Below are the most common questions about Meditation I have heard over the years from my students, clients and retreat participants.  These are my own perspectives as a practitioner of Meditation for the past 22 years and a teacher of Yoga & Meditation for the past 16 years.  As in all things you hear from others, ponder them to uncover your own truth.  Hopefully what I share here will spark curiosity and a desire to engage in one of the most healing practices I know.

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Meditation Defined

Meditation Is…

1. What is Meditation? There are many kinds of Meditation practiced in an infinite amount of ways all around the world.  Meditation can be done seated, standing, lying down, walking, dancing, eyes open, eyes closed, chanting, with music or in silence, for anything length of time, alone or with others, with ritual or spontaneously, anywhere inside or outside, for religious or spiritual purposes or purely for health reasons.  What they all have in common is the cultivation of mindful awareness and expanded consciousness.

2. Why Do People Meditate? People come to meditation for a wide variety of reasons: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.  Some mediate to reduce physical tension and stress related disorders.  Some meditate to calm a tumultuous mind that causes anxiety, depression and unnecessary suffering.  Some embark on a mediation practice to learn more about how their mind works, and see how it impacts their lives.  And others develop an ongoing meditation practice in order to live an awake and fully engaged life.  And of course, there are some that meditate because their doctor recommended it or partner begged them to do it. All paths lead to the same destination.

3. What is the Origin of Meditation? In my humble opinion, the moment modern mankind developed self-awareness, the quest for meaning and awareness of our thinking, we began to meditate in the form of contemplation, or focused attention.  In fact, scholars have proposed that this practice of focused attention, an element of many forms of meditation, may have contributed to the final phase of our evolution.   This could have occurred while we still lived in caves, looked at the stars in the night sky and began to ponder the meaning of life, about 200,000 years ago.  (An interesting tidbit:  We modern humans are called HomoSapien which means “Thinking Man”.)  It was later that we realized we made ourselves completely miserable with our evolved ability to think.  Meditation in the form of observation then arose from humanity’s need to understand the mind, to quiet mind, and to grow in self-awareness and consciousness.  Some of the earliest written records of meditation, called dhyāna in Sanskrit, come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism around 1500 BCE, over 3,500 years ago. The Vedas discuss the meditative traditions of ancient India. Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, or 2,600 years ago, other forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India.  More recently, about 900 years ago, the word “meditate”, stemming from the Latin word meditatum meaning “to ponder”, was introduced as a translation to the eastern practices of dhyāna.

4. Is Meditation Spiritual? It depends.  Think of Meditation as a practice in witnessing, observing and listening.  Some Meditate to simply listen to the body and breath for purely health reasons.  Some listen to the mind so they can understand the thoughts that cause harm.  For some, Meditation is indeed a spiritual practice of listening to the Inner or Outer Divine.

Meditation is NOT…

5. What is NOT Meditation? Meditation is NOT sitting in bliss, wresting with your mind or having no mind at all.  Meditation is also NOT a Religion, Prayer or Contemplation, although there are overlaps between them.  Meditation is NOT Yoga, although Yoga assists in Meditation.  Also, there is a twig on the many branches of Yoga that is the practice of Meditation.

6. Is Meditation a Religion?   Meditation is simply a practice of self-knowing in the most basic of basic terms.  Meditation is for spiritual seekers and nonspiritual, and can be a part of any religious practice.

7. So I don’t have to become a Buddhist to practice Meditation? That is correct.  Meditation is to Buddhism, as Yoga is to Hinduism, as Prayer is to Christianity.  No conversion necessary to meditate (or do yoga, or pray).

8. So I can be a Christian and still Meditate?   Most scholars indicate that the word Contemplation is used by Christians as a substitute for the word Meditation.  This could be attributed to the concern that a Christian cannot “Meditate”, when in actuality there is a long history of Meditation practices of all kinds, some of which are still practiced today. (see questions about Malas, Chanting, Solitude).

