Will meditation help me relax?
Let's first dispel a myth: meditation is not a quick fix to help you relax when you feel stressed. It is not a band-aid you slap on as first aid after a stressful day. Meditation, practiced regularly and diligently, is a deep fix that works at the roots of stress. And over time it is proven to work wonders for stress. But a given meditation session may or may not be relaxing. Sometimes it is agitating, uncomfortable, emotionally challenging and just no fun. But that is part of the process for getting the long-term benefits. And after all, the goal is not to be able to relax when you are sitting perfectly still with your eyes closed in a quiet space. The goal is to be relaxed, stress-free, and happy when you are out and about, interacting with people, and living your life.
Is meditation/mindfulness a religion?
Excellent question! I'm glad I asked it. Almost every major modern religion has at one time or another embraced contemplative practice as part of, even the core of, the religion. Yet, there have also been times, historical and in the present day, when religious authorities have denounced contemplative practices. The truth is that meditation is something that people have found useful regardless of religious, cultural, ethnic, political, or historic context BECAUSE meditation is all about optimizing brain function and humans all come equipped with the same brains. The brain of a modern American protestant Christian is the same as that of a Japanese Buddhist monk of 1000 CE or a Sufi Mystic of 1800. The experiences associated with the contemplative path may be described differently as befits different cultural and religious contexts, but the path and its effects are the same everywhere on Earth throughout all time because our brains are the same. For various historical and cultural reasons, meditation techniques reached their most refined, fully-articulated, development within the context of Buddhism in Asia. It is reiterations of those methods, stripped ENTIRELY of religious content, that you will find being taught by Shinzen Young, Kaishin Ashley, and others. Meditation is simply a kind of do-it-yourself, subjective, empirical brain science and although it can be a tremendous asset to religious devotion, perhaps even essential to deep and authentic religious devotion, meditation can be practiced quite nicely outside any religious context.
Do I need to sit in the lotus posture to practice meditation?
No. Any posture that allows you to be both alert and relaxed will do. For most people, absent constraining medical conditions, this will be sitting in an upright position. Please see the article on posture. It should be noted that meditation can be practiced in motion as well as sitting, but that is an advanced practice and beginners should start in a sitting posture.
Hiking, swimming, walking my dog etc. is my meditation. Isn't it?
Just about any human activity can, with sufficient experience, be practiced in a contemplative state. But for almost everyone other than true meditation adepts, the answer is "no". Meditation transforms consciousness. It literally changes your brain wiring in a permanent way that can be detected by modern brain scanning technology. Walking your dog may be relaxing, diverting, and pleasant, but it doesn't transform consciousness.
Should I meditate everyday? For how long?
Yes, you should try to meditate everyday. If you miss a day now and again, don't sweat it. But the goal should be to practice most days. As for how long, ANY practice is infinitely better than none. Longer is better. Twenty minutes is often suggested as a minimum, and that would be good, forty would be better, but even five minutes a day will make a difference. One of the reasons meditation is a difficult practice for most people to sustain is that the rewarding benefits take some time to show up. The more time you devote to your daily practice, the sooner the benefits will start to manifest, and the more likely you will be able to maintain your practice.
I can't meditate. I have tried and it doesn't work for me.
Yes you can, and yes it will. The initial learning curve can be steep, but meditation is like most skills, you just need some practice. Nobody sits down at the piano for the first time and plays Bach. And almost nobody sits down to meditate for the first time and has perfect concentration. But with competent instruction and practice anybody CAN meditate and WILL get the benefits.
How should I get started?
Pick a time and place where you can dedicate a few minutes to your practice undisturbed everyday. If you live with somebody, tell them what you want to do and solicit their support. Obtain a recording of a guided meditation from a competent instructor. You can use one of the recordings from this website or go to one of the resources listed in the links section. Then go to the same place at the same time each day and follow the guidance. Repeat. If you have questions email me.
When will I start to notice benefits?
People vary in how quickly they begin to notice benefits, and it depends on how diligently you practice. But a ballpark figure would be three to six months for definite signs of change. However, please note that scientists are able to detect significant changes in stress response and other biological markers, after only a few weeks of meditation practice. Meditation is powerful and it begins working as soon as you begin to take the time to examine your own mind systematically. But keep in mind that much of the transformative effect of meditation is unconscious. It may seem like nothing is happening other than wandering mind, discomfort, restlessness, etc. And then one day . . .