There are a lot of people who believe that lotus pose is the proper way to meditate. This is where you sit with your legs crossed and lift each foot to the top of the opposite thigh. I know that I am not alone in my inability to perform this pose without a great amount of pain. Anyone with knee or hip problems will be unable to safely achieve this pose. Many other people believe that meditation is best done in sukasana, which is a similar pose where your legs are crossed, but your feet are not placed on top. This is a bit more accessible, but still a challenge for many people. Still others believe that the proper position for meditation is shavasana or corpse pose where you lie on the floor with your arms extended at an angle from your sides and your legs extend straight down from your hips. While this is a far more accessible pose, anyone who has trouble getting up and down from the floor may have trouble with it.
Once you have the legs down, what do you do with your hands? Some people say that gyan mudra (pictured above) is best, while other people prefer the samadhi mudra with both hands face up in the lap, one on top of the other. You can have palms up or down, or in any one of the mudras you may find with a quick google search. In the end, it doesn't really matter a whole lot. A good rule of thumb energetically is that palms facing up means you are ready to receive, while palms down are better for turning your gaze inward. If you are interested, you can try out different mudras and see if any are helpful, but I personally believe that this should be reserved for more advanced practitioners. Once you feel more comfortable in your meditation, then you can start to explore how to deepen it.
So what to do? The actual "proper pose" (I use quotes because I do not actually believe that there is such a thing as a proper pose) for meditation is whatever position feels most comfortable to you. I recommend trying to find good alignment in whatever position you choose, but the truth is if you are placing yourself in a position that causes pain, you will have much more trouble finding your meditative groove, and will likely be in a lot of pain when you try to move afterward. If one of the above poses is comfortable for you, go for it! You can meditate on the floor, on a couch, in bed, or even while moving. Some people find it easiest to clear their mind or bring about clarity and focus when they are walking, riding a bike, swimming, etc. If you are one of those people, fantastic! Do what works best for you.
There seem to be a few schools of thought on this one. Some people believe that in order to achieve a truly meditative state, one must clear the mind of all thought. For most people, if they are able to gain this ability it comes with years of practice. Most human beings aren't able to just clear their minds of all thought. It isn't how our brains work.
Other people believe that you should leave your mind out of focus. Let the thoughts come and go without spending time on any one thought. This is a much more achievable goal for a beginner, but can still be surprisingly difficult. To be a bit more productive with this technique, you can try placing an intention to meditate on a specific thing. Have a problem that needs solving? Try going into your meditation with your question in mind and allow thoughts to come and go. Perhaps you will flit across a good solution.
Another method is to try a guided meditation. I like guided meditations because I have trouble with losing focus on my thoughts. With a guided meditation, you are going through steps in your mind like a story. You are visualizing specific things, and how you visualize them may bring clarity. If you visualize yourself sitting under a tree, what kind of tree is it? Is there water nearby? Are any animals joining you? There are a variety of guided meditations out there, many of which are designed with specific results in mind. If you are going into meditation with a specific goal in mind, try a guided meditation created with that purpose in mind, whether that purpose is something big like quitting smoking, or just visualizing balance and harmony being brought to your mind/body/spirit as a means of self care.
Especially as a beginner, meditating for any great length of time is a difficult feat. Many advanced practitioners are able to meditate for hours at a time, and thinking that this is the way that it must be can sometimes turn away newer practitioners. The answer is quite simple. Meditate as long as you feel is right. Need to be somewhere? Set a gentle alarm to signal the time to come out of meditation. Other than that, even meditating for 2 minutes is better than not meditating at all, and in our overly stressed culture, 2 minutes may be all that you can make time for. Once you become more comfortable with the act of meditation, it will become much easier to go for longer periods of time. It is something that most people must work their way up to.
There are a lot of proven benefits to reap through meditation. They include but are not limited to:
- Decrease in stress, anxiety, and worry
- Improved focus
- Cessation of bad habits and addiction
- Decrease in symptoms of depression
- Improved self-awareness, -esteem, -image, -acceptance, etc.
- Greater awareness
- Improved relaxation
- Improved social interactions
- Lower blood pressure
- Boost to immune system
- Can improve breathing and respiratory disorders
- Greater longevity, and slower aging
- Increased productivity
- Increased creativity
- Improved memory and recall
- Better cognitive skills
- Better, more productive sleep
- Greater attention span
- And much more!