Frequently Asked Questions about Meditation
What is meditation?
Meditation is a name given to the many techniques that turn your attention inward. There are many types of meditation – each one asks us to engage or focus our attention. You’ve probably heard of these: visualization, contemplation, walking, chanting, watching your breath, and silent mantra meditation. There are many others.
Meditation techniques have been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation was originally practiced so one could deepen their understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. And, though meditation may be spiritual for some, the practice is not necessarily religious in nature.
Meditation is now becoming mainstream, probably due to the high amount of stress our modern day lives can create. It is practiced by millions of people around the world. The meditations you’ll learn with the McLean Meditation Institute are secular in nature. And you don't have to change your beliefs, diet, clothes, religion, or anything to practice them.
Meditation is not about forcing your mind to be quiet; rather it's a process to rediscover the quietness that is ever present. Behind the constant dialogue of our mind, there is a silence, a pure awareness, which is not disturbed by thoughts of the past or concerns of the future. This field of silence is what we access when we meditate.
If you turn your attention to the one who is reading this, you’ll notice there is a presence there: that presence or awareness is the real you. It is not your body; it is not your mind; it is you. With a regular practice of meditation you can live with more ‘awareness of your awareness’ and this will cultivate a sense of inner peace and balance in your life. And you make better choices from there.
Meditation can be easy if you are taught correctly. It is not about stopping thought: that's nearly impossible. Meditation is a technique that takes you beyond thought, transcending thought, to find the quiet that is already there.
Whichever type of meditation you choose, done correctly, it allows your body to reach a naturally-occurring rest state; and according to research, it’s different from sleep, the rest is much deeper, and at the same time, you are more alert. It is sometimes called the state of restful alertness.
Why do people learn to meditate?
to find their purpose in life
to find happiness
to be healthier, to feel better
to get through a tough transition in life, like job change, divorce, death of a loved one, or a health challenge
to be clearer, improve their ability to focus and make better decisions
- to find that something missing in their life - even though they have everything that they thought they wanted
to increase their creativity
to increase their level of relaxation and self confidence
- to decrease stress, lower their blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, prevent a stroke
to treat depression
to feel more connected to everyone and everything
they want to escape a sense of suffering
they are dealing with physical or emotional disease and want to activate the healing response or prevent disease
as a response to the calling of their own spirit
to reduce the stress of everyday life
to become more intuitive, or sensitive
they are curious to discover other aspects of themselves
to find a connection to God or a higher power
they want to improve their relationships
they want to activate the law of intention and attraction
they want to be more attractive
Why should I meditate?
Many people meditate to experience inner peace, and to find meaning and purpose in their lives. And, for a growing number of people, perfectly healthy people, meditation is used as a means of stress reduction - it is good prevention.
You see the many advertisements for medication for digestion, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and sexual problems; it is no wonder that meditation is needed now more than ever.
Each one of these disorders are either caused by or made worse by stress - and more than 60% of all doctors' visits these days are due to stress related complaints. And often medication is prescribed. Medications don't treat the cause, only the symptoms. Meditation treats the cause. Stress.
With a regular practice of meditation you can cultivate this sense of inner peace and balance. It is a proven tool that allows each person to fully experience the life that they were meant to live. And, while you are at it, and it is a way to create world peace, one person at a time.
You’ll find your life is better, and your relationships and your work seem more fulfilling. You might find you are getting to know yourself better, feel better, and make better choices.
When you set aside time each day to meditate then the benefits of meditation will naturally unfold. Even a few minutes of meditation here and there can help your day to be more harmonious and fulfilling.
Can anyone learn how to meditate?
People from all walks of life learn to meditate and love it. Professional athletes, teens, corporate executives, retirees, doctors, students, judges, architects, engineers, and musicians have all taken our meditation courses.
Anyone can learn to meditate - from beginners who have an interest in staying healthy, learning to relax, or who are going through a transition in their lives - to advanced meditation students who want to improve their meditation practice or eliminate bad habits.
Find out more about the meditation classes you can take in Sedona or Phoenix Arizona.
We even have success teaching those who are just curious, or who are coerced into taking the course by their spouses or parents! We find that everyone enjoys their experience in the meditation courses and they can easily meditate after they learn.
Don't have any experience? Don't worry. If you can think a thought, you can meditate, and you don't have to change a thing - not your diet, your religion, your beliefs - nothing. You’ll just need the willingness to take a short time out every day to meditate.
What if I am Type A? Can I learn too?
We can teach you how to meditate even if you don't think you can do it. We have taught many type-A personalities, and those with very active minds. We have even taught people who have read books on meditation and listened to meditation tapes and still can't seem to do it.
In the beginning of meditation practice, people sometimes feel they encounter a huge amount of mind chatter - this can be scattered thoughts, worrying, to do lists, feelings, planning, and daydreams.
This makes it tough on those who begin a meditation practice believing that in order to meditate, you must be able to stop thinking. This is nearly impossible to stop the mind by trying to. The nature of the mind is to think, like the nature of your eye is to see. Thinking is one of the many experiences you can have in meditation and it is NOT a barrier to meditating correctly. That being said, you will eventually experience a state of no thought, but it is a natural experience, not one that you force.
Thoughts are actually a part of meditation. And can be a good sign, a sign that stress is being released. Over time, as you practice meditation correctly, you’ll find that you can easily access more and more subtle levels of thinking, and more and more silence.