9. Is Meditation Prayer? A very simple way to think of it is Prayer is talking to God, Meditation is listening.

10. Is Meditation Contemplation? Yes and No.  The confusion is in the semantics, the current formal meaning of the words. Contemplation most commonly refers to a purposeful thinking process, an exploration with thought, a mulling over, a pondering, an intentional focused turning of the mind.  Meditation is not a “turning of the mind” but the observing of the mind while witnessing concurrent emotions and physical sensations without attaching analysis to them.

11. Is Meditation Yoga?   Various Yoga practices assist in a meditation practice. Here’s a super quickie primer on What is Yoga? for you.  (Ok.  Deep breath.  And Go!) 

  • Yoga is an ancient science of many philosophies and practices to cultivate the state of Yoga.
  • Yoga is the Sanskrit word for “union”, to “join”, “connect”, “to yoke”.
  • BTW, Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world originating in the Indian Subcontinent.
  • Yoga is Union in a variety of ways: Union of mind with body.  Union of body with breath.  Union of self with other life, with nature, with other people, with community.  Union of self with Divine.  Think of union as “a returning home”, as Yoga cultivates a return to our natural state.

(Pretty darn simplistic, but hopefully you get the gist). 

How Meditation relates to Yoga is that there are many practices in yoga that grow the ability to meditate. For example, yoga poses are said to be originally created to aid in a meditation practice.  In fact, the Sanskrit word for a pose which is practiced in Hatha (physical) yoga is Asana, which literally translates “comfortable seat”. 

For a more in depth exploration of yoga, see 54 Useful FAQ’s about Yoga.  

Results & Benefits of Meditation

12. Will Meditating lead to Bliss? Most people think of Bliss as a sensual experience of divine pleasure, a state of supreme happiness or pure peace.  Unfortunately, while a meditation practice can sometimes be calming and soothing, and even induce a temporary state contentment, most of the times a meditation practice…. let’s be completely honest… is somewhat messy.  A meditation practice is just that… a practice in how to sit with yourself, as you are, in the moment, in all your wild, untamable, uncontrollable thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.  

13. No Blissing out, then.  Darn.  Then what’s this I hear about reaching Nirvana? 

Ahhhhhh…. Neeeervaaannnaaaa.  Even that word elicits some peace because of how it’s been used in pop culture.  Nirvana is a state of no suffering, which would be wonderful, of course.  AND it is also a state of no desire, no identity, a death of the ego, a releasing of the “I” in order to merge with divine.  While committed practitioners might experience a temporary state of no-thinking, bliss and remembering of their divine essence, making that your end goal in meditating is a sure fire way to sabotage your practice.  

14. Will Meditating help me control my mind? Oh dear.  I hear that and I have images of someone trying to ride a tiger, herd kittens, or try to stop waves from rolling onto a beach from sheer power of the mind.  There is no controlling the mind, only learning how allow the thoughts to move through like clouds in a sky, or turn down the dial to soften its negative impact.  Our mind is moving a million miles an hour, filled with a whole stadium of voices at any given time.  So the answer is No.  More on that below.  

15. Will Meditating make me a Buddha? Those are some huge shoes to fill, my friend.  And do you really want to?    Buddhists believe that Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha (“The Enlightened One”) when he released the ego completely and saw through the illusions of the mind.  If you are seriously pondering that question for yourself, in your question lies your answer.  (There’s a quasi koan for you to noodle on.  Koan:  a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment). 

