Starting Meditation Practice
There are many forms of meditation. You may be wondering where to start. Here, we provide a description of many styles of practice and some opportunities to try some guided practices to get you started
For those interested in some simple guided meditations, there is a large selection of secular Buddhist instructors with different voices and styles, but all have similar basic approaches to helping you cultivate mindfulness, reduce suffering, and improve cognitive and emotional skills like attention regulation and emotion regulation. Keep in mind that meditative practices geared towards cultivating mindfulness are not typically intended for relaxation – they are intended to gain a sense of familiarity with one’s own mental landscape – what and where does one mind go when you let it just go. This requires a fair amount of effort, diligence, motivation, arousal (alert wakefulness), and good posture (Stephanie Nash on Good Posture (see below) and WhatMeditationReallyIs (see below). It is suggested that you attempt to experience these meditations in a comfortable, upright, seated position (at your desk or on the floor), but not in the supine position (because then you will simply fall asleep).
Steph cuts to the chase of the basics of good posture in meditation. Seven point posture is often encouraged.
- Sit cross-legged.
- Hands in lap or on knees.
- Have a straight back.
- Widen the shoulders to open the heart center.
- Lower the chin.
- Open mouth slightly with the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth.
- Eyes open, gazing about four finger widths past the tip of nose.
For more in depth information, check out her free PDF article, “POSTURE-PEDIA“, which covers many positions, solutions to issues, and helpful insights.
When we meditate, it’s important to sit properly. Here’s a simple guide to the basic posture. Feel free to visit their website for more info: whatmeditationreallyis.com
FOCUSED ATTENTION MEDITATION
The specific types of meditation practices that are involved in these contemporary mindfulness settings include 1. Focused Attention and 2. Open Monitoring, respectively. FA practice involves sustained attention on a specific mental or sensory object: a repeated sound or mantra, an imagined or physical image, or specific sensations in the body. The object of focus can be anything, but the method described by the Satipatthana Sutta (“Setting the foundation for presence of mindfulness”) identifies a naturally occurring breath focus. Continually returning one’s focus to the breath as it wanders off helps to stabilize the mind (bring it to stillness) – mostly because it does not allow many other distractions to arise.
30 min – Breath Awareness from Anapanasati Sutta – [Link] – narrated by Lisa Dale Miller
10 min – Breath Awareness [Link] – guided by David Vago
10 min – Breath Awareness – [Link] – narrated by Margaret Cullen
5 min – Breath Awareness – [Link] – narrated by Diana Winston – MARC at UCLA (UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center)
3 min – 3 min breathing space [Link] – narrated by Zindel Segal
BODY SCAN MEDITATION
Body Scan is a type of concentration meditation developed for Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction to anchor attention, awareness, and sensory experience in the body – helping to facilitate body awareness (interoception) using a spotlight of attention
45 min – MBSR – [Link] – narrated by UC San Diego Center for Integrative Medicine and Department of Psychiatry
25 min – Body Scan – [Link] – narrated by Sharon Salzberg
12 min – MARC [Link] – narrated by Diana Winston
60 min – Body Scan with nature sounds [Link] – narrated by Florence Meleo-Meyer
OPEN MONITORING (INSIGHT) MEDITATION
Open monitoring (OM) typically builds upon the stability of attention you have cultivated in FA practice. It directs your attention to any object that arises and allows you take inventory, without reacting or intentionally following any one train of thought – just let it rise and pass.
60 min – Vipassana – [Link] – narrated by S.N. Goenka
45 min – Vipassana – [Link] – narrated by Joseph Goldstein
20 min – Refuge in Awareness [Link] – narrated by Tara Brach
13 min – Insight [Link] – narrated by Peg Baim
45 min – Big Mind – [Link] – narrated by Joseph Goldstein
15 min – Meditation on Body, Space, and Awareness – [Link] – narrated by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
10 min – Just sitting (Zen Shikantaza) – [Link] – narrated by Shinzen Young
5 min – Mindfulness [Link] – Beautiful Bell for facilitating mindfulness practice
METTA – LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION
How To Practice Loving Kindness Meditation:
Finding a comfortable posture, keep your eyes closed and think of a person close to you who loves you very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still in life or who has passed; it could be a spiritual teacher, guide, relative, or even a pet. Imagine that person (or pet) sending you their love, wishes for your your health and happiness. Feel the unconditional love, kindness and warmth coming to you from that person.
Sending Loving-Kindness to Loved Ones
Now bring your awareness back to this loved one. Begin to send the love that you feel back to that person. You and this person are similar. Just like you, this person wishes to be happy. Send all your love and warm wishes to that person.
Repeat the following phrases, silently:
May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering.
May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness. May your life be filled with happiness, health, and well being
Sending Loving-Kindness to Neutral People
Now think of an acquaintance, someone you don’t know very well and toward whom you do not have any particular feeling. It could be a neighbor, or a colleague, or someone else that you see around but do not know very well. You and this person are alike in your wish to have a good life, be happy and healthy.
Send all your wishes for well-being to that person, repeating the following phrases, silently:
Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease and happiness.
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from all suffering.
Sending Loving-Kindness to All Living Beings
Now expand your awareness and picture the whole world in front of you.
Send warm wishes to all living beings on the Earth, who, like you, want to be happy:
Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health.
Take a deep breath in. And breathe out. And another deep breath in and let it go. Notice the state of your mind and how you feel after this meditation.
Running a holiday sale or weekly special? Definitely promote it here to get customers excited about getting a sweet deal.