Meditation is not about trying to control or eliminate our thoughts, feelings, or urges. Meditation is a practice, much like practicing a musical instrument, or learning a new skill of any kind. At first, it may or may not be easy, or enjoyable, but in the long run, it is a practice that you can really enjoy.
Some people find that using a mantra when meditating helps to cut through the constant conversation in our mind, and can create more focus. Usually a mantra will allow us to eventually experience the spacious silence between the thoughts. We never try not to stop the thoughts from coming altogether. Trying implies thinking, we are going to go beyond that.
If I sign up for a class, what meditation will I learn?
The programs we teach are perfect for any level of meditator: from those who have practiced some form of meditation on their own and want to add to their practice, to those who have never even tried to meditate before. All of our programs are secular and universal in nature.
When you sign up to learn how to meditate, you'll learn a simple, silent meditation technique that you can do every day for the rest of your life if you so choose. The Simple, Easy, Every Day Meditation Method (called SEED) and the Primordial Sound Meditation are two of the meditation programs and techniques offered in Sedona and in the Phoenix Arizona area.
We'll guide you every step of the way. All it takes from you is the willingness to sit down with your eyes closed and to be able to think a thought. We'll teach you the rest. The benefits will be apparent with regular practice in your life. All meditations which silently use a mantra or breath have a similar goal – to take your awareness beyond thought, into pure silence, pure awareness. Your awareness will expand and you'll explore your essential nature to discover who you are beyond your roles and responsibilities.
Recommended by mind/body health pioneers, including Dr. Deepak Chopra, these ancient meditation practices systematically allow you to experience quieter, more peaceful levels of the mind and reduce stress.
If you join one of the meditation retreats you’ll learn more advanced meditation techniques.
What meditation will I learn when I take a class in the Simple, Easy, Every Day Meditation method?
This half-day workshop isperfect for those who desire to learn an effective technique that can be practiced on their own without having to listen to tapes, without having to be guided, and without having to join a religious or spiritual group.
You’ll discover a few simple time tested silent meditation practices that you can use wherever you go, for the rest of your life! You’ll love the benefits and it is easy to learn. It is like taking a time out, but it is really a time in. The program includes:
An Introduction to Meditation
Understanding the Effects of Stress
Becoming Intimate with the Way your Mind Works
Understanding the Benefits of Meditation
The 5 Essentials for a Successful Meditation
Easy to use Meditation Techniques
Creating Your Own Personal Practice
Guided Meditation & Personalized Meditation Instruction
Course Materials including a CD and Meditation Booklet
There are many different ways to meditate, and we’ll talk about them. The meditations that you’ll learn are powerful, yet simple to do, and easy to keep doing. They include these practices:
- A Body Awareness Technique
- A Breath Awareness Meditation
- A Silent Mantra Meditation
- Heart Centered Breath
- Balancing Breath Technique
- Self-Inquiry/Heart’s Desire Practice
- Mindful Walking Meditation
- Peacefinder Practices
These practices help you to direct your attention inward and go beyond your thoughts to re-connect with the part of you that is most real and most true. Each person has their own reason for learning to meditate, and whatever it is, whatever their intention is, it serves as the seed that will be nourished by the deep silence and possibility that meditation brings.
This collection of practices is called the SEED Meditation Method : S for simple, E for easy, E for every, and D for day. Meditating is like planting a seed – an intention - and watching it grow. You will also experience these fruits of meditation: inner peace, creativity, inspiration, harmonious relationships, fulfillment, better health, more self-awareness, and so much more.
Find out more about the Simple, Easy, Every Day Meditation Method or when the next program is scheduled.
What is Primordial Sound Meditation?
Primordial Sound Meditation is a silent mantra meditation technique originating in the ancient wisdom of India. This form of meditation was revitalized by Dr. Deepak Chopra, best-selling author of over 50 mind body health books.
Primordial Sound Meditation is easily learned in a full-day session during which your instructor will introduce you to the basic principles of meditation, its history and the importance of it. You’ll learn the practical aspects of meditation, share your experience, receive answers to any questions, and meditate with your instructor. You will also learn about higher states of consciousness.
The mantras used in Primordial Sound Meditation and the way in which they are selected are unique. Yours will be individually selected, chosen for you based on your time and location of birth and the universal vibration present at that moment. Using ancient Vedic mathematics, we can identify the vibration of the world at the moment of your birth. The mantra you’ll learn will incorporate that primordial sound into it, and you will learn to use it silently.
During the practice of Primordial Sound Meditation, our minds become quiet and because our minds and bodies are truly connected, our bodies settle down and gain the deep rest necessary to release stress and fatigue. When you meditate you use your personal mantra and it will serve as a vehicle to connect you with deeper aspects of your awareness. The program includes:
- An Introduction to Meditation
- Understanding Meditation Techniques & Stress Reduction
- Private Meditation Instruction Session
- Your Personal Mantra
- Creating Your Own Personal Practice
- A Lesson on Higher States of Consciousness
- Course Materials
- Group Meditations
What are primordial sounds?
At its most basic level, everything in the universe is sound or vibration. We are surrounded by sounds. Primordial Sounds are the basic, most essential sounds of nature: the sound of the wind in the trees, the waves on the beach, the beat of your heart. Sound is used in healing in many ways – we hear it, make sounds, or think with using our ‘inner ear'. Mantras are often called primordial sounds. You'll learn more about this in the Primordial Sound Meditation Course.
