How do I meditate?

Yogi Cameron Alborzian
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

In the Yogic tradition, meditation is considered a particularly high form of practice that has its place in a sequence of other practices that must first be mastered. Though we in the West consider any act of sitting in silence and focusing our thoughts to be a form of meditation, the traditional method of meditating happens only after extensive work with concentration--consistently focusing our thoughts on a single object for extended periods of time.

Meditation in this tradition refers to the absence of thought and is described as such by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. To meditate, first adhere to the abstentions and observances in the Yoga Sutras (yamas/niyamas), then open up the physical body with yoga postures, then spend time controlling the breath, then spend time controlling the senses, then spend time focusing your thoughts through concentration, and then, eventually, you will fall into meditation. This is a process that will take some time to pursue, but the benefits are of course significant.

Harris H. McIlwain, MD
To learn to meditate, find a quiet place indoors or outdoors with no distractions. While sitting in a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on your breathing, keeping it very slow and intentional. You should notice the sensation of air passing in and out of your nostrils during this moment of solitude. It’s difficult to reach the stage of complete “mindfulness,” where your thoughts are focused entirely on the moment instead of your past or future. But as you practice this repeatedly, you will learn how to focus on your breath, which will keep your mind from wandering. After 10 to 15 minutes, stop the meditation and return to your normal activity.
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Deepak Chopra
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
The practice of meditation has many mental and physical benefits. In this video, Dr. Oz Show guest Deepak Chopra reveals how to meditate, or how to be a "silent witness to everything."
Meditation can be done sitting in a chair, on the floor, or lying supine, depending on preference and agility. Focus is on the breath. As thoughts, feelings, and other mental images arise, they are simply observed, and focus is returned to the breath. Maintaining focus is not easy. In the beginning, engaging the senses can be helpful. For example, vision-oriented people may form a picture in their mind of a favorite place, or focus on a candle's flame, the ocean, or a flower. Others may prefer to recite mantras. From the Sanskrit, meaning sound vibration, a mantra is a regularly repeated prayer, which helps to clear the mind of its distractions.
Dr. Kathleen Hall
Preventive Medicine
Here are a few simple steps so you can teach yourself how to meditate and use the relaxation response.
  • Find a quiet place: Discover a place where you have few distractions so it will be easier to concentrate. If possible use this particular place regularly.
  • Close your eyes: This helps quiet the outside world and focus you inward.
  • Choose a word: Choose a word or short phrase that means something calming and soothing to you. Many traditions use a name for God, or words or phrases such as "love," "all is well," "keep letting go," or "ohm."
  • Repeat the word: Repeat the word or saying as you slowly inhale and just release and settle into a deeper peace with each exhale. Repeat this process over and over again. This rhythm will relax and connect your mind, body, and soul.
  • Focus the mind: When you have distracting thoughts, imagine they are clouds blowing by, balloons floating off into the sky, or leaves floating down the flowing water of a creek. Do not attach to the thought, just release it and let it float away and focus back on your word or words.
The longer you can practice meditation each time the better. If your goal is 20 minutes, that's great. Many of the individuals I work with do not have that much time so I ask them to practice "mini-meditations" of three to ten minutes whenever they can through the day; in the car, at the office, in the bedroom, or in the carpool line.
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To start meditating, find a quiet environment that is free of distractions and make yourself as comfortable as possible. Sit in a chair or lie on the floor. Loosen or remove any tight-fitting clothes, such as belts or shoes. Reduce outside noise and turn off your cell phone. You may want to set an alarm so you will not be tempted to keep looking at your watch or a clock during meditation. Start by meditating for 15-20 minutes at each session.
  • Relax any muscles in your body that feel tight. Some people like to start with a progressive muscle relaxation exercise.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. As you exhale, really push the air out, using your diaphragm and making a soft "whooshing" sound.
  • Once you have achieved a deep and steady state of breathing (choosing a pace that is slow but comfortable), you may want to add a mantra, which is a calming word (such as "om" or "peace") that you say with each breath, either silently or out loud. Choose a word that has a positive meaning for you. The more you practice using a mantra, the more it will produce the conditioned response of relaxation and bring greater peace and calm. You might prefer to count silently to yourself as you inhale and exhale. Breathe easily and naturally.
  • Do not worry about whether you are meditating "right," or whether you will be successful in achieving a deep state of relaxation. Maintain a nonjudgmental and passive attitude, and permit the meditation and relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur (as they will), simply return your focus to your breath, counting, or repetition of your mantra. Imagine that each distracting thought is like a cloud that simply floats across the sky. The thought may come into your mind, but just like the breeze pushes a cloud across the sky, it also floats out on its own.
  • Continue meditating for the amount of time you have set. When you have finished, sit quietly for several minutes -- at first with your eyes closed, and then with your eyes open. Allow yourself to enjoy the deep feelings of relaxation in your body. Practice meditation on a daily basis or any other schedule you prefer.
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Edward Phillips
Physical Therapy
For one week, make a commitment to yourself to pare down your schedule so you can meditate for 10 to 20 minutes every day. Preferably choose the same time each day. After a week, see how this makes you feel.

To start, sit or lie down comfortably, closing your eyes if you like. Silently repeat a word, sound, prayer, or phrase, such as "one," "peace," "Om" or "breathing in calm." Let stray thoughts go, simply saying "Oh, well," and returning to silently repeating your focal sound. Now, slowly relax your muscles, moving your attention gradually from your face to your feet. Continue to silently repeat your sound and breathe easily and naturally for 10 to 20 minutes. After you finish, sit quietly for a minute or so with your eyes closed. Then open your eyes and wait another minute before getting up.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
If you want to give meditation a try, follow this 4-step meditation plan:
  • Set aside 12 minutes a day to meditate, and keep that time in your schedule sacred.
  • Get thee to a quiet place. No cells, no music, no Internet. Turn it all off so you can tune in.
  • Sit in a comfortable position with good posture. Breathe in through your nose slowly for 4 seconds and exhale slowly through an open mouth for as long as you can. Build to 8 seconds.
  • Repeat the breathing rhythm while you let your mind drift. Recognize thoughts as they appear and let them go. Say "Om," and you'll feel clearer and stronger.
Here's an easy meditation exercise: Set aside five minutes to sit in a quiet spot in your house at a time when you will not be interrupted. Get comfortably seated (on the floor or on a chair). Now, just be there, in that moment, observing your breath. As thoughts come to your mind (as they will), notice them and then just let them go. If you need help passing by those thoughts, here are two methods I have found helpful. First, just comment to yourself, "Everything passes," and then let the thought go. Or try my yoga teacher's approach: as the thoughts come, think to yourself, "Blah, blah, blah" (which is really the noise those thoughts make after all) and let them go.
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The steps of meditation are as follows:

  • Assume a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and body. Inhale deeply, expanding your stomach. As you exhale, imagine that you are blowing out a candle.
  • Then, concentrate mentally on a word, sound, phrase, or prayer and repeat it silently to yourself in rhythm with your breath.
  • If your thoughts or something from the outside world distracts you, take a deep breath and return to your mental focus. Instead of getting caught up in an internal dialogue, gently redirect your attention to your out-breath, focus word, or phrase. You will find that with time and practice, this redirection becomes easier.
  • Continue for 10–20 minutes. (Place a clock nearby so that when you feel your time is up, you can take a quick look and then choose to continue or stop.)
  • Take a few slow, deep breaths, stretch, and slowly open your eyes.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.