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Cheat Sheet

Meditation For Dummies

From Meditation For Dummies, w/Audio CD, 3rd Edition by Stephan Bodian, Dean Ornish, MD (Foreword by)

Meditation is an age-old practice that can help relieve a host of ills brought on by the fast pace of modern life. All you need to meditate is a quiet place to sit, the ability to direct your attention, and a simple meditation technique. As long as you give it a well-intentioned try, you can't go wrong.

How to Prepare for Meditation

Meditation is simple to do and doesn't require any special equipment. You can, however, prepare yourself and your space in a number of ways and make sure you have some basic amenities:

  • Meditation cushion, bench, or favorite chair

  • Quiet, tidy spot, preferably reserved for meditation

  • Regular time slot, if possible

  • Loose-fitting, comfortable clothing

  • Phone turned off, answering-machine volume turned down low

  • Comfortable sitting position

  • Favorite meditation technique(s)

Other items you may want to include:

  • Stretches to prepare your body for sitting

  • Altar of special objects, pictures, candles, or incense

  • Warm sweater or shawl (if you tend to get cold)

  • Hallway or path for walking meditation, if you want

  • Meditation teacher to consult in case you get stuck or want to go deeper

How to Open Your Body, Mind, and Spirit to Meditation

Meditation is a practice that engages not only your mind, but your body and spirit, too. Use the tips in the following list to engage every aspect of your being in your meditation practice.

  • Discover how to relax your body (if you don't already know) by practicing some deep relaxation techniques.

  • Experiment with different sitting positions (cross-legged, kneeling, on a chair) until you find one you can hold comfortably for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Explore the basic meditation techniques (mindfulness, loving-kindness, mantra, visualization), choose one, and stick with it — for a few weeks or months at least.

  • Take a meditation class with an experienced teacher, join a meditation group, or attend a meditation workshop or retreat.

  • Talk with your family about your interest in meditation to make sure they feel comfortable about your practicing at home.

  • Reflect on the many ways your mind stresses you out, as well as the power of meditation to help you work with your mind.

  • Remind yourself of the scientifically proven health benefits of meditation, from lower cholesterol to greater longevity to an enhanced immune system.

  • Consider what motivates you to meditate and rededicate yourself to the practice, especially if your enthusiasm flags.

  • Follow a healthy lifestyle: Eat well, exercise regularly, and, if possible, avoid smoking, drinking, and watching too much TV or engaging in other mind-numbing activities, especially right before meditating.

  • Read spiritual books (if you're so inclined) that connect you with the sacred and inspire your meditation.

How to Get the Most from Your Meditation

To get the most from your meditation practice, you need to commit to it. When you start meditating regularly, you can reap myriad benefits — from lower stress and cholesterol to higher levels of satisfaction and happiness. Here are some tips for maximizing your meditation practice:

  • Meditate regularly — preferably every day.

  • Set aside a quiet niche where you can meditate undisturbed.

  • Decide beforehand how long you're going to meditate — and then follow through, no matter how restless or bored you become.

  • Don't sit on a full stomach — wait at least an hour after a meal before meditating.

  • Find a comfortable sitting position — and be sure to gently straighten your spine.

  • Rest your tongue lightly on the roof of your mouth and breathe through your nose.

  • Take a few deep breaths before you start, and consciously relax your body on the exhalation.

  • Drop any expectations about what you're supposed to be achieving or experiencing, and just be, exactly as you are.

  • As much as possible, extend the qualities of mind and heart you develop in your meditation to every area of your life.

How to Make Sure You're Meditating Correctly

It doesn't take much to meditate the right way — especially because there really isn't just one right way. If you're concerned about your meditation practice, ask yourself the following questions. The closer you get to yes in response to each question, the better you're doing!

  • Do I relax when I meditate, instead of tensing up?

  • Is my mind alert and aware, yet open and receptive?

  • Do I remember to come back to the focus of my meditation when my mind wanders off?

  • Do I remain relatively still, rather than fidgeting or shifting constantly?

  • Do I take one moment at a time, rather than trying to achieve some goal like quieting my mind?

  • Am I enjoying my breath (or my mantra or other focus) instead of working hard to get it right?

Popular Meditation Techniques

Meditation techniques, like meditation itself, tend to be relatively simple. Following is a brief list of ten of the most commonly practiced ones. You can use one exclusively, experiment with several, or try one for a few months and then switch to a different technique.

  • Repeating a meaningful word or phrase, known as a mantra

  • Following or counting your breaths

  • Paying attention to the sensations in your body

  • Cultivating love, compassion, forgiveness, and other healing emotions

  • Concentrating on a geometric shape or other simple visual object

  • Visualizing a peaceful place or a healing energy or light

  • Reflecting upon inspirational or sacred writings

  • Gazing at a picture of a holy being or saint

  • Contemplating the beauty to be found in nature, art, or music

  • Bringing mindful awareness to the present moment

Be aware that changing techniques frequently makes it hard to reap the full range of benefits you can realize by using a consistent technique for a period of time — a few weeks to a month at least.

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