42 min – Loving Kindness for Self – [Link] – narrated by Sharon Salzberg
42 min – Loving Kindness towards others [Link] – Sharon Salzberg
30 min – Mindful Solutions [Link] – narrated by Ronald Siegel
30 min – [Link] – narrated by Gil Fransdal
30 min – [Link] – narrated by Sharon Salzberg
OTHER INTERESTING GUIDED MEDITATIONS AND INSTRUCTIONS
Insight LA – Founded by Trudy Goodman and affiliated with Spirit Rock [Link]
Audio Dharma – Links to guided meditation from top teachers [Link]
Vipassana Meditation 10-day retreat – Day 1 instructions – [Link] – narrated by S.N. Goenka (links to full 10 days are available)
If you have any links that you would like to add to this list, please pass them on – I am MORE than happy to share.
Sample some more guided practices in FA, OM, and Loving Kindness practices here:
Meditation Retreat Centers
- Insight Meditation Society – Barre, MA
IMS is one of the Western world’s oldest and most-respected meditation retreat centers dedicated to providing a spiritual refuge for all who seek freedom of mind and heart. Experienced teachers offer guidance in Buddhist meditations known as vipassana (insight) and metta (lovingkindness). While the context is the Buddha’s teachings, these practices are universal. The retreat facilities are set on 240 secluded wooded acres in the quiet countryside of central Massachusetts.
- Spirit Rock , Marin County, CA
Spirit Rock Meditation Center is dedicated to the teachings of the Buddha as presented in the vipassana tradition. The practice of mindful awareness, called Insight meditation, is at the heart of all the activities at Spirit Rock. We provide silent meditation retreats, as well as classes, trainings, and Dharma study opportunities for new and experienced students from diverse backgrounds with a willingness to develop their own practice. Spirit Rock is located in Marin County, CA.
- Natural Dharma Fellowship , Wonderwell Mountain Refuge, NH
Natural Dharma Fellowship is a Buddhist community that supports the cultivation of contemplative and ethical practices for a better world. We believe that the inner development of compassion and wisdom facilitates authentic transformation in our workplace, family, relationships, community and society as a whole. Our non-profit organization, founded by Lama Willa Miller, supports a robust transmission of traditional Buddhist lineage teachings and also encourages an active and ongoing integration of these teachings into the many contexts of modern life. Our programs—including retreats for activists, caregivers, educators, writers, artists, couples, and families—take place primarily (but not exclusively) at our retreat center Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in the mountains and lakes regions of New Hampshire, USA.
- Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy – Cambridge, MA
The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of mental health professionals interested in the integration of mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy, for the purpose of enhancing the therapy relationship, the quality of clinical interventions, and the well-being of the therapist.
- Upaya – Santa Fe, NM
Upaya Zen Center offers daily Zen meditation, weekly dharma talks, and programs on Buddhist teachings, art, neuroscience, and social engagement. We also offer professional training for end-of-life-care and Buddhist chaplaincy.
- Barre Center for Buddhist Studies – Barre, MA
For integration of study and practice – learning the dharma through practice. Learning practice through dharma.
- Boston Rigpa Meditation Center
- Vipassana Meditation Centers (U.S. and Canada)
- Boundless Way Zen, Worcester, MA, USA
- San Francisco Zen Center, San Francisco, CA, USA
- Zen Center of San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA
- Karme Choling, Barnet, VT, USA
- Still Quiet Place
- Shambhala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, USA
- Vipassana Meditation Centers (worldwide)
- Plum Village, France
This list of retreat centers is not meant to be exclusive.
FINDING A TEACHER
Finding a teacher that is right for you is really personal preference. You may like the sound of one teacher’s voice and not another. You may simply gravitate towards a teacher for some other practical reason – but most importantly I would encourage you to develop a relationship with one teacher after sampling a few – it is important for that teacher to develop a relationship with you as well – so that your progress can be monitored and that someone is there to support you when difficult thoughts/emotions arise (and they likely will).
I practiced some Zen, but later became more interested in Tibetan styles of Dzogchen andMahamudra practice. These involve cultivating deeper states of non-dual awareness – where there is no subject-object distinction. Check out UPAYA Zen center for an experience with Zen. My teachers in the Tibetan traditions have been the Dalai Lama, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
I also like the Tergar Group – This group provides Tibetan Mahamudra teachings by one of my favorite teachers, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. They now have online courses!! One can start with “Joy of Living” and work your way up. The teachings do get very subtle and profound. Learn about Tergar [Link]
Another option may be western teachers who provide a bit of a mix that a lot of people love. I work with a teacher named Shinzen Young. Shinzen has a style of noting and labeling experience that is very easy.. Shinzen Young has an ongoing community of people who learn through “online retreats” and teleconferences.
Another “online” resource is the Buddhist Geeks life retreat. Check them out…they are based out of Boulder and have some good Western teachers
- Secular Buddhism
A natural pragmatic approach to early Buddhist teachings and practice
- Buddhist Geeks
A fresh perspective on being a modern-day Buddhist practitioner
- Mindfulness.org – Everyday Mindfulness
some helpful insights
Some good mobile apps also exist. The one’s most commonly used:
Calm – Calm is actually paired with an EEG headband (The Muse) you can purchase from Interaxon. It can be most effectively used for biofeedback when paired together. There is not a lot of data to support this biofeedback mechanism yet, but there is a lot of interest.
Here is a review of the top meditation apps [Link]