Meditation For Dummies book cover

Meditation For Dummies

By: Stephan Bodian Published: 05-23-2016

Take an inward journey for a happier, healthier life

Meditation has been used for centuries to reduce stress, increase energy, and enhance overall health and well-being—so it's no wonder more and more people in today's fast-paced and stress-centric world are adopting this age-old practice. If you want to achieve a greater state of calmness, physical relaxation, and psychological balance, Meditation For Dummies is your life raft. Covering the latest research on the health benefits of meditation, this new edition explains in plain English how you can put meditation into practice today and start reaping the benefits of living a more mindful life.

Whether you're new to meditation or a seasoned practitioner coming back for a refresher course, this plain-English guide provides a wealth of tips and techniques for sitting (or lying) down with your mind to meditate successfully. From preparing your body for meditation to focusing your awareness and being open to the present moment, it covers everything you need to put distractions to rest and open yourself up to a meditation practice that works for you.

  • Provides the latest research on the causes of happiness and how meditation can improve your mood
  • Includes a new chapter on the growing trend of meditation in the workplace
  • Explains how meditation and other mindfulness practices have made their way into hospitals, schools, prison, and military groups
  • Illustrates the benefits of taking time to consciously cultivate mindfulness through meditation

If you're ready to find some zen and benefit from all meditation has to offer, this friendly guide sets you up for success.

Articles From Meditation For Dummies

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31 results
Using Meditation to Survive the 21st Century

Article / Updated 12-29-2021

Meditation can help you survive the 21st century. Meditation offers a time-honored antidote to fragmentation, alienation, isolation, and stress — even stress-related illnesses and depression. Although it won’t solve the external problems of your life, it does help you develop inner resilience, balance, and strength to roll with the punches and come up with creative solutions. To get a sense of how meditation works, imagine for a moment that your body and mind are a complex computer. Instead of being programmed to experience inner peace, harmony, equanimity, and joy, you’ve been programmed to respond to life’s inevitable ups and downs with stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. But you have the power to change your programming. By putting aside all other activities, sitting quietly, and attuning yourself to the present moment for a minimum of 10 or 15 minutes each day, you’re developing a whole new set of habitual responses and programming yourself to experience more positive emotions and mind states. In fact, a growing body of research indicates that meditation alters the brain for the better in significant ways. Of course, if you find it distasteful to think of yourself as a computer, you can picture life as an ocean, with the constant ups and downs you experience as the waves that churn and roil on the water’s surface. When you meditate, you dive beneath the surface to a quiet place where the water is calmer and more consistent. Whatever your favorite metaphor, the point is that meditation provides a way of transforming stress and suffering into equanimity and ease. Here, you get to see how meditators have been reaping the remarkable benefits of meditation for millennia — and how you can, too. Advanced technology for the mind and heart Traditionally, the Western world has emphasized external achievement, and the East has valued inner development. The great scientific and technological advances of the past 500 years originated in the West, while yogis and roshis in the monasteries and ashrams of Asia were cultivating the inner arts of meditation. Now the currents of East and West and North and South have joined and are intermingling to form an emerging global culture and economy. As a result, you can apply the inner “technology” perfected in the East to balance the excesses of the rapid technological innovations perfected in the West. Like master computer programmers, the great meditation masters throughout history developed the capacity to program their bodies, minds, and hearts to experience highly refined states of being. While those in the West were charting the heavens and initiating the Industrial Revolution, the meditation masters were chalking up some pretty remarkable accomplishments of their own: Penetrating insights into the nature of the mind and the process by which it creates and perpetuates suffering and stress Deep states of ecstatic absorption in which the meditator is completely immersed in union with the Divine The wisdom to discriminate between relative reality and the sacred dimension of being Unshakable inner peace that external circumstances can’t disturb The cultivation of positive, beneficial, life-affirming mind states, such as patience, love, kindness, equanimity, joy, and especially, compassion for the suffering of others The ability to control bodily functions that are usually considered involuntary, such as heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism The capacity to mobilize and move vital energy through the different centers and channels of the body for the sake of healing and personal transformation Special psychic powers, such as clairvoyance (the ability to perceive matters beyond the range of ordinary perception) and telekinesis (the ability to move objects at a distance without touching them) Of course, the great meditators of the past used these qualities to seek liberation from suffering, either by withdrawing from the world into a more exalted reality or by achieving penetrating insights into the nature of existence. Yet the meditation technology they developed — which has become widely available in the West in the past few decades — can be used by the rest of the world in ordinary, everyday ways to yield some extraordinary benefits. The mind-body benefits of meditation Although the earliest scientific studies of meditation date back to the 1930s and 1940s, research into the psychophysiological effects of meditation took off in the 1970s, fueled by a burgeoning interest in Transcendental Meditation (TM), Zen, Vipassana, and other Eastern meditation techniques. Since then, thousands of studies have been published, with an exponential increase in research in the past 10 to 15 years as brain-imaging technology has become increasingly sophisticated. For now, here is a brief synopsis of the most significant benefits of meditation: Physiological benefits: Decreased heart rate Lower blood pressure Quicker recovery from stress Decrease in beta brainwaves (associated with thinking) and increase in alpha, delta, and gamma (associated with deep relaxation and higher mental activity) Enhanced synchronization (that is, simultaneous operation) of the right and left hemispheres of the brain (which positively correlates with creativity) Fewer heart attacks and strokes Increased longevity Reduced cholesterol levels Decreased consumption of energy and need for oxygen Deeper, slower breathing Muscle relaxation Reduction in the intensity of pain Psychological benefits: More happiness and peace of mind Greater enjoyment of the present moment Less emotional reactivity; fewer intense negative emotions and dramatic mood swings More loving, harmonious relationships Increased empathy Enhanced creativity and self-actualization Heightened perceptual clarity and sensitivity Reductions in both acute and chronic anxiety Complement to psychotherapy and other approaches in the treatment of addiction

