated event. Even when you are caught up in some unusual, demanding or simply entertaining activity, your body and certain levels of your mind will begin to prepare for your meditation so that when the time actually comes, the meditation proceeds with relative ease. If, on the other hand, you have to make a decision each day about when and where you’re going to meditate, you introduce a great deal of conflict and confusion and you deny yourself the helpful factor of unconscious preparation for your practice.
In order for meditation to become a regular part of your daily life, it must be made a priority. You need to learn to budget your time as conscientiously as you budget your finances. Meditation must be made one of the fixed commitments within the time-budget of your daily schedule. But overcoming inertia and procrastination is not as difficult as you might think. In meditation, when you focus your attention on the mantra in a one-pointed manner, the will power you need will automatically become available to you. If that sounds too good to be true, just try it and see for yourself how meditation can change your life!
About the author
Leonard Perlmutter (Ram Lev)
Founder and director of The American Meditation Institute, Leonard is the author of “Transformation,” The Journal of Meditation as Mind/Body Medicine and the award-winning book “The Heart and Science of Yoga®: A Blueprint for Peace, Happiness and Freedom from Fear.” His “Heart and Science of Yoga®” entry-level course has been certified by the Albany Medical College, American Medical Association, the Massachusetts Association of Registered Nurses and American Nurses Association for continuing medical education credit. Leonard has been a student of Yoga Science since 1975 and a direct disciple of mind/body medicine pioneer Swami Rama of the Himalayas.