10 Commonly Asked Questions about Meditation

By Stephan Bodian

When most folks first consider taking up the practice of meditation, they usually have a few questions they want to have answered — and when they get started, they come up with a few more. Here are the answers to ten common questions to get you started on your journey.

Will meditation make me too relaxed or spaced out to succeed at work or school?

In the old days, people used to associate meditation with impractical alternative lifestyles, and they feared they might morph into a laid-back hippie or navel-gazing yogi if they dared to sit quietly for a few minutes. Fortunately, times have changed, and everywhere you look you can find articles touting the scientifically proven benefits of meditation. The fact is that meditation teaches you how to focus your mind and minimize distractions so you can actually get things done more effectively.

How can I find the time to meditate in my busy schedule?

Well, the great thing about meditation is that it doesn’t really take all that much time. As soon as you pick up the basics, you can begin by practicing for five or ten minutes each day. Mornings are generally best, at least to start.

Whatever time slot works best for you, the most important thing is to meditate regularly — every day if possible, give or take a day here or there. The reason for this recommendation is not to turn you into an automaton, but to give you an opportunity to enjoy the wonderful benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and greater focus.

Can I meditate in a chair or lying down instead of cross-legged on the floor?

Yes. you can meditate in many different positions. Traditional meditation postures include sitting, standing, walking, lying down, and moving in particular patterns. Basically, any position that you can comfortably sustain is appropriate for meditation.

Of course, lying down has its downside: You’re more likely to fall asleep. So you may have to make a special effort to stay alert and focused. One helpful technique is to keep your knees bent while you meditate.

More important than whether you sit, lie, or stand for meditation is what you do with your back. Slumping forward or tilting to the side so your body fights against gravity may eventually prove painful and make it difficult to sustain your practice over weeks and months.

What should I do about the restlessness or discomfort I experience while meditating?

You may find it comforting to realize that you’re not alone if you feel restless or uncomfortable when meditating. Everyone experiences agitation or discomfort in his or her meditation from time to time (or even often). In fact, meditation acts like a mirror that reflects you back to you. Believe it or not, that’s one of its virtues. When you stop your busy life for a few minutes and sit quietly, you may suddenly notice the nervous energy and frenzied thinking that have been stressing you out. Welcome to the world of meditation!

When your concentration deepens, you can expand your awareness to include first your sensations and then your thoughts and emotions. At this stage, you can begin to explore, make friends with, and ultimately accept your restlessness and discomfort. Though this process may not be an easy one, it has broad implications because it teaches you the resilience and peace of mind to accept unavoidable difficulties in every area of your life.

What should I do if I keep falling asleep while I meditate?

Like restlessness, sleepiness is a common roadblock on the journey of meditation. First, you may want to explore the sleepiness a little. Where do you experience it in your body? Is it just mental dullness, or are you physically tired as well? Perhaps you should be napping rather than meditating!

If you decide to keep going, you can try opening your eyes wide and sitting up as straight as possible to rouse your energy. If you still feel sleepy, splash some cold water on your face or try meditating while standing or walking. In any case, sleepiness doesn’t necessarily have to prevent you from meditating. After all, sleepy meditation is better than no meditation at all.

How do I know if I’m meditating the right way?

This question reflects the goal-oriented perfectionist in you who monitors your activities to make sure you’re doing them right. The great thing about meditation is that you can’t do it wrong, short of not doing it at all. (In fact, it’s the perfectionist that causes most of your stress. And the point of meditation is to reduce stress, not intensify it.)

As for knowing when your meditation is “working,” you probably won’t notice any flashing lights or sudden jolts of energy. Instead, you may recognize subtler shifts. Don’t look for results, or like the proverbial watched pot, your meditation may never boil. Just trust in the process and let the changes take care of themselves.

Can I meditate while I’m driving my car or sitting at my computer?

Although you can’t practice formal meditation while you’re engaged in ordinary activities, you can practice doing things meditatively. During your daily periods of silent meditation, you discover how to stay present as much as possible amidst the welter of distracting thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Then, when you slip behind the wheel of your car or sit down in front of your computer, you can apply at least some of the same mindful, attentive presence to negotiate rush-hour traffic or prepare a report.

You’ll find that you accomplish the activity with less effort and strain and enjoy yourself more.

Do I have to give up my religious beliefs to meditate?

Definitely not. You can apply the basic principles and techniques of meditation to any spiritual or religious tradition or orientation. In fact, many people find that meditation methods with Eastern roots actually deepen their connection to their own Western faith by supplementing prayer and belief with some direct experience of the love and presence of God.

Meditation simply involves pausing in your busy life, taking a few deep breaths, sitting quietly, and turning your attention inward. What you discover is not Zen or Sufi or Hindu, but you — complete with all your beliefs, affiliations, and personality traits!

What should I do if my loved ones don’t support my meditation practice?

If your loved ones are openly antagonistic, you may need to meditate on the sly or with an established group or class outside your home. But if they’re merely resistant or tend to interrupt you at inopportune moments or demand your attention when you’re just about to get quiet, you may want to talk with them and explain your interest in meditation. Who knows? One day they may decide to join you and give meditation a try themselves.

Can meditation really improve my health?

Yes, meditation can make you healthier, both physically and psychologically! Researchers have published hundreds of studies investigating the health benefits of meditation, and the results consistently indicate that people who meditate regularly have better health than those who don’t. Besides, meditation can actually reduce anxiety and lift depression.