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Meditation For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 08-31-2021

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.

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10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Meditation

Article / Updated 06-25-2021

Just as with any other activity that brings value to your life, you can maximize your meditation experience by following a few simple guidelines. Plan for meditation time: Do it consistently — day after day. Like running, playing tennis, or lifting weights, meditation requires regular practice if you want to build the appropriate muscles and skills. In this case, it's the muscle of present-moment awareness and the skill of coming back to what's happening right now, again and again. Simplify your life as much as possible. Easier said than done, of course, but the less complication, the fewer the problems to preoccupy your mind when you sit. Often, the regular practice of meditation encourages a natural movement toward simplicity, which in turn supports the practice of meditation. Regard your meditation as quality time with yourself. You probably understand the importance of providing quality time to nurture your relationships with family members and friends, but you may not have discovered the value of providing it for yourself. How often do you get to just be with yourself as you are, without distractions or projects that preoccupy your attention? Meditation is a perfect way to make friends with yourself. Eat and drink moderately. This tip may seem like the odd one out in this list, but overeating and drinking — especially junk foods and sugary drinks — will make you sleepy and sluggish and definitely interfere with your meditation. Whatever you eat, wait at least an hour after a meal before trying to meditate. Also, as a general rule, it's best to abstain from mind-altering substances, such as coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, before meditating. If you are hoping to reduce stress or enhance your health, you may consider abstaining entirely from your substance of choice. Go easy on yourself Be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself. You wouldn't push or hurry a child who was learning to ride a bicycle, would you? Well, you've spent a lifetime multitasking and focusing on the past and future, and you're not going to find it easy to come to rest in the simplicity of the present. Apply the same kindness and patience to your meditation as you would to the learning process of your own child. Drop your perfectionism and self-judgment. Notice the tendency to compare your meditations to some standard you think you're supposed to live up to, and your ongoing judgments that you're not doing it right. Then set them aside and just do your best. In any case, there's no right or wrong way to meditate, just your way. Let go of striving to get somewhere or achieve something. Paradoxically, the more you struggle to achieve some special state — flow, happiness, mindfulness, equanimity — the further you stray from your own natural awareness and peace of mind. Striving just perpetuates more striving — and besides, there's no place to go but right here. Some beginners tips: Cultivate beginner's mind. In the Zen tradition, they say that the open, curious, receptive mind of the neophyte meditator is actually the same mind the Zen master discovers when he stumbles upon enlightenment. Stay open and don't jump to conclusions or claim to be an expert, and beginner's mind will carry you wherever you need to go. Trust in the process. When you get the gist and have your basic questions answered, have confidence that the method you're practicing will work its magic without any extra effort on your part. Many thousands of people have practiced meditation before you and benefited — and so will you. Emphasize being rather than doing. Meditation frustrates our usual tendency to want to get something done. But that's the whole point — to introduce yourself to a new way of being. Go easy on the technique, don't get obsessed with following it to the letter, and let yourself come to rest in the present.

