Research suggests that meditation offers many benefits for our health and happiness. And we may even enjoy these benefits when we’re not meditating.
But meditation can seem like a confusing concept or a daunting task. Maybe you’re not sure where to start. Or maybe you’d like to adjust your current practice.
We asked several meditation teachers to share their favorite ways to meditate. Perhaps their practices will inspire you, too.
You may not realize it, but meditation has many health — and mental health — benefits.1
Mary NurrieStearns, a counselor, yoga teacher and retreat leader, meditates in the mornings for 20 to 30 minutes. She sits comfortably and silently whispers the Latin word “Abba,” which means Father and represents the sacred to her.
“Doing mantra recitation focuses my attention, quiets my mind and touches holiness,” said NurrieStearns, also co-author with her husband, Rick NurrieStearns, of Yoga for Anxiety and Yoga for Emotional Trauma.
In the last six months, she’s been meditating with her new dog by her side. “[W]e adopted a rescue German Shephard who needed a lot of touch. I put my meditation cushion beside her doggy pillow so we could be together. To this day I meditate with my dog lying quietly beside me. We love sharing this time.”
Peggy Rowe, a Dharma Teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and co-author with Larry Ward of the book Love’s Garden, also meditates with her beloved dog, Charlie. But she takes her practice outdoors and savors a walking meditation. According to Rowe:
[Charlie’s] enthusiasm and happiness is contagious. With our practice of walking meditation, I bring my mindful attention to the sensation of my feet on the earth, and I synchronize my breath with my steps. Perhaps there are 3 steps to the in-breath, 4 steps to the out-breath, something like that.
I am aware of the sensation of my foot in contact with the earth and I experience the loving support of the earth. She is right there holding and supporting us as we enjoy each step. We are walking just to walk. There is no place to go. There is only the walking.
Each step is a miracle. My teacher says that we are doing the practice correctly if we experience happiness. That means that Charlie is an expert practitioner!
Tessa Watt, a mindfulness teacher and author of Introducing Mindfulness: A Practical Guide, loves to meditate outside with her eyes open, focusing on her breath.
“[W]hen the weather is warm, I’ll stop to practice for a few minutes on a bench by the pond on our local common, or in the countryside if I have the chance … I love it when I can see water, sky and greenery and connect with a feeling of vast space.”
Having a beautiful view also serves as inspiration for Ed Halliwell, a mindfulness teacher and co-author with Dr. Jonty Heaversedge of the book The Mindful Manifesto. He lives next to the village churchyard, which becomes his main meditation spot in the summers. He explained why the churchyard is so inspiring:
First, the churchyard overlooks the gorgeous, green rolling hills of English countryside known as the Sussex Downs. Opening my awareness to this wonderful view reminds me of the preciousness and beauty of the world, instilling a sense of awe in me as I breathe in its majesty.
Second, the church itself is around 1,000 years old, and observing its ancient architecture connects me to centuries of spiritual practice, a sense of there having been many, many generations of humans seeking heartfelt wisdom in the face of life’s uncertainties.
Thirdly, in the churchyard there are hundreds of gravestones, reminding me of the transience of this life, the inevitability of death, and the value of fully experiencing and celebrating every moment, whatever it brings.
Halliwell simply sits down on the grass, feeling his feet on the earth, and takes in the stunning landscape.
“[I] allow myself to experience the amazing sense of living and breathing in the midst of these environmental reminders: the magic of a vast, natural world, the mystery of how it’s all here, and the inevitability of my passing through it.”
For Halliwell, this practice is a powerful perspective shifter. “I find this puts the small concerns and problems of my little life into a much wider perspective, often leading to a profound sense of letting go and joy.”
“My favorite ways to meditate are those that most effectively help me live happily in the present moment,” said Glen Schneider, a Dharma teacher ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, founder of the Buckeye Sangha and author of Ten Breaths to Happiness.
He thinks of his meditation practice as a table with four legs. The tabletop is mindfulness, the “active awareness of what is happening right in this very moment.”
The legs are practices that help him to: “water my positive seeds; savor what is good and beautiful in this life; connect with other beings and the sources of life; and transform my suffering.” He has a specific technique for each of these “legs.” He picks a practice depending on the particular moment.
Schneider typically starts by putting his hand on his belly and counting 10 full breaths. Then he does a second round of 10 breaths, specifically focusing on the soothing sensations of the out-breath. Next, depending on how he feels, he chooses a meditation.
For instance, if something beautiful presents itself, Schneider uses this meditation from his book Ten Breaths. If difficult emotions arise, he practices the “Remove the Object” meditation.
“Here we use our breathing to let go of our thinking and connect with the sensations and feelings in the body. We are seldom upset for the reason we think we are, and if we can fully open to our body energies, very dramatic realizations can take place. The body never lies.”
There are many different ways to meditate — and no single “right” way to do so. The practice you choose simply depends on what resonates best with you.