Meditation is the act of winding down, so ideally you should try to meditate in an environment that you know is safe, peaceful, and without too many external disturbances.
When you're just learning to meditate, outside distractions can provide an unnecessary layer of challenge and you might feel that meditation isn't working for you.
- Find a quiet space in your own house or somewhere outside, make a mental note to yourself that you're going to practice meditation and begin to shift the focus inwards. Playing music while meditating is okay as long as you're not blasting it so that the whole neighborhood can hear you; choose soothing and relaxing music to aid in your first steps in meditation.
- Complete silence is rare -- unless you live in a forest -- so having some external sounds like cars driving by or kids playing in the playground might actually be helpful to develop your sense of hearing and observation. Try to avoid meditating next to someone chopping down trees with a chainsaw.
- Wear clothing that you know is comfortable and won't make your body stiff for the period of meditation that you've chosen. Loose sports clothing is great as it allows you to feel lighter and more relaxed at the same time.
- You may also want to wind down any tension in your body and muscles by doing preliminary stretches. Focus on stretching out your head and neck muscles, but also legs as you will be putting some amount of pressure on them while sitting cross-legged.
What's the best meditation posture?
Meditating isn't just about breath alone, to have a successful meditation practice it's important to understand the correct alignment for a meditation posture.
The biggest obstacle for sitting in an uneven posture is that you get tired more quickly, and you can actually hurt your back and neck muscles.
When your posture is aligned properly -- comfortably with a straight spine -- you can enjoy more freely flowing breathing patterns, reduce the risk of injuring your neck, and have a deeper sense of calm and tranquility.
The Burmese Position. I like to put my hands on my knees to open up the shoulders more, but you can rest your hands over each other in your lap if that feels more comfortable. Keep your head slightly bent forward and watch any pressure in your neck, keep the spine straight and comfortable.
My personal preference for meditation is to sit upright with a straight spine in burmese position. I like to use a cushion or a pillow whenever I can, and my hands are usually put comfortably in my lap. I will sometimes put my palms over my knees for a better chest opening whenever I feel there's tension in my upper-body.
Try to follow these simple steps for a solid meditation posture:
- Align your back -- as you're sitting down, check the length of your back, neck and head alignment. Are you sitting fully straight? Is your stomach falling out in front of you? Good way to align yourself is by imagining that you're sitting against a straight wall, feel your body in a fully upright position; it feels good!
- Relax your body -- sitting quiet for extended periods of time doesn't come easy to everyone, so be gentle with your body and check back with your neck and back muscles to make sure they're relaxed, do the same for your legs; massage them if you find that helpful, and use a meditation cushion for increased back support.
- Find stillness in yourself -- there's a certain feeling of serenity when one is sitting in an upright, correctly aligned posture. But you also have to put in some effort to become effortlessly still; while relaxed and mindful of your center of balance. You can try moving around a little bit to see where your point of balance is, when you've found that you'll be ready to begin your meditation.
You will eventually find the best meditation posture for you, don't be too hard on yourself if you feel tired or your legs go numb after 5 minutes -- it happens to all of us, and it can only serve as a learning experience for your own perfect alignment.
This is an excerpt from my long-form introduction into meditation, it covers the basics of what meditation is, what's the correct alignment for meditation postures, and depicts a range of beginner-friendly meditation techniques you can get started with today.