The mindfulness industry is booming and fast becoming a pillar of the $4.5 trillion wellness industry worldwide. In the US alone, people spend $1 billion on the global alternative healthcare industry which includes meditation, acupuncture, breathing exercises, yoga and tai chi. Nowadays, all kinds of people report doing weekly meditation and breath work sessions. Practicing with others is often more fun. But let’s have a look at some simple, effective and cost free ways you can start meditating and some of the benefits you’ll experience. Spoiler alert: you already have everything you need and you don’t have to spend a dime.
3 Things you need to meditate
I was lucky when I began meditating. It had been in the public eye for years. And though still considered “alternative” by many, it was getting more accessible. There were already a few good books considered classics, and places nearby you could go to learn from reputable teachers without having to go to the Himalayas.
When I got my first formal lessons in college in the 70s, meditation’s profile was changing. Impressions were being transformed by research and doctors were exploring ways to treat chronic illnesses and combat common disorders like migraines and the psychological stresses of anxiety, depression and pain management.
In a few short years, I was teaching meditation at a hospital in Massachusetts and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program was taking shaping at the U of Mass nearby. Successful athletes and business people were touting it as a new “super power” and by the year 2000, mindfulness-based programs were available for children and adults, in schools and elsewhere, effectively addressing a laundry list of problems from hyperactivity to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to sleep disturbances, with virtually none of the downsides of traditional medicine therapies.
While this growing phenomenon has made things easier for people to start meditating, it has also obscured some basic ideas about what meditation is and what you need to do it.
What follows are 3 things you need to start meditating without spending a dime.
I. A quiet place
The first thing we need is somewhere to practice. It not always possible, but it helps if it’s quiet in the beginning. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted and people won’t be passing through. That’s why many practice in the morning, while others at home are still asleep. In fact, for centuries, people have meditated before the world outside was in full gear for the new day. I personally find it’s a great way to start mine. I’m not always rested – or convinced to get out of bed – but the silence of the morning is powerful and sets a tone for the day to come.
If you’re just beginning, you can avoid all the inner dialogue about “what’s best” and simply sit on the edge of the bed to start your mornings. Try this:
- set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than you normally do
- when you reach over to turn it off, start meditating
- recognize you’re awake and how you feel
- feel your hands on your phone or alarm clock
- notice your hearing has been activated
- notice your body in the bed for just a moment
- intentionally decide to get up
- sit at the edge of the bed
- feel your feet on the floor and your body sitting straight
- gently roll your neck, shoulders, stretch your arms
- welcome yourself to a new day
- breathe in and count “1” to yourself, breathe out “2,” take your time
- take the time you need to fill up your belly and lungs, and empty them
- feel the sensations as they expand and contract
- do it for 10 breaths
- finish, begin your day
If you do have a designated practice area in your home, it can help to
- close the door
- have your meditation cushion or a straight back chair there
- arrange beautiful objects a/o candles on a table or shelf
They will remind you of the open invitation you have for meditation each time you look at them. Remember you can practice almost anywhere
- at home or the office
- inside or out
- somewhere you can sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor
- dedicate 5, 10 or 15 minutes to yourself
- in the morning, afternoon, evening or night
Or you can program something for all of those times, in any given day, to create a sense of continuity and familiarity. The most essential thing is you.
While it’s good to have a place to meditate, the most essential thing is you and your body. It’s one of the foundations of mindfulness. Your body is your physical “self” and our senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing) are always with us, even when we’re asleep. They orient us and help concentrate the mind.
“Wherever you go, there you are.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Meditation doesn’t have to be very complicated or esoteric. It’s mainly learning how to focus, pay attention to the present moment, and noticing the way things are. What better way is there than by using our body? It’s not always easy to do, especially when we are starting. But the body has everything we need to stop and look at how we think and feel.
Another thing that helps is a sense of curiosity. Put aside all the goals and objectives for meditation and simply watch what happens. Like many things we do in life, meditation has many sides. Some are very pleasant, others – well – “nah.”
Many people report feeling
- wondering if they’re doing something right or wrong
- irritation with themselves or others
- boredom and looking for pleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations
These are often referred to as obstacles or challenges. If you’ve ever practiced meditation, it’s happened to you, and you know how they feel and why.
So, just let your thoughts, feelings and sensations come and go. Pay attention as well as you can, as if you’re watching clouds move through the sky or waves at the beach. Also, it may not feel like you’re not doing anything exciting, but you are just spending some time with yourself. Lots of things contribute to how we feel, and observing tells us a lot.
Sitting, standing, walking, lying down
It is possible to meditate in many ways
- in movement
- being still
- using affirmations
- with visualizations
The most common way to start is by using the breath as a reference point. Like your body, you don’t have to do or have anything special because your breath is with you all the time.
