Questions and Answers About Meditation
What is part of the everyday life in the Eastern world was unknown to the Western population of the 21st century for quite a long time: Meditation. Thanks to numerous scientific findings, the fact that meditation is a simple method for calm, serenity and self-love is no longer a secret around here. But how does meditation actually work? Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about meditation:
- What is meditation?
- What do I need in order to meditate?
- Which meditation techniques are there?
- Which technique is the right one for me?
- Where, when, how long and how often should I meditate?
- Is meditation always religious or spiritual?
- Why is meditation recommended?
- Is meditation dangerous?
- Do I have to sit during meditation or can I also lay down?
- How exactly do I sit/lay during meditation?
- Do I have to close my eyes during meditation?
- How do I breathe correctly during meditation?
- I can’t stop my thoughts – am I doing something wrong?
1. What is meditation?
The word “meditation” comes from the Latin expression “meditari”, which means contemplating, reflecting, or thinking. However, meditation is definitely not about thinking – on the contrary, it’s about letting go of thinking. Contemplating and reflecting on the other hand are more accurate: Meditation is a mental exercise during which we apply mindfulness and concentration in order to experience a state of inner peace and serenity. In meditation we stay in the present moment instead of getting carried away by thoughts and feelings. It’s about the direct experience of our selves and of life, without constantly looking through the glasses of the mind.
You will soon find a post with more information about this topic online.
2. What do I need in order to meditate?
The great thing about meditation is that you don’t need anything except yourself, an open mind and an undisturbed place. There are no prior knowledge or special skills required, no technical tools and certainly no guru necessary. I’d recommend you to leave meditation forms and teachers who insist, that you can only meditate when you belong to a certain group or use a specific (paid) mantra well alone. Meditation is so effective because it allows us to gain strength, peace and love from within. You will find everything you need inside of yourself.
3. Which meditation techniques are there?
Two basic types of meditations can be distinguished:
- Passive meditations are practiced seated or lying down and focus on resting the mind in awareness. They include inter alia sitting in silence, mindfulness meditations, labelling, visualizations, mantra techniques, reflecting, deep listening, or meditative affirmations.
- Active meditations contain an element of movement and action. Depending on the intention, any movement can be considered as active meditation, for example as Yoga, martial arts, walking, or dancing.
You will soon find a detailed post about the different techniques online.
4. Which technique is the right one for me?
Just try it out: Meditation is rather about learning to use your own resources than mastering the perfect technique. For beginners I’d recommend to experiment with the different techniques and find what feels good. There are also some nice offers in Switzerland that can support you on your journey, e.g. private lessons with a teacher of your choice or – for group experience – classes at NOW Meditation in Zürich, the first modern drop-in studio in Europe. In addition, there are numerous apps and online portals that can help you to meditate on the go or at home.
5. Where, when, how long and how often should I meditate?
You will find countless different answers to these questions and various recommendations. I would simply advise you to find what feels good for you. There is no right or wrong in meditation and it’s really all about your journey. Here are some guidelines based on my own experiences:
- Where: Of course it’s wonderful if you’re able to meditate regularly in class or decorate a spare room at home for your practice. The only thing you really need though is an undisturbed place. Undisturbed does not necessarily mean perfect and silent. I meditate often on the train after the ticket control is over and find it quite relaxing. When I meditate at home, I inform my family that I’d like to be undisturbed for the duration of the meditation. If there are any sounds around you, you can just note them mindfully and make them part of your meditation practice.
- When: Some prefer to meditate in the morning, some over their lunch break or at night, and others don’t stick to a fixed time schedule. Just figure out what feels right and what you can benefit from most in your daily life.
- How long and how often:When it comes to the duration of your meditation you can stick to the guideline “less is more”, especially if that helps you to keep up a regular practice. It’s much more effective to meditate daily for five minutes than twice a month for one hour. Regular repetition will help you to create new habits and reprogram your brain towards more serenity, calm, and joy. Experiment with what feels good and be patient with yourself. Keep in mind that one minute of meditation is better than none.
6. Is meditation always religious or spiritual?
Some of the most famous forms of meditation make it obvious: Meditation can be religious or spiritual. For example Vipassana, Zen, Samatha und Vajrayana have their origins in Buddhism, contemplation and the prayer of the heart in Christianity, Sufi meditations in Islam and the various yoga traditions in Hinduism.