How does meditation work?
Although meditation can be a way to experience inner silence, this comes about not by eliminating thoughts, but by becoming aware and spending time in the silence that is naturally present in the mind along with the thoughts – sometimes called the gap between the thoughts.
During a silent breath or mantra meditation, both the breath and the sound will gradually become quieter and quieter and quieter. You’ll experience more and more subtle levels of the thinking process, or the process of thought might even seem to stop for a time. This is a natural process. We can’t think our way there or control the experience.
How does meditation address stress?
When humans are exposed to painful, highly distressing, or frightening circumstances, a cascade of physical/mental events occur known as the “Flight or Fight Response”. Over time these responses to stress can develop all kinds of problems, over and above the original stressful or traumatic event.
There are many, many stress-related disorders. And many chronic conditions stem from stress.
Stress is sometimes called the silent killer. We often don’t notice its effects on the body until we experience some chronic condition. Since most disease is caused by or worsened by stress, meditation is really good for your health.
Meditation is the perfect antidote for modern day stress. It has been proven to actually reduce stress in our nervous systems so you can face your day with a fresh attitude and calm manner.
During meditation you gain a deeper rest than in sleep, yet at the same time, your awareness expands. You’ll cultivate a centeredness and sense of balance that before might have seemed elusive when faced with stressful situations.
It is also good for your relationships. Problems in relationships are often caused by one or both partners being under stress. So it is a nourishing practice to do together or as a family, or as a couple: it creates a basic harmonious experience that you can have together.
In social situations, fear and anxiety will no longer be your constant companions. Meditation helps you to become more calm and centered, and less fearful.
Meditation is a way to become more intimate with who you are and what you want. It helps you tune into your intuition, your true feelings, your body and its messages, and the rhythms of nature. So you’ll make better choices in life when you tune in. This also prevents stress. Find out more about how meditation prevents stress.
What other benefits I will experience?
Scientific research confirms what ancient wisdom discovered long ago: the practice of meditation evokes a state of relaxation that creates a normalized blood pressure, deep rest in the nervous system, a slower heart beat, reduced levels of stress hormones, and an optimized immune system.
Studies also show that meditation brings about improved perception, focus, memory, and creativity. Regular meditators are even more compassionate, healthier, happier, more relaxed, and more productive than non meditators. No wonder it is now one of the top 10 alternative therapies used in the United States.
Meditating daily has a powerful beneficial effect on your physical health, your ability to heal emotionally, and your ability to function at your best. Those who meditate also report a greater sense of Inner peace, a feeling of well being, a sense of calm, and happiness.
Meditation is recommended by almost every health professional because it provides a proven way to give your mind and body a rest and to reduce stress. These benefits are measurable, and scientists and doctors worldwide have been researching them for decades. Meditation has also been proven to:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Lower pulse rate & respiration rate
- Reduced levels of cortisol (the stress hormone)
- Lower cholesterol
- Curb insomnia
- Boost the immune system
- Reduce depression
- Relieve anxiety and compulsive behavior
- Alleviate stress levels
- Improve decision-making ability
- Enhance Memory
- Treat drug and alcohol abuse
- Increase focus and concentration
- Find out more about the benefits of meditation.
What kind of meditation experiences can I expect?
Over thousands of years, many meditators have had common experiences and passed them on to the next generation. Yet, the experience of meditation can be hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it directly.
Most people think that they should meditate for their experiences in meditation, but that is really a misconception. Although they can be charming, insightful and exciting, we actually aren't meditating for the experience in meditation. So don’t fall into the trap of judging the effectiveness of your meditation by the experiences you have in meditation.
The best attitude to have is one of no expectations. Ideally, you meditate with an innocent attitude – without expecting any particular experience, and over time you’ll accrue the benefits. Having a sense of expectation of positive results, actually can get in the way of our meditation experience, and keep us on the level of trying – or thinking.
In fact, we actually meditate for the experience outside of meditation. It is like taking a shower. The shower feels good, but really, we take a shower to have a better day. That is what meditation is for: to have a better day, or a better life.
That being said, experiences in meditation are infinitely varied: there are all kinds of subtle sensations, internal imagery, and sound effects. One moment you will be in the bliss, then suddenly you will be thinking of your to do list.
Rarely will you have exactly the same experience twice. You will get used to the sensations however. In general, your experience in meditation will probably range between paying attention to your mantra or your breath and….
- Sorting through lots of thoughts about your daily life
- Planning the future
- Remembering the past
- Reviewing the emotions you felt during the day or experiencing new ones
- Moments of deep quiet and inner peace
- Restlessness and boredom
- Wondering what time it is
- Losing your awareness of your body and environment
- Sensations of expansion, heaviness, lightness or contraction
- Seeing dream-like images in your mind’s eye
- An expanded awareness
- Enhanced sensory perception
- Tingling, twitching, itching, aches or energetic sensations in different parts of your body
- A loss of time awareness
- A feeling of bliss and extreme happiness
Can you offer any meditation-related tips that you recommend people incorporate into their daily or weekly routine?
You can use meditation techniques almost any time, almost anywhere. The easiest way is to become mindful - that means having your mind full with what you are doing - paying attention to what you're doing when you're doing it with your senses, with a non-judgemental awareness.