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10 Commonly Asked Questions about Meditation

Article / Updated 06-24-2021

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 chaos 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.

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How to Start Your Workday with Mindfulness Meditation

Article / Updated 06-16-2021

You might find mindfulness meditation is a great way to start your workday. By the time you arrive at work in the morning, you may already be feeling stressed out. After a hectic hour or two preparing the kids for school or haggling with your partner or dealing with some emergency at home, followed by a commute through rush-hour traffic, you may have gotten your workday off to a harrowing start. Here’s a meditation you can do at your desk or workstation to help begin the day right. (Of course, if you can do a little mindfulness meditation before you leave home, you can get a jump on handling your stress.) Hold off on checking your emails or consulting your to-do list. Instead, set aside five minutes or so to ground yourself in the present moment and tune into your sensations. Begin by closing your eyes and taking three or four deep breaths through your nose. Inhale deeply, and allow the exhalation to be as long as your body naturally wants it to be. Rest your attention on the coming and going of your breath. Let go of controlling your breathing and allow it to settle into a natural rhythm. Be aware of the sensations at your nostrils as you inhale and exhale. Alternatively, you can notice the sensations of the rising and falling of your chest and belly as you breathe. If you find it helpful, you can say the words inhale and exhale silently to yourself with each in-breath and out-breath. As thoughts and feelings wash over you, keep coming back to the breath. Despite what you may have read or heard, meditation is not about trying to stop your thoughts and feelings, but about allowing your thoughts (and feelings) to come and go without getting lost in them — and, when you do find that you’re lost, coming back to the breath. If possible, notice which thoughts keep recurring and which thoughts are the most stressful and upsetting. Again, no need to stop the thoughts. Just notice, and allow plenty of space for them to pass through without judgment or resistance. Practice noticing thoughts and coming back to the breath for five minutes or as long as you like. Deliberately turn your attention to your most pressing concerns at work. After you’ve spent some time noticing thoughts and being aware of your breath, you can experiment with welcoming the thoughts, plans, ideas, and feelings that cause you the most stress at work. Play the edge between getting caught up in them and stepping back from them and returning to your breath. Notice whether they lose some of their stressful charge. Let go of your meditation and turn your attention to the job at hand. Notice whether you feel any different than you ordinarily do at the start of the workday. Are you more centered? Do you feel more spacious and less contracted? When you find your head filling with stressful thoughts again, you can pause and be aware of your breathing for a cycle or two. Or you can set an alarm that goes off every hour to remind yourself to return to your breath.