16. What are the physical benefits of Meditation? There are many benefits, more than I can name here.  There is a host of legitimate medical research to back up all these claims below.  Just a few of the benefits of Meditation are:

  • Mitigates the effects of the “fight or flight” stress response in the body by decreasing the production of damaging stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
  • Lowers Blood Pressure and Cholesterol.
  • Increases the level of oxygen in the body.
  • Increases the production of DHEA, the anti-aging hormone.
  • Mitigates the experience of pain, and actually reduces pain.
  • Improves sleep.
  • Improves brain functioning.
  • Increases gamma waves, which lead to enhancement of cognition, informational processing, attention and memory.
  • Reduces alcohol and drug use.
  • Aids in managing ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • Aids in the management of bowel disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
  • Aids in the management of asthma.
  • Aids in the management of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and other autoimmune diseases and inflammation based disorders.
  • Aids in the management of Dementia.
  • Decreases migraine intensity and frequency.
  • Increases immunity.

17. What are the emotional and mental benefits of Meditation?

  • Balances mood, reduces anxiety and lifts depression.
  • Improves brain functioning.
  • Decreases worrying.
  • Reduces emotional eating.
  • Clears the mind of cluttering thoughts, leading to clarity in thinking.
  • Improves concentration.
  • Increases creativity.
  • Improves abilities in sports, performances, tests and other competitions. i. Increases acceptance.
  • Increases empathy, kindness and compassion.
  • Increases self-esteem as well as self-confidence.
  • Increase the ability to handle stress.
  • Increases self-awareness.
  • Reduces the experience of social isolation and loneliness.
  • Increases positivity in relationships.

A fellow meditation teacher Giovanni Dienstmann of Live & Dare pulled together a fantastic amount of legitimate research.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, if you need the science behind the art of meditation, I invite you to check out his resource here.   

Types of Meditation

18.  What is Somatic Meditation? Somatic Meditation (The form that I teach) is a form of meditation that uses the Soma, the body, as the fundamental terrain for meditation.  Most forms of meditation are from the top down using the analytical mind or thinking brain as the primary place to practice.  They are also practiced from the outside in, promoting a belief that we have to uncover layers of not-self in order to reach the inner true essence of wakefulness. 

Somatic Meditation takes the opposite approach, working from the bottom up and inside out.  Through somatic practices exploring intuition, feelings, and overall felt sense of the body, including physical and energetic, we enter directly into the already present inherent wakefulness within the body.  The body becomes the ground, the portal and the path to our meditation practice, and thus, to our awakening.   When we awaken to the body, we naturally awaken to all of life around us, and Earth itself is remembered as our home, our mother, and our companion of this journey of life.  With Somatic Meditation as our primary meditation practice, life becomes richer, more authentic, and a more joyful experience, much like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when the scene changed from black and white to vibrant color.  

19.  What is Transcendental Meditation? Transcendental Meditation is a technique to detach from anxiety and promote self-realization using meditation, silent mantras (chants) and other yogic practices created by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi during the 1950s.  This form of meditation was popularized by the Beatles from their time in India with Maharishi. 

20. What is Vipassana Meditation? (What is Insight Meditation?) Vipassana is the Pali word (Pali is the language spoken by the Buddha) for “To see things as they really are”.  Also called “Insight Meditation”, Vipassana is the practice of observing the breath, physical sensations of the body and the interrelated movement of the thoughts and emotions that arise to gain insight into reality.  

21. What is Yoga Meditation? Imagine the science of Yoga as a 5,000+ year old tree deep roots and many branches.  Each branch represents a major set of practices and philosophies all with the same purpose of Yoga, or Union.  Meditation is a branch of the Yoga tree called Raja Yoga, the yoga of both meditation (dayana, meaning “awareness of existence”) and of concentration (dharana meaning “holding of the mind”). 

Meditation as a practice additionally shows up as leaves that bring nourishment to the other branches, just as those other branches work together with the branch of Meditation to bring wholeness to the Yoga Tree.  To learn more about Yoga Meditation see 54 Useful FAQ’s about Yoga.  

22. What is Guided Meditation? I know this term can get a serious meditation practitioner’s goat.  A true guided meditation is guiding someone in their meditation practice.  However, the term has now been popularized to mean a guided hypnotherapy session, also called guided self-hypnosis, guided visualization, guided imagery and facilitated journeying.    For our free guided meditation videos & visualizations go here.  

