In August of this year, meditation had its official coming out moment—on late night television of all places. In front of an audience of millions, Jimmy Fallon asked Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of the meditation app Headspace and a former Buddhist monk, to guide the audience and TV viewers through a two-minute meditation.
Jimmy Fallon had his meditation game face on, not once sneaking a peek, as Puddicombe advised people to sit comfortably with eyes closed. He warned against the classic rookie mistake of trying “to stop your thoughts.” Instead, Puddicombe, says, “just allow your thoughts to come and go.”
Experiencing a guided meditation lesson on late night struck me as slightly surreal. I had learned about meditation almost thirty years ago when I had embarked on a spiritual pilgrimage to India. Now meditation had become so ubiquitous there is not just an app for that—there are dozens.
And we are currently in the midst of a mindfulness revolution, with meditation touted as way to boost brain power, reduce stress, improve immunity and even help with weight loss. It has become demystified to the point you can do it anywhere, anytime, even while on TV or watching TV.
So if you haven’t tried meditation but feel ready to dip your toes in, here’s your six basic questions, answered.
Who is meditation good for?
Meditation is not just for bliss bunnies on yoga mats, new age mavens, and old school Buddhists. Meditation is for anyone who struggles with stress, mental chatter, negative self-talk, and a brain that seems to toggle mainly between two modes, fast forward and rewind. Meditation is for you even if you think too much, have no time, can’t sit still, and believe it’s not for you. Meditation is especially for people who think they are too busy to slow down and meditate.
Why meditate rather just do something relaxing?
There’s a difference between getting a massage or zoning out and consciously becoming intimate with your mind. Meditating is like rebooting your brain. You consciously unhook from the tornado of thoughts swirling around inside. You find your neutral, empowered place that’s not linked to circumstance or story. It’s a way to unhook the tentacles of the thought patterns we constantly reinforce, to pierce through the nonsense we tell ourselves all the time. It’s a clarity move. It lets you get beneath the mind, not simply around it. Meditation provides a rare glimpse that lets us notice the mind itself, irrespective of its content.
What is meditation?
Meditating is like a controlled experiment in being present through reducing most of the active variables in everyday experience. It’s a rarified training ground to prepare us for the broader experience of being in the moment when there are lots of variables coming at us. It’s practice for finding a way to swim gracefully in the current of the estimated 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts we experience each day. It teaches us to how to find the still point in the commotion, to chart the path of least resistance and most equanimity. It shows us there is a choice in how to respond to the barrage of thoughts, to choose between getting pulled under or keeping our head above water, so to speak.
When is the best time to meditate?
Anytime that works for you, but morning seems to work best. When we first wake up our brains are in the theta state, meaning our brains are most receptive and fresh. There’s also the advantage of having gotten it done and out of the way. Plus, you’ve set a centered and calm tone for the day.
Where should I meditate?
You don’t need a special place or even a designated cushion. You can meditate anywhere, even in your car (but not while you are driving). You can meditate in the bath, on your bed, in nature, or at the mall. While beautiful landscapes or views may seem more conducive to meditating, once you close your eyes your location doesn’t matter much.
How and how long?
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe. As Puddicombe says, whatever you do, don’t try to stop your thoughts, just allow them to come and go. Enjoy the feeling of nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to check. Feel the contact of your body in space. Notice how the body is breathing, the rising, falling sensation of breath moving through you. You don’t have to sit for long—even two minutes is enough to change your headspace.
You can start with a few minutes and gradually build up. Keep your expectations low. Allow it give you some perspective on your mind—that’s its main gift. Even if your mind is busy during meditation, you will slowly realize you don’t have to pay attention to it. Your mind does its own thing, and you get to realize you are not your thoughts. What a huge relief!