You can turn your attention to your breath, or the sensations in your body, or to what you're doing - whether it's washing your hands, walking to the car, standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting at your computer. This moment right now, is the one that matters . Sometimes we forget because we're distracted by what other people think, what we should do, or thoughts about the past or the future. When you bring your attention to the present moment you can tap into the infinite possibilities, spaciousness, peace, and creativity that is available at all times. There are many other ways I suggest people tap into the moment: Read this article about how to take breaks during the day: Taking Time Out for a Time In.
I also like encourage people to establish a formal meditation practice. This would include regularly meditating at the same time of day for certain period of time. Whether it's for five minutes, 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, a little meditation before breakfast can help everyone. It's always best to meditate before you eat so if you don't have time in the morning you can meditate before lunch. And if you really inspired, you could meditate again before dinner.
Why is meditation great for health?
Life organizes itself in a rhythm of activity and rest, activity and rest. If we don't regularly get the rest we need, we can get run down. Sleep is the main way we rejuvenate our bodies and minds. And stress can tend to affect our sleeping patterns. Meditation has been proven to give us access to that kind of renewal and rejuvenation, only on a deeper level.
The practice of meditation allows you to access a naturally-occurring rest state; and according to research it is actually different from sleep, the rest is much deeper, and at the same time, you are more alert. It is sometimes called the state of restful alertness. This helps to reduce stress and improve your sense of well being. But it is like exercise. You can't just know about it to get the benefits, you have to do it.
The rest one gets in meditation has actually been measured as deeper than deep sleep and is another way to give the body a chance to rejuvenate. When we rest, the body (including the nervous system and brain) tunes up, repairs damage, gathers energy, and gets ready to go.
- Meditation lets the body rest more deeply than sleep, even though you are sitting up and are awake.
- Meditation reduces emotional and physical stresses from the past. It is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress in the nervous system.
- After meditation, you are less likely to get stressed over little things, so you will tend to have less stress-related illness.
How else will meditation affect my physiology?
Think of a sound night's sleep. You are at a deep level of rest, which correlates to about an 8% reduction in oxygen consumption. Oxygen consumption is an indicator of how much work the body is doing.
During sleep, oxygen consumption gradually declines over a period of 4 - 5 hours, to eventually reach this 8% reduction. During meditation, oxygen consumption decreases by 10 - 17% within the first 3 - 5 minutes.
This is a spontaneous side effect of paying attention in a meditative way, and is felt as a powerful sense of physical relaxation and ease. The body spontaneously goes into this state when you practice a meditation technique that suits you.
There is also a change in brainwave activity. While meditating, people experience alpha and theta waves, which are associated with a healing response and a very deep state of rest. It's actually considered another state of consciousness, which is called the fourth state of awareness, or the gap or “soul consciousness” or restful awareness. This state of awareness is not often identifiable subjectively, but it can be as deep as sleep. That is why we suggest that you never jump up in the middle of meditation as it can create a jolt to the nervous system. If you do get interrupted in the middle of your meditation, go back and meditate for at least five more minutes to release any stress that was created. And don’t forget to finish with a few minutes of sitting still – the integration time.
How do I get these benefits?
You only get the benefits of meditation if you actually do it. Like brushing your teeth, knowing about it isn’t helpful. Only by doing it will you get results. How long until I notice the benefits of meditation?
The benefits of meditation accrue from our first experience. Each of us grows at our own pace. Some people notice dramatic changes immediately, while for others it may take weeks or months. It is not uncommon for other people to notice changes in you before you do. If you meditate regularly, the benefits will become evident over time.
When should I meditate?
- Ideally you should meditate every day. At the same time of day.
- It is recommended that you meditate for at least ten to twenty minutes one or two times per day.
- Meditate on an empty stomach, or at least one hour after eating a big meal. (You can meditate if you’ve eaten a piece of fruit.)
- Meditate sitting up.
- The best time of day is in the early morning upon rising (before eating) and in the evening just before dinner. Some people meditate at noon before lunch.
- Contrary to some ideas, meditation is not best practiced before sleep, as it can increase alertness (although there are some sleeping meditations you can do.) When done at the prescribed times, sleep almost always improves.
- If you do aerobic exercise, then meditate before that.
- If you do a gentle yoga practice, then mediate after that.
Where should I meditate?
Meditation can be done anywhere. As long as you can sit down somewhere where you will be relatively undisturbed, and as long as you can think a thought, you can meditate.
Some people meditate at their desk before leaving for lunch or at the end of the work day. Nowadays there are prayer rooms in many corporate offices.
Designate an area or corner of your room where you'll be able to meditate regularly, perhaps sitting up on your bed with your back against the headboard, or in a chair or on your favorite cushion in a corner of a room that's not cluttered. Once you've found your spot, you might want to make it special with flowers, pictures of friends and loved ones, or place meaningful objects there.
If you can’t find the perfect spot, don’t let that be a barrier to your meditation. I meditate on planes, in doctor’s offices, and I sometimes meditate in my car (obviously not when I am driving) because it is a place I can always find some alone time. I’m often in the Safeway parking lot eyes closed meditating between appointments. You can meditate almost anywhere you feel safe and will be undisturbed.
How do I time my meditations?
Whatever length of time you have determined you’ll meditate for, stick to it once you start. 10 minutes 20 minutes 30 minutes…don’t change your time commitment in the middle of your meditation because you suddenly feel restless and bored, or have the thought, “This isn’t working” or “I have too many emails to just sit here.”