Let’s learn about sitting practice now and using the body and the breath as “anchors” or reference points to focus and concentrate. Try these things in this order
- find a place where you won’t be interrupted for 5 or 10 minutes
- make yourself comfortable, sit straight in a chair or on the floor
- loosen or remove any clothing that interferes with your breathing
- turn off the ringer on your phone, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes
- sit still, stop moving, close your eyes if you want
- notice these sensations in your body
- sitting in the chair or the cushion
- your feet, knees, legs on the ground
- the air coming in and out of your body (choose the nostrils or the front of the body)
- count “1” breathing in, count “2” breathing out, take your time, count til “10”
- after 10, sit still and notice
- put your experience into these little boxes
- I like that
- I don’t like that
- unremarkable, bland, neutral
- if you are unable to focus and identify thoughts, feelings and sensations, return to the breath and counting, at “10” start again
- when the timer sounds
- thank yourself
- thank anyone who directly/indirectly supported you
- open your eyes, stretch or move gently
- continue your day
You can read more about meditation in these books. These men and women have all been my teachers (except for Gunaratana who I’ve never met, but whose books and talks are very accessible and have guided me over the years). They are people you can trust, will pique your interest, and fuel your enthusiasm.
1. Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body” (Avery) 2017
2. Ajahn Sumedho, “The Sound of Silence: The Selected Teachings of Ajahn Sumedho” (Wisdom Publications) 2007
3. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, “Mindfulness in Plain English” (Wisdom Publications) 2002
4. Sharon Salzberg, “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation – A 28 Day Program” (Workman Publishing Company) 2011
There is so much available these days. Many things can be helpful, but they can be a distractions too. The advice I often give people is: read less, practice more. As I wrote above, you already have the most essential things you need. So let’s continue to see what they are.
II. Keeping track of the time
While you don’t need an app to do this, it is useful to keep track of the time when you meditate. Your smart phone, sports band or a simple alarm clock will do and this timer is free.
These days, there are all kinds of things you can do with the phone or devices you already have. You can
- program your meditation appointments in advance
- get reminders
- give yourself incentives
- upload special sounds to signal the end
just to name a few.
Again, depending on how you organize, they may be helpful. But you certainly don’t need to buy anything extra. The only thing that’s necessary is you.
After we’ve gotten a sense of the basic foundations of practice and we’ve decided how to keep track of the time while we’re practicing, the next thing is your resolution to practice.
“Practice is voluntary; there is no compulsion. The energy required has to come from within – from our own hearts. Don’t expect someone to enlighten you.” – Ajahn Sumedho
As yourself some questions about meditation.
What image comes to mind when you think of meditation? What attracts you? There are many reasons people meditate. And many benefits too. What makes it seem like a good idea for you? What do you want to explore?
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Are you dealing with health issues?
- Do you have trouble concentrating?
- Do you simply want to increase your ability to be present and fully engaged in life?
- Is there something else?
Maybe you’ve heard that mindfulness meditation can help. Maybe you’ve read something and you’re curious. Like many things we want to learn, it’s good to know what motivates us. Start by asking yourself some questions.
Yes, there are many things that meditation helps with and it’s a great tool for self improvement. But it’s also good to recognize what’s good about you “just as you are.” What are the foundations you are building on? What are your core strengths? If you have trouble thinking of some, ask a trusted friend or family member what they appreciate about you.
Keep your practice in mind. Think of it as a training. Like any skill we want to learn or maintain, practice is essential. Meditation is a slow, organic process. It’s good to find the right balance between intentions that will enrich you and help you be consistent on one hand, and to avoid aggressively seeking goals on the other. Think about when you’re going to be able to practice. Will it be the morning or the afternoon, evening or at night before bed?
Find a specific time and place for your daily practice. It may be the first hurdle to overcome. You can choose to practice first thing in the morning, before roommates or family members are up and about. But maybe it’s easier to manage in the evening just after getting home from work or shortly before bedtime. Write down when you are going to practice so that you can keep this promise to yourself each day. You can change it in the future if something changes.
Make sure you won’t have to answer the phone or be there for others too. And choose a relatively quiet place. After we’ve resolved to practice at a certain time of day, our resolution to practice comes into play when we actually sit down.
When meditating, try not to move, or move as little as possible. Ideally, the position of the arms, hands, legs, and feet won’t change, and keep your eyes closed softly the whole time. Because some people get lost in their thinking, some meditation traditions are done with the eyes open looking toward the floor or facing a blank wall to minimize distractions.
Resolving to sit still is important for another reason too: it is necessary for more intense practice as we go along. Start being conscious of it early. Explore and set limits, like when you are tempted to scratch your nose or fidget in some way.
And finally, be kind to yourself. You can avoid injuries by not insisting too much or sitting like a statue. You may not be ready. Ask yourself if you are flexible enough to sit with your legs crossed. Are there stretching exercises you can do? Use a chair and cultivate patience. This is a big part of meditation too. Meditation is an ongoing discovery of finding out who and what we are, moment to moment, breath after breath.
Have you ever meditated? Does anyone you know meditate? Did you know that you can set-up a free session with me to talk or practice or both? Please take a moment to write your comments or questions below. And thanks.