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Embrace the Healing Power of Imagery with Meditation

Article / Updated 08-29-2016

Mediation offers healing power through imagery. In her book Staying Well with Guided Imagery, psychotherapist and guided-imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek cites extensive research that establishes three basic principles behind the healing power of imagery. These principles help explain the effectiveness of meditations that use imagery extensively. Incidentally, imagery may or may not involve visual images; if you’re more kinesthetic or auditory, for example, you may hear or feel the “images” rather than see them. Here are the three principles: Your body responds to sensory images as though they were real. If you’re not sure what this means, just recall the last time you had a sexual fantasy or reminisced about a vacation and had all the emotions and sensations of the actual event. In one study cited in Naparstek’s book, 84 percent of subjects exposed to poison ivy had no reaction when, under hypnosis, they imagined the plant to be harmless. In other words, their bodies believed the images their minds evoked and didn’t break out in a rash! Other studies have shown that patients can use positive imagery to measurably increase the numbers of immune response cells in their bloodstreams. In the meditative state, you can heal, change, learn, and grow more rapidly. Naparstek uses the term altered state, which refers (in her usage) to a calm, relaxed, but focused state of mind — precisely the state you cultivate in meditation. This principle also applies to problem-solving and performance enhancement: You can explore new behaviors, improve existing ones, and make tactical breakthroughs far more easily in a meditative state than you can in your ordinary frame of mind. Imagery gives you a sense of mastery in challenging circumstances, which reduces your stress and bolsters your self-esteem. When you’re struggling with a health problem or a difficult assignment at work, you may feel flustered and helpless if you believe you can’t do anything to control the outcome. But if you know that you can use imagery to help your body heal or enhance your performance, you can regain your confidence and your hope in the future. Numerous studies have shown that people feel better and perform more effectively when they believe they have some control over their lives. In addition to these principles, Naparstek adds that emotion amplifies the power of imagery. When you allow yourself to feel the images intensely as well as experience them fully in all your senses, you give them more power to heal and transform you.

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Understanding How Meditation Heals

Article / Updated 08-29-2016

Besides overcoming separation, basic meditation practices contribute to the healing process in a number of essential ways. For some help with meditation, check out these basic meditation practices. Love and connectedness As Dean Ornish, MD, reveals in his groundbreaking research, love is more important than any other factor in the healing process, including diet and exercise. To heal your heart, he discovered, you need to open your heart — and his findings have been corroborated in studies of cancer, AIDS, and other life-threatening illnesses. By putting you in touch with the love in your heart (which is not just an emotion, but also a direct expression of being itself), meditation nourishes not only your internal organs, but also your entire body-mind organism. Relief of tension and stress By teaching you how to relax your body and calm your mind, meditation helps you avoid getting sick in the first place by alleviating stress, a major cause of many ailments, from heart disease and stroke to gastrointestinal disorders and tension headaches. In particular, Jon Kabat-Zinn (author of the bestseller Wherever You Go, There You Are) has developed a stress-reduction program based on Buddhist mindfulness meditation that teaches participants not only how to reduce stress while they’re meditating, but also how to extend the benefits of mindfulness to every area of their lives. Restoring alignment and balance Traditional healing practices such as ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India involving herbs and diet) and Chinese medicine, as well as more mainstream approaches like chiropractic and osteopathy, suggest that the body gets sick when it becomes unbalanced or misaligned. Meditation slows the mind to the speed of the breath, which restores balance and harmony to the body and facilitates healing. Besides, sitting up straight aligns the spine and encourages the unimpeded flow of life-giving energy through the body, which promotes both physical and psychological well-being. Opening and softening If you’re like many people, you tend to get impatient or upset with yourself when you’re sick or hurting. You may even have strong judgments as though being ill is your fault. Unfortunately, these negative emotions may compound your suffering — and even amplify your illness — by causing you to tense up and contract. When you meditate regularly, you develop the skill of opening to your experience, however unpleasant, and softening around it instead of judging it or pushing it away. Creating space for all your emotions As you accept your experience in meditation, you create a welcoming environment in which your feelings can bubble up and release rather than be suppressed or acted out. Research suggests that unexpressed feelings locked in the body form focal points of tension and stress that may eventually contribute to the development of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. Besides, you naturally feel more enlivened — and therefore more healthy — when you can feel your feelings fully. Harmony, joy, and well-being Positive qualities like happiness, joy, peace, and well-being don’t originate outside you in some other person or thing. Instead, they well up inside you naturally and spontaneously like water bubbling up from a spring. You simply have to create the proper internal environment, which is exactly what you do when you meditate. (Of course, you can always cultivate positive emotions like love and compassion.) Western researchers have shown that these positive qualities correlate with a host of life-enhancing bodily responses, from lowered blood pressure and improved immune response to the release of natural painkillers called beta-endorphins. As Ecclesiastes 30:5 puts it, “Gladness of heart is life to anyone; joy is what gives length of days” (New Jerusalem Bible). Freedom from self-clinging and habitual patterns Ultimately, it’s the illusion (which everyone shares) of being a separate, isolated individual cut off from others and the rest of life that lies at the heart of all suffering and stress. According to the Tibetan scholar and meditation master Tulku Thondup, author of The Healing Power of Mind, “living in peace, free from emotional afflictions, and loosening our grip on ‘self’ is the ultimate medicine for both mental and physical health.” As you gradually begin to penetrate and let go of habitual patterns (which have deep roots in the body as well as the mind), you become less emotionally reactive (which reduces stress) and more positively (even joyfully) responsive to life as it unfolds. Awakening to a spiritual dimension Herbert Benson, MD, a professor at Harvard Medical School, developed the technique known as the Relaxation Response on the basis of studies of people who repeated a simple word or phrase, known as a mantra. But over the years, he discovered that the more meaningful the mantra, the more effective the technique in relaxing the body and promoting healing. “If you truly believe in your personal philosophy or religious faith,” he reported in Beyond the Relaxation Response, “you may well be capable of achieving remarkable feats of mind and body that [we] may only speculate about.” In other words, you enhance the healing powers of meditation when you expand your awareness to include a spiritual dimension of being.