When you make a commitment to sit through these rough spots, you’ll have released a great amount of stress and will feel really refreshed after the meditation. Thoughts are a part of meditation, do not struggle against them. Deepak Chopra says that a restless meditation is a good meditation.
To monitor the meditation period, you can use the vibrate mode of your cell phone’s alarm, or, you can peek at your watch or a clock from time to time. I love the meditation timer on the right side of this webpage. Some people meditate in their office and their computer is on. Here’s a timer that you can download free to use on your computer, and I have heard of meditation timers you can download for iPhones and Blackberrys too.
Remember you are in a very deep state of rest while you meditate; you are actually in another state of consciousness, which is called “soul consciousness” or restful awareness. It can be as deep as sleep, and so jumping up when your ‘time is up’ can create a jolt to the nervous system. Finish your meditation with a few minutes of sitting still – the integration time.
How should I sit to meditate?
Now that you have a good place and time, find something to sit on. The main thing is to be comfortable; so many people choose to sit in a chair. Sit with your feet flat on the ground and your back upright.
There are several other sitting postures you can assume when you mediate – you can sit up against a wall or headboard with your feet out in front of you, or assume the classic cross-legged position posture sitting comfortably on a mat or a pillow with spine erect and legs folded, hands resting on knees.
Sitting cross-legged works well for some people and it looks really cool. But it is completely uncomfortable for most people. So it is not necessary and has nothing to do with meditation, really. That's just the way people in Asia tend to sit. If you decide to sit that way, make sure that your rear is lifted off the ground a little - use a cushion or zafu (a round Japanese-style cushion) or fold a pillow in half to help you to keep your back straight - which is considered very important in meditation.
You might sit in a more casual "Indian-style" with legs crossed or with one leg folded in front of the other on the floor. Don't try to fold your legs around in a complicated position unless it’s really comfortable. The main virtue of the cross-legged posture is that it’s handy if you have no furniture or are outdoors.
If you have been sitting cross-legged for many years and are comfortable that way and your knees don't hurt at all, then fine. I enjoy the cross-legged pose. I’ve used it about half the time in my nineteen years of meditation. If you can sit with total comfort that way for half an hour without your feet going to sleep or getting uncomfortable — even a little — then go ahead. Remember, though, hurting your knees or being uncomfortable has nothing to do with a good meditation.
Can I lie down when I meditate?
No. You have trained yourself to fall asleep in this position. Even if you don’t think you will, believe me, you will fall asleep in this position. And the whole process becomes one of a sleeping meditation.
Whichever position you choose, rest your hands lightly in your lap or on your knees. Your head can tilt down very slightly, chin in. Close your eyes, and if you feel the need, you can open them occasionally. Aim to sit still with your eyes closed. You can lie down before or after the meditation, like the awareness pose they might have you do in a hatha yoga class.
Do I need to practice yoga to meditate?
Yoga here in the U.S. generally refers to Hatha or Ashtanga yoga a practice which include postures or poses, called asanas. But traditionally yoga is a lot more than that. Meditation itself is derived from the yoga tradition of India. Yoga means union, or to join or unite. Yoga is the union of body, mind, soul, spirit and environment.
Patanjali is a physician who lived 2000 years ago and is called “the father of yoga. He codified his knowledge of yoga in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – a blueprint for living and incorporating the science of yoga into your life. He shares that yoga – which includes poses, breathing exercises, and relaxation - contributes to the preparation of a more settled nervous system, one that is more conducive to meditation. However, these exercises are not necessary to practice meditation, though they can enhance your experience.
The knowledge of how to intentionally cultivate meditative states has been passed down from teacher to student for ages. Meditation does not come from India, Japan, or Tibet -- those are just places the knowledge travelled into and through.
Yogis or rishis (seers) are the ones we have heard the most from, really because they were clear they wanted to convey the knowledge of self-discovery to others. That is why we always think of yogis in the Himalayas when we think of meditation.
Human beings are always wondering, Who am I? Why am I here? and meditation is a natural emergence of that inquisition. There are thousands of meditation techniques, coming from many traditions and lands, and all of them are appropriate for someone, somewhere.
What is a mantra?
Mantras are words or phrases that can be chanted out loud or thought internally as a focus of meditation. Mantra meditation predates Buddhism, probably by hundreds of years. The origins of mantras go back at least to the ancient Vedic tradition that preceded the Buddha.
The word "mantra" is derived from two Sanskrit words. The first is "manas" or "mind," which provides the "man" syllable. And the word "trai" meaning to "protect" or “instrument” or to "free from." The word mantra in its most literal sense means "to free from the mind," or, “instrument of the mind." Mantras are a vehicle to take you from the level of activity of the mind to the level of silence. Mantras are the most basic, essential sounds of nature, often they have no discernable meaning, and when we think them, we focus on their sound or vibration.
Every word we use has meaning and vibration. Language is an agreement, a certain sound means a certain thing. However, when we use a mantra in meditation, we usually are using it for the vibratory quality only. It is said we have 60,000 thoughts a day, where the meaning of one thought leads to the next. Meaning leads to another thought. With a mantra in meditation however, there is nothing to hold your attention at the level of the mind. Nothing to create a new thought. They interrupt the flow of thoughts – or meaningful sounds - so you can slip beyond it into the gap between your thoughts.
It is not the meaning of the mantra but vibratory essence that takes a meditator’s awareness within where they can directly experience their center of silence. This process cannot be understood intellectually. It must be experienced personally.