23. What is Mindfulness Meditation? (What is a Mindfulness Practice?) Mindfulness Meditation is a western, non-sectarian, research-based form of meditation derived from Buddhist Vipassana Meditation. The goal is to develop the ability to observe with compassion, patience and acceptance, and without judgement, the inner and outer world.  

24. What is Walking Meditation? Walking in a form of Mindfulness Meditation using slow, deliberate movements as the focus of awareness.  

25. What is Zazen Meditation? Zazen is the formalized practice of sitting meditation in Zen Buddhism which involves sitting with eyes open, in correct posture, and focusing on the breath. As Zen master, Taisen Deshimaru said: “By simply sitting, without looking for any goal or any personal benefit, if your posture, your breathing and your state of mind are in harmony, you will understand the true Zen; you will understand the Buddha’s nature”.

26. What is Taoist (Daoist) Meditation? Daoist meditation refers to the traditional meditative practices associated with the Chinese philosophy and religion of Daoism, including concentration, mindfulness, contemplation, and visualization.  Traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts have adapted certain Daoist meditative techniques.  

27. What is Compassion Meditation? Compassion Meditation is what is most often called the Buddhist “Loving Kindness Meditation”.  The purpose of the meditation is to grow the ability to have compassion for all living beings, including yourself, loved ones, esteemed ones, as well as those that have caused you suffering of pain of any kind, and animals. 

28. What is Ho’oponopono? Ho’oponopono from the Hawaiian words ho’o meaning “make it happen” and pono meaning “right”, is a form of ancient Hawaiian heart healing practice of reconciliation and forgiveness formalized by Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len.  This is a paradoxical and powerful practice that grows compassion and love towards another by fostering personal responsibility and the releasing of blame.   

29. What is Tonglin (Tonglen) Meditation? Tonglin, Tibetan for “giving and taking” or “sending and receiving”, refers to a compassion meditation practice found in Tibetan Buddhism.  This is another paradoxical and powerful practice that reduces personal suffering by breathing in your suffering, and the suffering of others close by and in the rest of the world who are experiencing the same.   

30. What is Moving Meditation? Moving meditation is where the focus is on the movement and breath, such as in Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi, Walking Meditation, Walking a Labyrinth, Qigong, or Sacred Dance.  Less formalized movements, where the mind is allowed to rest from thinking while the focus is on the movement, are considered by some to be a form of meditation as well.  

31. What is Chakra Meditation? Chakra is the Sanskrit word for “wheel”.  Chakras are the spinning pools of collected energy in the body, similar to the collected running rivers of energy, call the nadis or meridians.  There are thousands of chakras in the body.  A Chakra Meditation is a focused meditation practice for the purpose of healing, cleansing, opening and strengthening one or more of the 7 major chakras.  The practice includes a visualization of the chakra, and is sometimes accompanied by sacred sounds (mantras), gestures (mudras), postures (asanas) and affirmations. 

32. What is Mantra Meditation? Mantra is a Sanskrit word, Ma = “Mind” and Tra = “Transport”. A beautiful way to think of a Mantra is that it is a seed of sound, planted by repetition, with an intention that blooms into a specific result.  A Mantra can be an ancient sound with a particular meaning and desired result, such as Om, representing the sound of the universe, and the desired result being unification with the Divine. 

A Mantra can be a meaningless word with the purpose of simply transporting one into a state of meditation. 

A Mantra can also be a word or phrase with a specific meaning and desired result, such as chanting “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti…” in Sanskrit or it’s English translation “Peace, Peace, Peace”…to cultivate a state of equanimity, compassion, stillness or forgiveness. 

Some use affirmations in their meditation practice as a form of Mantra, such as “I am Love” or “I am Powerful”.  