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How to Meditate with Family

Article / Updated 08-29-2016

If you’re a budding meditator, family life poses a twofold challenge. On the one hand, you may feel inclined to invite, encourage, or even coerce your loved ones to meditate with you. On the other, you may find that the people closest to you disturb your fragile, newfound peace of mind in ways that no one else can. For example, only your spouse or partner may know the precise words that can pique your anger or evoke your hurt. And your children may have a unique capacity to try your patience or challenge your attachment to having situations be a certain way. (If you’ve ever tried to relax and follow your breathing while your toddler throws a tantrum or your teenager tries to explain how he crashed your car, you know what this means.) You can definitely find ways of incorporating the formal practice of meditation into your closest relationships, but only as long as your loved ones are responsive to your efforts. Whether they have any interest in meditation or not, you can still use the ties that bind you to them as an exceptional opportunity to pay mindful attention to your habitual patterns of reacting and behaving. Ultimately, in fact, family life has the capacity to open your heart as no other circumstance can. Meditating with kids When you become enthusiastic about meditation yourself, you may want to pass on the benefits to your children (or grandchildren or godchildren or nephews and nieces). Or they may simply notice that you’re spending time every day sitting quietly, and they may become interested in joining you. (Younger kids especially like to imitate just about anything their parents do.) If your children express curiosity, by all means give them brief instructions and invite them to meditate with you, but don’t expect them to stick with it. Younger children have limited attention spans, and older ones may have other interests they find more compelling. As you may have noticed, children under the age of 6 or 7 already spend much of their time in an altered state of wonder and delight (when they’re not screaming at the top of their lungs, of course). Instead of teaching them how to meditate in some formal way, join them where they are as much as you can. Draw their attention to the little, wondrous details of life and encourage them to observe without interpretation. For instance, pick up a leaf and examine it closely with them, watch the ants on the ground, gaze together at the stars in the night sky. You can also turn meditation into a game or use imagery to engage their fertile imaginations. To protect the development of their natural capacity for curiosity and wonder, limit screen time, and avoid pushing them to develop their intellects too soon. If older kids show interest in your meditation, feel free to introduce formal practices like following the breath or reciting a mantra, but keep them light and fun as much as possible — and let the kids do the practices as they feel moved, not according to some predetermined structure or deadline. Meditation will actually have its greatest impact on your children by making you calmer, happier, more loving, and less reactive. As they watch you change for the better, your kids may naturally be drawn to meditation because they want to reap the same benefits for themselves. Meditating with partners and family members Like prayer, meditation can draw a family closer. (Family also refers to partners and spouses.) When you sit together in silence, even for a few minutes, you naturally attune to a deeper level of being, where differences and conflicts don’t seem so important. You can also practice specific techniques in which, for example, you practice opening your hearts and sending and receiving love to and from one another. If your family members are willing, you can incorporate meditative practices into your usual routine. For example, you can sit quietly together for a few moments before dinner or reflect before bed on the good things that happened during the day. Family rituals offer a wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness together and to connect in a deeper, more heartful way. If you invite your family members to join you as you mindfully cook a meal or work in the garden, they may begin to notice the quality of your attention and follow your lead. Of course, you can always suggest cooking or eating or working in a new and different way (you may prefer to use words like love and care rather than mindfulness), but your example will have a greater impact than the instructions you give. You can also practice eating meditation with your family occasionally. But be sure to keep it playful, loving, and relaxed.