Do I need to change my religion to meditate?
Meditation is a practice, not a religion. It is about closing your eyes, sitting still, and taking some time to go inward. This process helps you to expand your awareness, and to reconnect with who you really are and what you really want.
Regardless of your background or beliefs you can meditate. Meditation can be done as part of any religion. The practice of meditation is common in many religious traditions for contacting God or a Higher Self. Christianity has contemplative prayer as its form of meditation. Buddhism and Hinduism both have meditation as a main aspect of the religious practice.
However religion is not a necessary aspect of meditation. It has long been recognized that there are non-religious forms of meditation that are stress reduction techniques or awareness training methods. In the 1970's, Jon Kabat Zinn developed his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, using a secular (non-religious) form of "mindfulness" meditation as the core intervention. Herbert Benson from the Mind Body Institute at Harvard, author of the book Relaxation Response, also used a secular form of meditation for healing. Both of these methods have been the subject of extensive research.
Millions of people, of all faiths (or of no religious faith), have benefited from the practice of meditation. no matter what their belief system may be. Meditation allows you to experience your own awareness or something within you that is peaceful, calm, rejuvenating, and silent. Whether one calls this something Creative Intelligence, the Creator, Divine, the Unified Field, Lord, God, Spirit, Soul, Higher Self, Theta Wave Activity, Source, Peace, Emptiness, or Silence, is not important.
Is "mindfulness" the same as "meditation"?
"Mindfulness" is not identical with "meditation," but they are closely related. In the realm of mental health treatment and stress reduction, "mindfulness" is a way of training the mind to develop an expanded awareness, and an awareness of the present moment. It creates a different (and less reactive, less distressing) relationship with thoughts, actions, feelings, and sensations. And this training is done through the practice of meditation, both in activity and sitting.
Should I listen to music while I meditate?
Some people like to listen to chants or meditative music to create or extend a sense of peace or calm. It's not recommended to listen to music while practicing a silent meditation. Silent meditation is a practice of taking your awareness inward – when we listen to music it tends to charm your attention outward. Listen to music before or after you meditate.
Do whatever you can to limit distractions. Turn off the ringer on your phone and turn off your TV, iPod, CD player, and the sound off your computer. Put a "do not disturb" sign on your door and ask your family not to bother you during this time. Leave your animals outside or in another room.
Should I meditate with my eyes open or closed?
Different traditions say different things about this. Closing your eyes can lead to sleeping, though it certainly does bring your attention inward. You can try to open them a little, with a downward unfocused gaze, keeping your head erect with the chin slightly tucked in – this is the Zen-style of meditation. Or stare at a blank wall. Or a candle flame or mandala or Sri Yantra or a picture of someone or something that brings about thoughts of divinity.
Do I need a teacher to learn to meditate?
The best way to get started is one-to-one instruction. Yes, there are those meditation naturals who need no instruction. If they need a teacher, it is more to help prevent bad habits from forming. Others need a little or a lot of coaching.
It is also possible to learn meditation from a book or CD. However most people who teach and practice meditation agree that a teacher can be an invaluable aid in learning a meditation technique correctly. The beginner will usually have several questions which a teacher will be able to answer.
Also, learning and practicing with a group of people can be extremely beneficial. Most people find they have some of their best meditations while mediating in a group.
There are lots of teachers and groups out there. Some charge, and some do not. Many different techniques are taught, some more spiritual in nature, and others mainly concerned with stress-reduction and gaining a little peace of mind. Use your good judgment and don’t change your religion or beliefs because someone tells you too.
How about a guru?
There are those who call themselves gurus or enlightened. If you ask them, they’ll say you can’t learn without one. The word guru means ‘dispeller of darkness’ and in the Hindu religion and some other traditions, having one seems imperative, it is part of the culture to study or follow one. There are some gurus that are willing to share what their knowledge is without a commitment from you.
Some people teach meditation as part of their overall plan to convert you to some form of religion such as Buddhism or Hinduism, or get you to join a cult of some kind. Sometimes there is a condition that you must meet to get them to be your guru, or you have to follow them and obey them. This is the religious model, and the teachers are missionaries. Our suggestion is to follow your own inner guru. This is the new trend.
How will I know I’m doing it right?
There are no good or bad meditations. If you are meditating, it’s a good one. That being said, one meditation might be more pleasant than another, but no matter what your experience in meditation, don't worry too much about doing it "right." And don’t try to repeat your experiences.
Treat each meditation as innocently as the first time you learned. Have compassion for yourself in your sincere effort to bring more calm and peace in your life. You can’t do it wrong. The most important thing is to just do it. Have faith and be patient with yourself.
If you are enjoying yourself, feel restful, and have a sense of ease, you are doing it right. In the long run, you know you are doing it right if you are more adaptable, more resilient, more stable inside yourself, more perceptive, and more appreciative of life.
How can I get good at it?
When people ask me how they can “get good at” meditation, I say to just do it, easily and effortlessly, without expectations, and without trying or force. It is the opposite of no pain, no gain. It is, do less and accomplish more.
You cannot will your way to the gap, or that place of no thought, or pure awareness. It is a natural outcome of meditation, which involves letting go. When we meditate our awareness likes to travel inward.
This meditation experience is not something that can be discovered by thinking about it, only by experiencing it. It's like talking about the taste of a fresh piece of fruit, I can describe it all day, but you'll never know how it really tastes until you experience it.