33. What is a Mala Meditation? A Mala, Sanskrit for “garland”, is a string of 108 beads used in meditation, most often along with mantras.  Malas first arose in ancient Hindu and Buddhist rituals over 3,000 years ago, and have been popularized more recently here in the west by the current yoga culture.   Related prayer beads are the 99 beaded Sibha (meaning “to exalt”) used by Muslims and the Catholic Rosary that arose in the Middle ages (about 1,500 years ago).   For our handmade malas, go here.  

34. What is Mandala Meditation? A Mandala, Sanskrit for “circle”, is a geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism.  Jung later popularized the use of mandalas in dream interpretation and as healing spontaneous drawings representing the wholeness of a person.  As Jung said, “A mandala is a psychological expression of the totality of the Self”.  In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to trance induction and meditation.

35. What is Candle Meditation? A method of meditation that involves staring at a candle flame to develop focus.  Focus declutters and steadies the mind, which is the necessary precursor to Awareness.  In Yoga, this focusing practice on a candle or other small object is called Trataka (Sanskrit, meaning “to look” or “to gaze”).  

What is beautiful about this meditation is that it is also a simple practice to open intuition and stimulate creativity.  Candle Meditation transforms the mind from a closed box of limited space to an open, expansive, spacious sky that is paradoxically empty yet filled at the same time with infinite possibilities.  Records indicate Egyptian Priestesses used Candle Meditation in preparation to receive Divine communications.  I picture humans throughout history gazing at the fire, candlelight or the moon, and in a flash, receiving inspiration for some creative endeavor or scientific discovery.

36. What is the Best Meditation? This is like asking “What is the best Yoga?” or “What is the best Spiritual Practice?” or “What is the best path in the woods?”  The answer is “The one that gets you to where you want to go”. 


37. Where is the best place to Meditate? It depends upon the type of meditation.  Meditation can be done anywhere, indoors or out in nature, in formal meditation centers or in your own home, and in private or in public places, in noisy or quite spaces.

While quietness provides more of a blank canvas for meditation, other more noisy places often provide opportunities for developing awareness about how our mind responds to intrusion and deals with irritations.  My first formal practice in meditation was at the San Francisco Zen Center back in the 1993.  The practice area was on the ground floor, and my meditation spot just happened to be facing a window to the busy Page Street where I could hear a prostitute negotiating rates with her customer.  I learned a great deal about how my mind works in that sitting.

38. How long should I Meditate? That is completely up to you. When first starting out in meditation, it helps to become adept at increasing amounts of time, such as 5 minutes, then 10, then 15, etc…  A longer sitting does not necessarily mean a better sitting.  But the more you meditate, the easier it becomes, so that hours, or for the more advanced, days of meditation can be as easy as 5 minutes.  Again, don’t rate your spirituality based upon how long you can mediate.  In fact, don’t rate your spirituality, or others’, at all.

39. How long does it take to establish a meditation practice? It takes however long it takes for you to make it a habit. The myth is that it takes 21 days.  More recent research shows that it takes anywhere from 18 days to 254 days, with an average of 66 days, all depending upon the person. 

40. What is the Best Posture for Meditation? It depends upon the form of meditation.  One can do meditation sitting in various ways, standing, lying down, walking or other forms of movement.  If sitting, the best posture is whatever helps you to sit with the spine straight, and without pain and physical suffering. 

I know some don’t agree with that belief, believing instead that one is supposed to meditate through the pain.  However, I believe our body is a sacred temple, and to treat it disrespectfully by ignoring its signals of pain due to a posture that needs shifting is not a spiritual practice I engage in nor endorse.  I myself have a twisted hip, a twisted left knee and bone spurs on my lumbar, all from when I almost broke my back as a child. 

At this later time in my life, when I sit at home I use a low to the ground wicker chair with a thin pad that allows me to have my back unsupported but straight, and to put my feet flat on the ground with my thighs 45 degree angle to my shins. 

When I sit at retreats, it is with a very high cushion and lots of supportive blankets and blocks. 