Meditation as we know it in the West makes equally obvious, that it doesn’t have to be religious or spiritual at all, e.g. considering MBSR, CSM or the Benson method. Meditation understood as a conscious, mindful state of presence is rather a way of living than an exercise and is not necessarily linked to religion or spirituality.
Besides, the exact difference between religion and spirituality is often unclear. However, this is more topic of a philosophical discussion than of actual importance – whether you are religious or not, would like to evolve spiritually or are not interested in spirituality (whatever that means for you) at all: Meditation is simply possible for everyone.
You will soon find a post about meditation and religion online.
7. Why is meditation recommended?
Meditation brings countless, clinically proven benefits, e.g.:
- Increased well-being/better mood
- Prevention and cure of stress-related illness, such as chronic exhaustion or burnout
- Prevention and cure of depression
- Prevention and cure of anxiety
- Prevention and cure of eating disorders
- Prevention and cure of addictions
- Pain relief
- Slowing down of ageing processes in body and brain
- Better performance and concentration
- Increased creativity
- Better self-esteem
- Better body- and self-awareness
- Increased empathy
- Better sleep quality
If you are religious and want to keep up a religious practice, meditation can help you to feel more connected. Also on almost every spiritual journey meditation can be a beautiful guide towards your own self.
8. Is meditation dangerous?
For healthy people, there are hardly any health risks associated with meditation practice. In meditation we spend conscious and mindful time with ourselves, so it can happen that unpleasant or painful emotions come to the surface and can even be felt physically. However, this is usually a healing, liberating experience. In case of overwhelming feelings or pain, please consult with a psychologist, psychiatrist or doctor.
The effectiveness of meditation has long been clinically proven. Therefore, it is also used as a treatment for chronic pain, attention deficit disorders, depression, eating disorders or addictions. Several studies indicate certain side effects of meditation practiced by people with mental health issues (for example, patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may be re-traumatized in meditation through confrontation with the stressful experiences). In any case, please consult with a psychologist, psychiatrist or doctor before starting meditation as a form of therapy.
9. Do I have to sit during meditation or can I also lay down?
The goal of most passive meditations is to train our minds in wakeful mindfulness and an upright, seated position supports us to reach this goal. This is why I’d recommend you to sit during your meditation, if that is possible for you.
If you have illness-related physical ailments or if you just can’t concentrate on the meditation while seated, you can of course lay down. Relaxation or sleep meditations are generally practiced while lying down.
10. How exactly do I sit/lay during meditation?
If you choose a seated position it is important for your back and for your experience that you sit upright and relaxed, so that the energy can flow from the bottom of your spine up towards the crown. You can e.g.
- sit on the floor, maybe on a pillow or blanket to support your lower back, with your legs stretched out or crossed;
- kneel down and sit on your heels, maybe on a meditation bench or pillow to make sure the blood can flow through your legs;
- sit on a chair, whereby it’s better to sit a bit upfront and not to lean on.
In any case, make sure that you’re comfortable and that your pelvis is slightly tilted forward, supporting your lower back. Your heart is over the pelvis, neck is over the heart, the chin slightly tucked into the chest. Your shoulders are relaxed, the palms face up and the hands traditionally rest on the legs.
If you prefer to lay down I’d recommend you to lay flat on your back, legs stretched out or slightly bent, the hands relaxed next to your body, palms facing up.
Depending on which meditation technique you’re using you may get specific instructions for the position during the exercise.
I’m working on a YouTube video on this topic and am looking forward to uploading it soon.
11. Do I have to close my eyes during meditation?
No, you don’t. Closing the eyes is a nice and easy way to shift your attention inwards, but if that makes you feel uncomfortable you can also just shift your gaze softly to the ground.
12. How do I breathe correctly during meditation?
In order to provide your whole body with oxygen and relax at a max during your meditation, you usually breathe in from the nose down to the belly (instead of just into the chest). Your belly rises when you breathe in and sinks back down when you breathe out.
Whether you breathe actively and deeply or allow your breath to flow in its natural rhythm is depending on the concrete instructions during the meditation and can vary.
13. I can’t stop my thoughts – am I doing something wrong?
Not at all, don’t worry. Meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts. Thoughts come and go, that’s simply how they work. If you actively try to stop them you’re again caught up in your mind (the thought “I shouldn’t be thinking” is also just a thought). Meditation is rather about allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up and carried away by them. Symbolically spoken: Life and everything that moves in it (including your thoughts and feelings) are the clouds in the sky and you or your consciousness are the wide, blue sky itself.
Do you have any other questions?
Don’t hesitate to contact me over the contact form on this website or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).