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How to Apply Meditation to Familiar Activities

Article / Updated 08-29-2016

Anything you do or experience can provide you with an opportunity to practice mindfulness meditation. But you may want to begin with some of your usual activities — the ones you may be doing now on automatic pilot while you daydream, space out, or obsess. The truth is, even the most routine tasks can prove enjoyable and enlivening when you do them with wholehearted care and attention. Washing the dishes If you set aside your judgments, which may insist you should be doing something more meaningful or constructive with your time, and instead simply wash the dishes — or sweep the floor or scrub the tub — you may find that you actually enjoy the activity. Feel the contours of the plates and bowls as you clean them. Notice the smell and the slipperiness of the soap, the sounds of the utensils, the satisfying feeling of removing the old food and leaving the dishes clean and ready for use. Working at your computer As you become engrossed in the information flashing across your screen, you may find yourself losing touch with your body and your surroundings. Pause every now and then to follow your breathing and notice how you’re sitting. If you’re starting to tense up and crane your head forward, gently straighten your spine and relax your body. During recurring gaps in the flow of your work, come back to your body, breathe, and relax. Driving your car What could possibly be more stressful than navigating an automobile through heavy traffic? Besides the constant stop and go, you need to be aware of potential problems in every direction, any one of which could pose a threat to your safety. Yet you add to the stress of driving when you hurry to get to your destination faster than you realistically can and then get angry and impatient in the process. As an antidote to the stress, practice mindfulness while you drive. Take a few deep breaths before you start and return to your breathing again and again as you consciously let go of tension and stress. Feel the steering wheel in your hands, the pressure of your feet against the pedals, the weight of your body against the seat. Notice any tendency to criticize other drivers, to space out, or to become angry or impatient. Pay attention to how the music or talk shows you listen to affect your mood as you drive. When you wake up and pay attention, you may be surprised to realize that you and the people around you are actually piloting these 2,000-pound hunks of plastic and steel with precious, vulnerable beings inside. And you may feel more inclined to drive mindfully and safely as a result. Talking on the phone As you engage in conversation, stay connected with your breathing and notice how you’re affected. Do certain topics bring up anger, fear, or sadness? Do others bring up pleasure or joy? Do you become reactive or defensive? Notice also what moves or motivates you to speak. Are you attempting to influence or convince this person in some way? Do you have a hidden agenda of jealousy or resentment, or possibly a desire to be loved or appreciated? Or are you simply open and responsive to what’s being said in the moment, without the overlay of past or future? Watching TV Just as when you work at a computer, you can easily forget you have a body when you tune in to the tube. Take a break during commercials to turn down the sound, follow your breathing, and ground your awareness in the present moment. Walk around, look out the window, connect with your family members. (Like many people, you may use food to ground you in your body while you’re watching TV, but it won’t work unless you’re mindful of what you’re eating. Besides, mindless eating has its price, as any couch potato can tell you.) Working out Physical exercise offers you a wonderful opportunity to shift your awareness from your mind to the simple, repetitive movements of your body. Unfortunately, many people just put on the headphones, switch on their music player, and space out. The next time you hit the exercise equipment or attend an aerobics class, make a point of following your breathing as much as you can. Even if the routine is a challenging one, you can still keep coming back to your breath. Or simply be mindful of your body as you move — the flexing of your muscles, the contact with the equipment (or the floor), the feelings of warmth or pleasure or strain. Notice also what takes you away. Do you worry about your body image or obsess about your weight? Do you fantasize about your new physique and forget to be present for what’s happening right now? Just notice what’s occurring and then return to your experience. You may start enjoying your body so much that you stop caring how others see it.

