I am sometimes asked for guidelines to explain how to meditate. Here are my thoughts on this (but as you probably know, there are many ways to meditate).
1. If possible, do some light exercise and stretching before sitting down to meditate. This will help to loosen any areas where you might be feeling tight and make it more comfortable for you to sit.
2. Sit in a way that makes you comfortable. A classic pose is to sit cross-legged, tailor-style or “criss cross applesauce,” or in lotus or half-lotus position, on the floor or on a comfortable cushion. Another option is to sit Japanese seiza-style, with your feet under you and your knees slightly parted to form a tripod. Yoga students often meditate lying down in corpse pose. Whatever pose you choose for your meditation, be sure that your back is straight and that you are able to be relaxed and comfortable.
Personally, I’m very partial to meditating in uber-comfortable positions, such as lying down with my legs on a bolster, or lying down in “legs up the wall” pose from yoga. But that’s because I’ve slowly evolved from a more disciplined Zenlike approach to meditation to a “this should be as comfortable and lush and wonderful as possible” approach to meditation (something I’m picking up from yoga).
3. Set your intention for your meditation practice. Your intention could be something simple, such as, “I will sit for five minutes and pay attention to my breathing.” It could be a goal for your practice, such as, “I intend for this practice to help me to be more mindful of the present moment,” or, “I intend for this practice to help me to feel refreshed and able to do the things I need to do,” or “I intend for this practice to be a way of making myself more comfortable in my skin and in my world.” Your intention could also, if you wish, be a dedication, such as “I dedicate this practice to the good of all beings,” or “I dedicate this practice to [my religion],” or “I dedicate this practice to my friend or family member who is suffering.”
4. Once you are seated and ready, find a point for your eyes to gaze at, or close your eyes if you prefer.
5. You may wish to do a body scan, checking for areas of tension in your body. If you find parts of your body that are uncomfortable, one option is to, as you breathe in, visualize breathing in healing energy in the form of white light, and send that healing light to the parts of your body that feel tight or uncomfortable. Sometimes that can help.
6. Finally, begin to sit quietly with yourself. You may follow your breath, count your breaths (some people count from one to ten, some count backwards from 21, and some count in other ways), or just sit. If thoughts arise, notice but do not cling to them. You might want to think of your thoughts as clouds passing through the sky of your mind. If the same thoughts or feelings arise again and again, think, “oh, there is that thought again” or “oh, there is that feeling again.” You could mentally give it a friendly wave. Then come back and remember, “oh, I am sitting here with myself, I am breathing.”
7. At the end of your meditation practice, return to your intention or dedication. Check in with it or reaffirm it.
8. If you are really struggling with staying present for your meditation, it can be helpful to visualize roots growing from your body into the earth, and visualize breathing energy up from the earth. Sometimes this technique helps people who tend to be very daydreamy and who float away into their own thoughts.
9. Be aware that often it is hardest to meditate for the first few minutes. If you can stick with it a little longer, you may reach a point where it feels very comfortable and nice.
10. You can also return to your breath in a mini-meditation at any time in your day, when you are bored, or have to wait for something, or when you are experiencing negative emotions such as flashes of anxiety or anger. Meditation can also be a useful supplement to medication if you regularly experience anxiety or depression, or other forms of mental suffering.
11. Meditation embodies many contradictions. It is always hard, and it is always easy. Meditation is always practice and never mastery.
12. Over time, you will notice the many unique ways in which meditation affects you personally: how it lowers your stress levels, how you become more aware of things going on around you, how you become a more perceptive observer of the world, how you become calmer and more grounded, and how your intuition becomes more reliable. When you notice these changes, there is no need to become overly excited about it: just notice these changes, as you notice anything else, and keep practicing.