If you are new to this blog, here is where you can find a “map” for all the content, and how it can help you in your journey.
I write about three things:
- Meditation. My approach is non-sectarian, pragmatic, and open. Whether you are interested in meditation simply to improve your physical and mental health, for personal development, or for spiritual transcendence, these posts will speak to you.
- Personal growth. A non-BS, down to earth approach to personal development. It is not really about motivational self-help stuff, but practical psychological tools to hack your mind. I share insights on how to deal with challenging emotions, develop inner qualities, and build a foundation for a more fulfilling life. What I write is inspired both by learnings from wisdom traditions and modern psychology, as well as personal experiments and observation.
- Spirituality. My approach to spirituality is also non-sectarian and pragmatic. I’m not trying to make you believe anything nor convert you to a specific religion. I’ve been exposed to several teachings and practices, and my posts on this topic represent my effort to put it all together in a way that people from different backgrounds and levels of interest can relate to. Sometimes these posts are more “basic” and introductory, at others are more hardcore, for people focused on enlightenment.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise of regulating attention. It is practiced either by focusing attention on a single object, internal or external (focused attention meditation) or by paying attention to whatever is predominant in your experience in the present moment, without allowing the attention to get stuck on any particular thing (open monitoring meditation).
Meditation is an individual practice, although it is often done in groups. The practitioner usually closes his eyes and keeps his body still during practice, in a seated position, for a set amount of time. But there are also ways to do walking meditation.
The word “meditate” actually means to think deeply about something. However, when eastern contemplative practices were “imported” to Western culture, this is the term that was used to define them, for lack of a better word. Nowadays meditation has more the meaning of this exercise of focusing attention than to reflect deeply.
Besides focus of attention, meditation also involves mental calmness and introspection (“looking within”). Meditation is, thus, somewhat different than other personal development or spiritual exercises, such as:
- affirmation, self-hypnosis, or guided visualization – where the objective is more to imprint a specific message on the mind
- relaxation – where the goal is simply to release tensions in the body
- prayer – where there is a flow of thinking and feeling, directed towards God
- contemplation – where thought processes is actively engaged in order to deepen the understanding of a subject or concept.
- trance dancing – where the main goal is usually to produce visions or an altered state of consciousness
- breathing exercises like pranayama and (most types of) qigong – where the focus is on producing a certain pattern of breathing and purify the body.
All these practices are also good and helpful, but they are different than meditation (althou some meditation techniques may make use of some of these elements). I’m just drawing some differences, here, so that we can get a clear idea of what meditation is and what it is not.
Why should you meditate?
There are dozens of scientifically proven benefits of meditation. Studies confirm the experience of millions of practitioners: meditation will keep you healthy, help prevent multiple diseases, make you emotionally well, and improve your performance in basically any task, physical or mental. Some benefits have found to come as soon as with 8 weeks of daily practice; other benefits take longer to mature, and will depend on your intensity of practice.
Meditation is different things to different people. However, it is usually one of these three things that drive people to practice:
- Specific benefit: improving your health, wellness, performance, focus, memory, creativity, self-control, etc.
- Growth: personal growth, emotional healing, therapy
- Spirituality: connecting with God, transcending the ego, finding peace, etc.
Whatever drives you to meditate, that is good. You will get the benefits you seek, in the proportion of your consistency and commitment to building this habit. But the wider you cast your net, the more fish you will get — so I would encourage you to practice not only for one particular reason, but for the sake of the practice itself.
Your motivation may also evolve by time, as the practice starts to unfold in your life.
How to meditate?
There are dozens of meditation techniques, so it can take some time until you find the one that works best for you. I suggest you have a look in that link and see which one you are attracted to. You can also check my guide of walking meditation for more “dynamic” practices.
Traditionally, meditation was was done unguided and unassisted; however, nowadays many people find it easier to start with a guided meditation practice. For that, you may try different meditation apps, or devices such as the Muse.
If you are confused as to what style to practice, my recommendation is for you to try mindfulness or vipassana. Or, if you struggle with feelings of self-loathing, negative self-talk, and worthlessness, than loving-kindness meditation will be ideal. Other good techniques to start are mantra meditation or chakra meditation.
- Posture: you can meditate seated on a cushion or on a chair. The essential thing about posture is that the spine be absolutely erect, from the lower back to the neck, and not leaning on anything. The rest is less important. [Read here for full info.]
- Time: it can be whatever suits your schedule better. But meditating first thing in the morning is highly recommended, so you make sure it gets done, and the impact on your day is stronger.
- Place: all you need is a place where you will not be interrupted. Ideally, this place would be quiet, clean and tidy, in order to greater a better influence on the mind.
- Length: you can start with as little as 5minutes, and increase 1 or 2 minutes per week, until you arrive 20min sessions and beyond.
- Your body should not be exhausted. So it’s not a good idea to practice right after exercise.
- Your mind should be awake. So it’s not good to do it when you are sleepy or tired.
- Your belly should not be full. Give it 30~40 minutes after light meals, and 2~3 hours after heavy meals.
- Put your phone on airplane mode or sleep mode, during your practice, so you are not interrupted.
- Do a minute or two of breathing exercises before meditation, if you know any. This will make it much easier to relax and calm the mind.