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How to Find a Meditation Teacher

Article / Updated 08-29-2016

At some point, you may find yourself in need of a meditation teacher. Like other things in life, you can only get so far after reading a book and watching a few videos. The same is true for meditation. You may have discovered something wonderful with meditation, but know that you can’t get any further without help. Not to worry, meditation teachers are out there to help. What to look for in a teacher Before you look for a teacher, examine your expectations and preconceptions. When you think of a spiritual teacher, what images or ideas come to mind? Perhaps you envision a cloistered monastic dressed in earth-colored robes who gives you spiritual counsel in hushed tones and then returns to his cell to continue his practice. Or maybe you think of a joyful, expansive being who lives in the world and radiates love and light wherever she goes. Some people idealize the teacher and expect him to be perfect — and become disillusioned when it turns out he’s not. Others go to the other extreme and have difficulty treating anyone with reverence or letting go long enough of their staunchly held opinions to allow the wisdom of others to enter. In the West, people tend to distrust authority and believe, like our pioneer and cowboy predecessors, that other can’t be relied on. Besides, look at all those preachers, priests, and self-styled gurus, you may say, who get caught with their pants down. Although a healthy dose of skepticism can do wonders, too much can make you shy away from teachers (and hence from spiritual practice) entirely. Whatever your expectations and preconceptions, you may need to set them aside when you look for a teacher because he or she may appear in a guise you don’t anticipate. At the same time, you may want to compare your prospective teacher against the following checklist of qualities that the best teachers embody. Not all teachers will have every one of these characteristics, of course, but the more, the better: They’re humble, ordinary, down-to-earth, not arrogant or inflated. In Zen monasteries, the head monk cleans the toilets. They’re honest, straightforward, and clear, not evasive or defensive. As people gain spiritual maturity, they become increasingly free of psychological baggage. They encourage independent thinking and open inquiry in their students, rather than blind obedience to a particular dogma or ideology. They’re primarily concerned with the spiritual development of their students, not with fame, power, influence, or the size of their organization. They practice what they preach, rather than considering themselves exempt from the moral and ethical guidelines that others must follow. They embody the highest spiritual qualities, such as kindness, patience, equanimity, joy, peace, love, and compassion. How to find a teacher The process of finding a teacher can be as mysterious as the spiritual journey itself. For some people, it’s a lot like finding a lover or a mate — it involves a complex mixture of luck, availability, and chemistry. For others, it’s simply a matter of following the counsel of a friend or showing up at the right place at the right time. In the words of a popular Indian expression, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Ultimately, you need to trust your intuition, your own inner knowing, when choosing a teacher — it’s the only reliable equipment you have for navigating in this flawed phenomenal universe of ours. You may find yourself drawn to teachers intuitively because of the qualities of being they seem to radiate. On the other hand, you may stumble on teachers unexpectedly through a serendipitous sequence of events. Be open but not gullible, skeptical but not cynical. Feel free to ask questions, expect good answers, and take your time. According to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan students may spend years checking out teachers to make sure they embody the teachings they espouse. Just as you wouldn’t rush into a marriage, you shouldn’t rush into anything as intimate and deep as a relationship with a spiritual teacher.

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