Meditation: 10 Frequently Asked Questions
What is meditation?
There are various definitions for meditation but the simplest one that I would like to offer is this: Meditation is a process of going inward and directing our energy and focus upward. It is an effective and expeditious way to quiet the mind and open the heart. It is a process of interiorizing attention and focus that helps to put one in touch with their inner self and life. Meditation allows us to quiet the noise of our minds so that we can hear and follow the wisdom and guidance derived from stillness.
Why is meditation beneficial?
There are so many benefits of meditation. It is truly a win-win scenario. If you develop a consistent practice you will undoubtedly find more peace, calmness and happiness in your life. You will also be more effective in your relationships and more efficient and productive with your work and aspirations. All this is possible because meditation helps us to minimize stress and increases our ability to relax and be less reactive. There is a great deal of research and study concerning the benefits of meditation in publications and on the web. I share a few of them in a previous blog post To Meditate or not to Meditate.
Do you have a regular meditation practice? If so, has it helped?
I have been meditating for more than 25 years. I meditate 2-3 times a day. I used to orient my meditation around my life but now I have oriented my life around meditation. It is the most transformative tool I know. I have experienced tremendous personal growth and satisfaction in my life as a result of meditating. I also feel that I have been able to help others more effectively as a result of my meditation practice. I look forward to the journey that lies ahead and am so thankful for all of the opportunities and blessings that meditation has afforded me.
I don’t think I can sit cross-legged for long periods. Can you meditate in other positions?
The primary thing you want to do in order to maximize your practice is to be in a position where your spine is straight and you are able to relax and forget the body. There are other options to the lotus pose but you may also find that you can use props to help you be more comfortable in the pose. You may also use a meditation bench or sit in a chair. As I mentioned, you may also use props such as pillows & blankets to take the stress off of your back or knees and you can use these in conjunction with whatever floor, bench or seated position works best for you.
Sitting up straight is uncomfortable for me. Why can’t I lie down on the floor or on the couch?
I can understand why some people might not want to sit up but lying down on the floor, a bed or couch is not a good option for meditation because you are likely to miss the experience and benefit of the practice. If you lie down you will most likely slip into a subconscious state or just fall asleep. It is also harder to focus your attention because energy spreads throughout the body in a prone position. Meditation is not the same as deep relaxation but being in a state of deep relaxation is a good way to prepare for meditation.
Meditation sometimes gives me a headache and hurts my eyes. How can I prevent this from happening?
If you are sure there are no other reasons for your discomfort. You might want to make sure you do enough preparation to relax your body and get it ready for meditation. Headache and eye pain may be related to eyestrain, tension, or energy that has been released and is getting blocked. You may also be trying to force your eyes to focus in a position that is awkward for you. Your eyes should remain level in the beginning or be raised to the point between the eyebrows as if you were looking out across the ocean watching the sun rising on the horizon.
If you exercise or stretch a little before sitting to meditate, this will calm your nervous system. You want to also make sure that during meditation you are focusing on the breath and are indeed breathing – unless you have become so relaxed that your breath naturally slows down or pauses. If you are practicing for more than 30 minutes or an hour, you might try reducing or varying the duration of your meditation periods. You also want to make sure that you give yourself a rest period when you are not practicing the techniques – to just sit with eyes closed and enjoy the calm and quiet. If, for some reason, you are jolted out of meditation by a loud sound or some other disturbance – you may indeed experience a headache or other discomfort. If that happens, try to settle down again and finish your practice.
What position is best for my hands during meditation?
For the meditation technique that we use, it is suggested that you put your hands palms up on the thighs at the junction of the thighs and abdomen. This is an open and receptive posture that also helps to keep the chest lifted and the heart open. If, however, this does not work for your body, you should adjust for your comfort. For example you might want to rest your palms face up not at the junction of your thigh but further down towards your knees.
How can I keep from getting drowsy or falling asleep?
If you suffer from a lack of sleep or you are really exhausted – you naturally may have a tendency to fall asleep. Make sure you are getting regular sleep. If not, take a nap and rest and meditate afterwards. Another thing you can do besides making sure you are getting the proper rest is to keep your eyes focused at the point between the eyebrows. If you find that your attention is falling ‘below the horizon line,’ you are more likely to get sleepy or fall asleep as this is the position your eyes are in when you sleep. You want to also be sure that you energize or exercise before meditation to support a good flow of energy in your body. Another suggestion is to meditate in a well-ventilated space with a good source of fresh air. Your meditation area should not be too warm or stuffy. If you find yourself getting drowsy, try opening the eyes wide and squeezing them shut a few times. Tighten and relax the muscles of the body and take some deep breaths to oxygenate the body. Meditation is not a dream or subconscious state.
I get so restless and fidgety. How can I focus my mind?
The mind is naturally restless and that is exactly why meditation is beneficial. We want to redirect the mind and its energies in another direction. Of course there will be resistance. During meditation whenever you find that your mind has wandered (and it will!) you will want to bring your attention back to the breath or to the mantra and maintain your focus and attention on the point between your eyebrows. These things give the mind something to ‘hold onto’ and overtime if you are consistent with your practice, you will find that you will be able to calm the mind and thereby minimize your restlessness because your energy will be internalized and not going out to your sensory equipment.
Nothing special seems to happen when I meditate. How can I get something to happen?
You should be clear about what your expectations are for meditation. Meditation is not a thrill seeker’s event, a spectator sport or a circus. After you have established a regular practice, you may not readily notice any immediate changes although some people do have very powerful experiences initially. These may not be typical and everyone’s experience will be different. Other than making sure to practice the techniques the way you have been instructed preferably by a qualified instructor, there is nothing that a person can do to make something happen. The results from consistent practice may be very subtle but generally the person or someone else will notice a shift or change in behavior, attitude, or health. For example, the person who meditates may notice that they are less reactive to situations and people that may have normally triggered a strong response or they may notice that their concentration, focus and energy levels have improved.