Can I do it wrong?
Many people try too hard. Working at it, trying, or forcing, or concentrating — that’s almost the only thing you can do wrong in any meditation. Also if you find you are expecting something to happen, that keeps your mind pretty busy and thinking. And ultimately, the practice will have you naturally go beyond thought. The other two things you can do "wrong" are to beat yourself up if you think you aren't where you want to be with meditation, and to stop short and jump up and move directly into activity. That will certainly make you cranky or give you a headache.
Meditation is a natural response of the human body to doing the practice easily and effortlessly. With all natural movements, if there is any trying, it ruins the process. Trying to go to sleep, even if you are tired, can make you miserable. Trying to be creative is almost impossible. Any sense of obligation kills the joy of it. If you find yourself taking meditation too seriously, rent a good comedy, and watch it for five minutes before doing meditation.
Do I have to make my mind blank?
This is another big myth. Making the mind blank is almost impossible to do - short of having your friend hit you in the head with a hammer, or you falling into a deep sleep. You don't have to empty your mind or stop thinking. There are moments of inner quiet, but thinking is a major part of meditation. The more you accept that you will have thoughts in meditation, the deeper you will go in meditation. You can't reach 'the gap' by thinking about it. You simply have to have a little faith in the process, and it will unfold naturally.
The brain does a lot of sorting and housecleaning during meditation and is often tremendously busy. The more your mind wanders during meditation, the more able it is to pay attention after meditation, because it has released a lot of stress.
How can I avoid being disturbed by noises in my environment?
Set yourself up to succeed. Turn your phone off, take your iPod off, and put your pets in another room. You don’t need it to be perfectly quiet to meditate; you simply need to be able to think a thought.
No matter what is happening around you, you will continue to have thoughts, and therefore you can meditate and experience more refined thinking. Have the attitude of non-resistance and you will find your awareness effortlessly moves in the direction of increasing inner silence.
When I learn to meditate will I need to make lifestyle changes?
The only change or adjustment you will need to make is to allow time to meditate regularly twice daily. You don’t need to adopt any other behavior or pretend to be spiritual although you may find that you naturally gravitate toward healthier choices as you continue with your meditation practice.
Just start meditating, and then over time if you feel you want to make a change, then go ahead. But just adding meditation time to your day is a big change. Don't think you have to "improve" yourself in some way before you start meditating.
Accept your vices, whatever they are and meditate. Meditation will eventually work its magic on your relationship with them. A lot of what are called vices are ways of letting off steam, releasing tension. And trying to get in touch with something beyond the known. When you are less tense, then you may find you don’t need to do unhealthy things to unwind.
If you are meditating as part of a health regimen or a healthy heart program, follow whatever suggestions your doctor made. And if you are taking prescription medications, then keep taking them. Some people can reduce their blood pressure medication if they meditate consistently, but again, talk about it with your doctor. Same goes for diabetics adjusting their insulin.
I am way too busy to meditate, what do I do?
You can meditate for one minute here, three minutes there. You can also incorporate Mindfulness practices. Properly done, meditation always gives you more time than it takes. As you learn to love meditation, you will create more time for it. People who work hard want rest and renewal, and that is mainly what meditation is.
If you are new to meditation and absolutely don’t have the time to incorporate it into your life, you can start with five minutes in the morning or in the evening. If that seems like not enough time, then meditate twice a day - in the morning and in the evening for five minutes. Then when that seems like not enough time, increase your time little by little.
Then, after a while five minutes might seem too short, then you can let yourself go a little longer. But do not meditate more than thirty minutes in the morning and in the evening until you have been at it for several years. It takes a long time to get used to being relaxed while in action, which is one of the main effects of meditation. There is a lot to learn about handling relaxation.
How can meditation be this beneficial?
Meditation is something the body knows how to do, and does naturally when you set up the right conditions and allow it. The body knows how to enter a profound healing state. All you have to do is pay attention in certain ways, and tolerate the intensity of what you feel as you let go of stress.
Meditation is one of the few things in the self-help arena you can do that produces measurable changes. In other words, you can take a few hours of meditation training, and then go into a medical lab and meditate, and they can measure the changes in your breathing, your blood chemistry, your brain waves, and your response to stress. And if you were sitting in a medical lab, all wired up, and they saw you enter a state of rest deeper than sleep in 5 minutes, a knowledgeable researcher would look at the instruments and say, "Oh, you just started meditating. I can see it on the meters."
So why don't more people meditate? Why do only 10 million Americans meditate? For one thing, there are thousands of different kinds of meditation, and many of them will grate on your nerves. You will only feel at home with certain ones. Many of these other techniques are like kinds of music you just do not like, flavors of food you will never grow to love.
Do you notice any changes in your students after they meditate?
Yes, after meditating for only six months, meditation students ages 14 - 75 have reported that they have received so many benefits:
- Students report that they study better, sleep better, feel better about life, and are more spiritually connected.
- Others report that they quit smoking without effort, lowered their blood pressure, have less pain, lost weight and have a greater sense of well being.
- I recently heard from one of my students who had been meditating for only a month, a student at ASU, who said that he definitely felt less stressed and feels alert throughout the day, and more peaceful. Pretty good.
- Check out the what other students say.
Do some people use meditation in conjunction with psychotherapy?