- If you are meditating at home, wear clothes that are comfortable and loose. Remove accessories.
Once you choose your technique, the next step is to work on building the meditation habit (section below), and having a better understanding of the process of meditation.
How to build the meditation habit?
Meditation needs to be practice daily, if you want to really benefit from it. However, building a meditation habit, especially if your motivation for the practice is not so strong yet, can be challenging. This process can be greatly facilitated by following this seven steps system:
- Discover your true values
- Link meditation to your values (how will it help them?)
- Commit to a time, place and practice
- Setup a trigger and a reward
- Be accountable to others or to yourself (with a journal)
- Have the right attitude (no expectations + a “never-zero” approach)
- Hang out with meditators, online or offline (optional)
To learn how to follow these steps by yourself, and how to deal with the obstacles that normally come up, check out my Meditation for Beginners post.
Or have a look at these guidelines for choosing a meditation teacher.
If you want to follow a online step-by-step program that will guide you to build the meditation habit and choose the best practice for you, check out my meditation course.
Myths, Tips, and Questions
Common myths and misconceptions about meditation include: “it’s for spiritual people”, “take years to get any benefit from it”, “it’s a selfish activity”, “meditation is escapism”, “meditation is just relaxation”, “meditation is like self-hypnosis”, “meditation is effortless”, “I can’t meditate because my mind is restless”, “meditation is boring”, “I need to sit with folded legs to meditate”, “meditation is about feeling good”, “it’s all about being present”. If you have any of these ideas, have a look at our post 34 Misconceptions and Myths about Meditation.
If you have questions about meditation, such as:
- When and where to practice?
- Should my eyes be opened or closed?
- Which posture should I take?
- What to do when my body itches, or nose runs, or I get an anxious feeling in my stomach?
- How to keep my practice when motivation swings?
- What is the difference between meditation and other similar practices?
- What to do with my insights?
- How to deal with strong emotions in meditation?
Then check out the post of 45 Tips & Answers About Meditation.
Deepening Your Meditation
Apart from “How to get started?” and “Which technique should I do?”, the most common question I get is “How to improve my practice?”.
Improving your practice involves usually three things: (1) making sure you are having the optimal attitude to your practice, and are not falling into any of these 9 meditation mistakes; (2) understanding exactly what is the process of meditation; (3) integrating 7 key elements in your meditation routine (summaried below).
By integrating these 7 elements in your routine, your meditation can be deeper, more enjoyable and more transformative. Here they are:
- Before meditation
- Relax your body and breath, to calm down and center yourself;
- Gladden the mind with gratitude or other positive feelings;
- Have strong intention in your mind
- During meditation
- Don’t feel bad about getting distracted
- Find delight in the moments of concentration
- After meditation
- Move out of meditation gently
- Take notes in your journal
Finally, experimenting with different meditation techniques can also help you deepen your practice. Here are some notes from 57 meditation experiments I did in 2015.
Personal Growth & Happiness
Do you want to learn how to manage and overcome negative emotions, when they arise? This short article shares two spiritual exercises to help you with that.
Do you want to break some bad habits in your life? Check out this article.
Is fear of failure taking the best of you? Theses quotes may empower you.
One of the attitudes that stem from a meditation practice is the ability to live in the present moment, rather than on the chatter of our minds about the past and the future. It is also an essential part of the “daily life practice” of every meditator. In this article I share my training, in this respect, in a Zen Monastery.
Meditation can be said to be the foundation for a truly fulfilling life; but there are many other things that count as well. In this massive article I summarize the life lessons I took from meditation and from extensive research: 22 Life-Changing Secrets of Personal Fulfillment.
Finally, do you need motivation and inspiration to start or deepen your practice? This collection of 200 Meditation Quotes will help you. Here are a few:
What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is the creation of our mind. – Buddha
Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment. – Alan Watts
Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end. – J. Krishnamurti
Meditation is offering your genuine presence to yourself in every moment. – Thich Nhat Hanh
These are my three main articles on spirituality. They are quite broad; regardless of your path of approach, you’ll likely find them helpful.
If you do, please leave a comment sharing your thoughts. I’m always eager to learn from my readers.
(1) What is Spirituality – a thorough introduction to several spiritual paths, disciplines, and beliefs.
(2) Mastering the Gunas – how to understand and work with the three gunas (three basic characteristics or attributes that exist in all things, including your body and mind.).
(3) Oneness – this powerful principle is the key to world change and to living a deeper life.
Check out also my list of recommended spiritual books.
Courses & Products
These are two online courses that I teach:
- Master Your Mind: An In-depth 5-Week Meditation Course
- Unblocking Your Life: Overcoming Fear of Failure (12-week video course)
- Breath of Life: A 20-day Program on Yogic Breathing (pranayama)
They are both self-paced. The meditation one is always open for enrollment, while the one on overcoming fear opens once or twice a year (you need to join the waiting list).
And these are products related to meditation and personal growth that I use (or have used) and personally recommend:
- MeaningToPause bracelet, for developing habits, self-awareness, and integrating mindfulness in daily life. More info here).
- Pavlok bracelet, for breaking bad habits. See here for how to use it.
- Muse Headband for getting started with meditation, better understanding what you are doing, or “measuring” your progress.
- Recommended spiritual books.