When I sit out in nature without a cushion, I cross one leg onto the ground and bend the other to point the knee straight up, placing the foot on the ground against of the foot of the crossed leg.  I shift legs ½ way through my meditation.  It’s a modification that works for me and my injury. 

One of my elderly teachers sits with both legs bent, feet flat on the ground, knees pointing straight up, spine straight, and arms relaxing on the knees with her hands in the chin mudra (thumb and pointer finger touching), the arms providing an anchor for the knees and support for the back.  It’s a modification that works for her and her injuries.

41. What is the best Breath for Meditation? Since there are many forms of meditation, there are many forms of breath that activate certain states in the body and mind. For example, in the Tibetan Buddhist Mahamudra beginning protocols, one of the forms of breathing used is to awaken the energy in the lower body, what we call in yoga the home of the Kundalini, is a long purposeful inhale and then exhale while drawing in the lower abdominals to the back of the spine. 

However, when my beginning meditators ask this question, my answer is this:  The best beginning breath for meditation is a very simple Noticing Breath.  All you do is observe the breath.  Simply pay attention to its pacing, depth and impact on your physical, energetic and emotional body.  This noticing without controlling the breath acts as a focusing tool, as well as an invitation for the body to soften to receive the breath, allowing it to go deeper, smoother, longer. 

42. Is meditation safe? 99.99% of the times, yes.  See below.

43. Are there times when I should not meditate? When I get this question I always direct the student back to their internal wisdom.  This question most often arises from several different concerns for students.  

Occasionally new students are either afraid of meditation taking them into a state they fear, such as a place of quiet when they are uncomfortable with silence, or a place of awareness of things they don’t want to see. 

There is nothing to fear in meditation when it is done with self-compassion, kindness and attention to the impact of the meditation.  Renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron has a beautiful article that addresses this particular concern of arising discomfort in meditation.  Meditation will indeed bring discomfort in the form of truthful insights about ourselves or unpleasant memories.  Usually the best course is to stay with what arises.  To stay, stay, and stay some more, as Chodron says.  There are exceptions, of course.  See below.

Sometimes those who have experienced a recent loss or trauma fear shining the light on grief or reactivating the trauma. This is a legitimate concern that takes sensitivity towards the self about what you need in the moment.  To sit and push through whatever arises is not the answer.  Speaking as a Psychotherapist that specialized in Grief for decades, the natural mechanism of our brain in times of loss is to produce a wash of chemicals that blunt us from full awareness of what has happened.  This is not a malfunction of the brain, but an intelligence that our brain developed over thousands of years so that we could survive in a world in which we are always losing something important to us.  Simply put, we aren’t ready to handle the pain of the loss.  This tenderness to suffering does not make us weak, but is an important part of our humanity.  Awareness meditation is the opposite of what is needed in these instances.  The blunting of our grief for a while in moving meditative activities such as yoga, hiking, and yes, even work, is appropriate up to the point the healthy blunting begins to get in the way of our healing from the grief.   

I occasionally get this question from students wanting to have a “successful” meditation practice. Feeding the question back to them is often all I have to do for them to uncover if they are rating their meditation sessions:  “When do you think You should not meditate?” 

44. What is Seiza? Seiza, meaning “correct sitting in Japanese”, is a form of upright kneeling used in meditation and in preparation for martial arts. It can be done with a Seiza wooden bench designed to eliminate strain on knees, ankles and feet, or by sitting directly on the calves with knees, shins and ankles on the ground.

45. What is Sukkhasana? Sukha is the Sankrit word for “ease” or “bliss”.  Sukkhasana, also called “the sweet pose” or “the easy pose”, is a common crossed legged pose used in meditation.  

46. What is a Zafu? A round thick meditation cushion.

47. What is Zabbuton? A flat padded mat upon which a Zafu sits.

48. What is a Zendo? A Zen meditation hall, practice space or dojo used for group seated meditation practice (Zazen).

49. What is a Sangha? A community of practitioners of a specific form of meditation or yoga.  Also called a Kula, an intentional community. 

