The benefits of meditation are wide-ranging. Regular meditation is e.g. associated with better sleep, lower levels of stress, lower blood pressure and increased happiness. I've come to think that meditating is to our mind what exercise is to our body: necessary.
On a personal level, I have found that the meditation has increased my awareness, my focus, and helped me to stay more present. But there is also something that I can't quite put in words, some sense of self-knowledge and well-being that is difficult to describe.
Just as people can choose from limitless ways to exercise, there are also various ways to meditate and one needs to experiment a bit to find out what works and what doesn't. Here is some advise that I have found useful so far:
Work with your schedule.
In a perfect world, I would meditate at dawn and dusk in a beautiful setting. I would sit on a nice pillow in comfortable clothing, perhaps light a candle. I would be alone, it would be quiet. However I am almost never home alone, my kids wake up at dawn, and I collapse to bed at dusk. When I do have the opportunity to meditate at home, I really do love to sit in a lotus position on my yoga mat. But most days I meditate at work. I am lucky to have an office, where I can just close the door for 15 minutes. I sit on my office chair, close my eyes and meditate.
Find your anchor.
The purpose of your anchor is to keep your mind focused, and bring it back when it starts to wander. The anchor can be vocal (e.g. mantra chanting, praying), visual (e.g. a candle light, a mandala, a religious icon), or it can be as simple as counting your breaths (silently). I mainly use my breath as my anchor. I count my breaths to 10, then start again, until I feel that I do not need to anymore. It is important not to be too attached to your anchor. The purpose of the meditation is to still the mind, not to count your breaths. When your mind is still you can stop counting. If it starts wondering, you start counting again. Another thing that I have used, is to focus on the so called chakras or energy centers of the body. This may not appeal to everyone. But interestingly it has made me much more aware of the physical aspect of my feelings. How it physically feels to be stressed, happy, anxious, etc. I focus on each chakra for a few breaths, starting with the lowest one and then move up to the next one. When I have focused on all the chakras, my mind us usually able to stay still for some time.
Breath gently. Get into your meditation gently, stop gently. If you start daydreaming, or fidgeting, gently bring your mind back to meditating.
I think there is a disparity between different traditions in the emphasis on stillness while meditating. But I find it very important for my own meditation experience to stay as physically still as possible.
It is important to sit down with an open mind and no expectations. The experience varies a lot. Some days it is easy to sit still and quiet the mind, other days it seems impossible. Some days the experience is very spiritual, other days not so much. It is a journey of ups and downs. There are days where meditating has brought something difficult to my attention, some feelings or memories that I have intentionally tried not to focus on. But that is part of growing, part of the benefits.
Smile (gently;)) while meditating. It brings you a sense of peace and happiness.
Eat and drink.
Try not to meditate right after a meal, or when you are too hungry. And avoid caffeine just before meditating. Have a sip of water before you start.
Resources: For meditation beginners like myself I would recommend the following resources:
- The Meditation Bible: A Definitive Guide to Meditations for Every Purpose
- Meditation to Go: Learn to Relax, De-stress, Find Peace of Mind
- Zencast's Dharma talks and introduction to meditation
- Zencast's meditation timers