Meditation means a lot of things to a lot of people.

Some associate it with religion. Some associate it with stress management. Some even associate it with witchcraft.

Unfortunately, these preconceptions can be very destructive to the actual practice of meditation. So if you have an idea of what meditation is, I invite you to forget it and try out the practice as if you’ve never heard of meditation before.

And if you haven’t heard of meditation before, you’re in a really good place.

To quell a few meditation misconceptions right now:

  1. Meditation is not inherently a spiritual practice.
  2. You do not have to be Buddhist, or Hindu, or any other type of religious practitioner to practice meditation.
  3. You do not have to believe in God(s) to meditate.
  4. Practicing meditation is not akin to practicing Satanism, or witchcraft, or Voodoo.
  5. Meditation is absolutely something you can do if you put in the effort required.

In describing what to do, I don’t want to give you any concepts or ideas that you have to battle with like goals or outcomes or even benefits of a meditation practice. All I will say is that the most important benefit is a substantially better understanding of who you are as a living, breathing, thinking, human being.

Meditation Means Focus

Meditation Introduction

Focus comes in many forms…

Meditation literally means “focus”.

Focus on an object, focus on a thought, focus on a feeling, etc.

Important: There is no physical way to not focus on anything, so there is no physical way to do it wrong.

  • If only for a moment you think you may be doing it right, you’re doing it right.
  • If you think there’s no way you’re doing it right, but you’re still doing it, you’re doing it right.
  • If you hear someone talking about how they’re enlightened and connected to God and blissed out and you’re wondering if you’re doing something wrong because you aren’t enlightened yet, rest assured, you’re doing it right.

Everyone does meditation differently, and everyone has different reasons for why they want to meditate.

I encourage you to forget why you want to do it and trust that the benefits of the practice will be far more rewarding than you would ever have believed. This trust allows you to approach the practice with “beginner’s mind” – the sense that you know nothing and your curiosity alone will bring you continued rewards.

And I’m a firm believer that anyone can meditate.

I’ve known people who swore they couldn’t, but after much persistence and hard work, they became staunch advocates of the practice.

Three pieces of advice:

  1. Forget what you think you know about meditation.
  2. If you can think, you can meditate.
  3. No, you aren’t doing it wrong.

Meditation Is Excercise

What is meditation? Mental excercise

Mental muscles are just as sexy as physical muscles.

Meditation is working out the muscles of the mind.

Just like working out the muscles of the body, it takes time, practice, persistence, and a lot of hard work.

But just like maintaining any kind of exercise regimen, over time, the benefits will slowly start to creep in. It will become more and more obvious that this practice is bringing in a lot of positive effects.

So keep at it.

You won’t get better by quitting.

Be Your Own Teacher

Meditation Student Self Teacher

If my teacher is me, and my student is also me, who’s the teacher, and who am I? *mind blown*

As you progress with a meditation practice, you learn how to listen to your body. You learn how to listen to your mind. You learn what “meditation” means.

So take the attitude that you are your own teacher right from the beginning.

You can meditate for as long or as little as you’d like. The general suggestion is 20 minutes, but if that’s too long, do 10, or 5, or even 1. Or if that’s too short, you can stretch it out to 30 minutes or 40 minutes or an hour.

But just like physical exercise, too much can have damaging effects. If you go to the gym and decide you can bench press 300 pounds after a lifetime of sitting on the couch, you will not only not have any physical gains, but you will also likely hurt yourself.

The best advice with any form of exercise, be it physical, mental, spiritual, etc. is to advance slowly and with patience.

Regardless of how long you practice meditation, be sure to do it with as much effort as you can. If you give the practice 100% for 3 minutes a day, that’s great!

The length is mostly irrelevant, but the effort is paramount.

It’s a lot like boiling a pot of water. It takes a large amount of energy to get it going, but once it’s going, as long as there’s still a little heat under the pot, the water will continue to boil.

Sitting Posture

Meditation Posture

“I’m sitting down. Isn’t that enough?”

Begin by sitting down on the ground, cushion, chair, or anywhere you would normally sit that’s comfortable, but not distractingly comfortable.

It is not essential to sit cross-­legged or in a lotus position, but you do want to be at ease.

A general rule is to have your knees lower than your hips, so wherever and however that position happens for you is how you should sit.

To get a balanced spine, slide your hips forward. You should recognize this feeling as “sitting up straight”.

You can also imagine as though there’s a thread lifting you up into the sky from the crown of your head (about an inch behind the direct center or your skull) and letting gravity take your body into its natural alignment.

If you have trouble finding this alignment, don’t worry, it’ll get easier over time with practice. Struggling with the posture is NOT an indication that you can’t do it or you’re doing it wrong. Just proceed as best as you can.

Your eyes may be open or closed. It’s worthwhile to experiment with what feels natural to you, and different techniques have different suggestions.

Rest your palms on your thighs, or place your right hand over your left and put them in your lap. Or place your left hand over your right, or face your palms upwards, or experiment with mudras, or put your hands on your head, or whatever else you want to do. It doesn’t matter.

Just put yourself in a position where you will not feel immediately compelled to move.

Once again it’s entirely up to you and experimenting with what feels right is a very worthwhile thing to do.

Now that you are seated and you know what meditation is, we can begin the practice.

Meditation Practice:

Eric Michelson

Eric Michelson is a writer, blogger, philosopher, activist, artist, Buddhist, and mindfulness enthusiast. He is the founder of and editor-in-chief for Perspective Earth - an online discussion space for revolutionaries and thinkers. His lifelong mission is to serve and serve he will. You can follow him and PVEarth on Facebook and Twitter.