Supportive Tools & Resources

50. What is the best Music for Meditation?  Most formal, organized group seated meditation is done without music.  However, humans have induced various meditative states by using repetitive rhythmic sounds such as drumming, rattling and vocal sounds found across every religion and spiritual tradition around the world.  These repetitive rhythmic sounds induce various brain wave states depending upon pacing of the beat.  

Just a few examples are:

Mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism

Chanting by Monks in Christianity

Cantillation in Judaism

– Islamic chanted prayer of Sufi Supplication or Dhikr

Chanting of Native Americans and other indigenous cultures around the world

Hawaiian Oli

Celtic Fuin

Yoiking by the Sami People of Finland. 

51. What about using Crystals?  If working with crystals is your thing, go for it.  Many cultures around the world and spiritual traditions, both ancient and modern, believe in the healing energy generated by these sacred gifts of mother earth.  There are many ways to work with crystals in meditation:

Currently, the resurgence of interest in working with Malas has intersected with the interest in crystal healing.  Many Malas, and their other religious counterparts of the Christian Rosary and Muslim Misbaha, are designed to activate certain results in the meditator, matching the intention with the super powers of the crystal.   

Crystal Bowls, similar to Tibetan Singing Bowls, which when struck emit a multilayer sound (primary note and harmonics), are not only pleasing to the human ear, but also are designed to emanate sounds that are said to resonate with various chakras.  Regardless of what your beliefs are about crystals and chakras, the use of bells, gongs, and bowls of all kinds have facilitated meditation in all the major religions for centuries.

And of course, the simplest way to work with crystals is to hold a crystal of choice.  I remind my students often that regardless of whether a crystal actually holds a specific healing power, intention and belief are the most powerful influencers of all ritual practices.

For our handcrafted malas, go here. 

52. What about using Essential Oils?  This is one of my favorite tools to use in meditation.  Essential oils have been used for centuries and in every major world religion to induce meditative states.  Way before the Abrahamic religions arose, ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, Romans and Sumerians valued essential oils above gold for their use in spiritual practices (ie:  Frankincense, Myrrh, Clove).  Buddhists and Hindus value a number of essential oils they consider sacred for ritual, ceremony and meditation (Sandalwood, Nargamotha, Pink or White Lotus).   The Jewish Torah and Christian Bible even provide “recipes” for anointing oils to be used in ceremony (ie:  Spikenard, Cassia, Cypress).  First People (Indigenous, Aboriginal)  cultures around the world have used, and still use, essential oils to prepare for ceremony and journeywork.  For example, some Native American tribes value 4 plants above all others for cleansing sacred space:  Tobacco, Cedar, White Sage and Sweetgrass.  Use anything that inspires you and takes you deeper into a meditative state.   

For our handcrafted essential oils, aromatherapy, smudging sprays and anointing oil blends, go here.

53. What is Smudging?  Smudging is an energetic or spiritual house cleaning of a person or space, using burning plants, resins, herbs and incense.  See “What about using Essential Oils?” for history of use.  

54. What is an Altar?  An altar is a designated space of remembrance, honoring, inspiration, intention or sacred ceremony.  A mantel over a fire place with framed pictures and shells is a simple form of an altar, a place that holds memories of loved ones and experiences.  Religions throughout history have used raised spaces dedicated for sacrifice and sacred ceremony.  Today, spiritual practitioners of all backgrounds build simple or elaborate spaces set aside to place images, poems, figurines or earth elements such as shells, stones or flowers that represent their goals and spiritual path.  

55. What Apps do you recommend to support a Meditation Practice?  The one I use on a daily basis for timing my meditations, as well as listening to excellent guided visualizations, is Insight Timer.   I have also heard very good things about a similar app called Headspace. 