Psychotherapists (and researchers in psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience) have begun to incorporate meditation into psychotherapy (and to do research on how that works), because training in meditation has been linked with: improvements in mood (depression); reductions in anxiety, and coping with situational stressors (relationship, family, and job problems); behavioral problems (anger, compulsive behaviors); and many other positive results.
Is there an advantage to meditating with other people?
People often find that meditating in a group supports a deeper experience of quietness. As our awareness expands, we find that individual’s consciousness affects the collective awareness, and collective awareness influences individual consciousness. People meditating together support the expansion of peace in their own lives and those around them.
What is a meditation retreat?
Whether for an hour, a day, a weekend, a week, or a month, a meditation retreat is a period of time away from everyday activities, pressures, deadlines, distractions or responsibilities, during which one can develop more self-awareness, appreciation for life, clarity, peace of mind, and mind-body healing. Sometimes meditation retreats focus on cultivating creativity, or to uncovering and healing a particular emotional issue. Some meditation retreats are religious, and can include prayer, or other spiritual practices. Many are secular in nature and are attended by those who are looking for stress reduction and healing in a new perspective on life
Many people desire a more meaningful vacation. People come to Sedona to experience the vortex energy. They want to incorporate sightseeing with something more profound, so many combine their sightseeing vacation with something more rewarding . You know those T-shirts that people bring home, my friend went on a vacation and all I got was this crummy T-shirt? That is what epitomizes many vacations. A retreat is not about leaving the T-shirt or a new tote bag , or eating at a great restaurant; a meditation retreat leaves a lasting impression.
What do the daily activities look like?
Meditation retreats can be mostly silent as those in a Zen Buddhist Sesshin. They include walking meditations called kinhin, sitting meditations, formal eating meditations, and work practice. Other meditation retreats can include additional mindful activities such as mindfully eating or walking, or yoga.
Some can include creative expression such as dancing, drawing, painting or writing. Some retreats include contemplative prayer or devotional practices.
At our retreats in Sedona we always include meditation, time in nature, mindfulness practices, and self inquiry practices to question habits of the mind, and belief systems. There is always a couple of hours of silent sitting meditations, and eating meditation, and many of introspective exercises. It’s all designed to create a safe atmosphere where people are encouraged to find out what's inside: who they are and what they really want, and to become more intimate with their own awareness and their own life. Meditation practice creates a spaciousness and a new appreciation for everything and everyone in our lives.
How can someone benefit from a meditation retreat?
A meditation retreat creates a memory of feeling whole and good - what your life can be. It’s one of the touchstones for more meaningful life and a new perspective. A meditation retreat is all about training your awareness so that you can be more present to your own life and the possibilities available in every moment. This way, when our “real lives” a kick in again when we get home, we can respond rather than react to certain situations. At first the changes may be subtle, you might order something different on a menu, have more patience with your children , or you notice you are less concerned about what people think . There also might be more profound changes: you realize you don't like your job, or where you live, or you realize a new passion in life. My goal is to teach people how to be self-sufficient, to learn a deep practice of meditation so they can to create an opportunity to retreat every single day. The meditation itself is the retreat.
Can you offer any meditation-related tips that you recommend people incorporate into their daily or weekly routine?
You can use meditation techniques almost any time, almost anywhere. The easiest way is to become mindful - that means paying attention to what you're doing when you're doing it. You can turn your attention to your breath, or the sensations in your body, or to what you're doing - whether it's washing your hands, walking to the car, standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting at your computer. This moment right now, is the one that matters . Sometimes we forget because we're distracted by what other people think, what we should do, or thoughts about the past or the future. When you bring your attention to the present moment you can tap into the infinite possibilities, spaciousness, peace, and creativity that is available at all times. There are many other ways I suggest people tap into the moment: Read some of the articles I've written with meditation-related tips here.
I also like encourage people to establish a formal meditation practice. This would include regularly meditating at the same time of day for certain period of time. Whether it's for five minutes or 15 minutes or 30 minutes a little meditation before breakfast can help everyone. It's always best to meditate before you eat so if you don't have time in the morning you can meditate before lunch. And if you really inspired, you could meditate again before dinner.
What do you find most fulfilling about your job? Why do you teach it?
I founded the Sedona Meditation Training Company and teach meditation because I know it works. It can change your life. I also know we make meditation pretty complicated, and I want to demystify meditation and share it with everyone I can. I see the profound results of meditation practice in myself and others. Along with better health, a happier life, a sense of peace, it also awakens people’s compassion for all living beings, as it has mine.
I have been meditating for over 20 years and it has deepened my sense of the interconnectedness of all life. I've always been an activist - an activist for the environment protection, conserving natural resources, the welfare of animals, and for peace and equality.
I've volunteered for environmental and animal welfare organizations and over time, I became frustrated in trying to change people’s minds about these concerns – I realized I was working from the outside in.
I decide that if I can help people to access their own inner peace, expand their awareness, and awaken their sense of compassion, their relationship to all living beings could change. Then that can create a change in the world.
I teach meditation because I am an activist. I love to see the peace it brings to each one of my students. I believe each one of us has the responsibility to cultivate and live in peace. And I found my sense of peace through meditation. This is my job, my purpose, to teach people to experience their own peace. If we each work for peace in our own way, we can make this world a sweeter place to live for all beings.
If there is to be peace in the world,
there must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
there must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
there must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
there must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
there must be peace in the heart.
- Lao Tzu