56. What Books do you recommend regarding Meditation?  Oh boy.  I love answering this question.  There are so many fantastic books out there about secular and spiritual meditation.  Remember that the purpose of meditation, regardless of philosophical underpinnings, is to understand the mind.  And we humans have been trying to do that since we figured out we are thinkers.  So, if you are seeking secular understanding of how to work with the mind, it’s important to remember that all secular ideas have come from thousands of years of spiritual exploration and resulting philosophies:  the two worlds are inextricably intertwined.  If you are not religious and have no desire to be, please don’t hold back from reading some of the books that are written by Buddhists, Christians, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic or Sufi authors, for example.  All have nuggets of wisdom about how to live an awakened life through understanding the mind.   Here are just a few of my favorites that have influenced my meditation practice over the years, in the order I discovered them:

Everyday Zen: Love and Work by Charlotte J. Beck  (My very first book about meditation, and the beginning of this entire journey home to myself.  This book is a collection of Beck’s Dharma talks at the San Diego Zen Center where she was Director for a number of years.  She is best known for her integration of Zen and modern psychology).

Nothing Special by Charlotte J. Beck (How I learned the meditation does not have to be a religion nor difficult).

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind:  Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice by Shunryu Suzuki (A meditation classic from the founder of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia, Tassajara, as well as the San Francisco Zen Center).

Care of the Soul:  A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore (A soulfully written book by a Monk, providing simple instructions for growing in self-awareness).

Thoughts Without a Thinker:  Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein (For therapists and counselors out there, instructions on how to work with client’s thinking.  One of the most influential books on my therapeutic style).

Wherever You Go, There You Are:  Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn (An easy to read book about staying present with the self).

Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield  (Jack is one of the founders of Spirit Rock,  the insight meditation retreat center and community in Marin, CA).

Sufism:  The Transformation of the Heart by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee  (A beautiful mellifluous book about how to live life in the now).

How to Meditate:  A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by Pema Chödrön (Easy instructions on meditation from a beloved Tibetan Buddhist Nun).

You Are Here:  Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh and Melvin McLeod (Exactly what the title says it is.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a beloved Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, who has lived through war and suffering to become one of the greatest champions of compassion in our time).

Freedom from the Known by Jiddu Krishmanurti  (By one of the greatest philosophers of our time, this is a collection of his talks all about thought and perception).

The Places That Scare You:  A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön  (Pema is my meditation shero.  She has a clear, compassionate and humorous way of inviting people home to themselves).

Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake:  The Buddhist Path to Kindness by Sylvia Boorstein.  (Sylvia Boorstein, one of the founders of Spirit Rock Insight Meditation retreat center and community, offers insight on how an awareness practice inevitably leads to more compassion and kindness, towards ourselves and others).

The Power of Now:  A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle (Modern take on ancient philosophies of presence).

Loving What Is:  Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie (One of the most influential books on my own search to understand the workings of the mind.  Byron Katie awoke one day to pure insight about how the mind causes all suffering.  I recommend this to all my psychotherapy clients at the beginning of our work).

Radical Acceptance:  Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (The Buddha was one of the first “psychologists” to arise that had great influence on challenging others to look at their thinking as the cause of all suffering. This book addresses how radical self-acceptance is a necessary part of a growing awareness).

Untethered Soul:  The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer (I can’t recommend this book enough.  It’s a simple read that offers deep insight into more complex ideas about how our mind creates our reality).

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen:  Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo (One of my favorite poets and spiritual writers, Nepo is a metaphorical genius who describes how to live a life closer to what is real and alive.  He challenges us all look at how we perceive life, and to shift the filter to call in more vibrant living versus suffering).

Touching Enlightenment:  Finding Realization in the Body by Reginald Ray (Reggie teaches how to meditate, to experience the world and live it, through the body.  Yoga students will see a commonality in how to work with energy, prana, to awaken the body as a portal to insight and awareness.

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