Psychology and Relationships

'Do I have to sit still?': 6 questions about meditation, answered by an expert who has been practicing for 15 years

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Meditation is often cited as one of the most effective practices for improving just about everything. It can help reduce anxiety and depression, increase attention span, and make us happier, according to a handful of studies. 

It's one of the more accessible practices endorsed by hyper-successful stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Oprah.

It's also a practice that can be hard to stick to. For one, it's difficult to know if you're doing it right — sitting in silence a few minutes a day doesn't usually net immediate benefits.

You might also have trouble pinpointing exactly how it's affecting your everyday work or personal life.

Here are six question about meditation, answered by a meditation expert, that can offer some clarity.

How do I know I'm doing it right? 

When you first begin meditating, it might feel like you're doing, well, nothing.

Jade Weston, a senior meditation producer at Ten Percent Happier who has been meditating for 15 years, offers up three guiding questions you can ask yourself while practicing:

  1. Where am I placing my attention? Take note of where your mind wanders and try to refocus it on your breath. 
  2. How am I feeling right now? Think about what mood you're in. Don't try to change it, just take a mental note of how you're feeling.
  3. What is my intention? Remind yourself why you wanted to pursue meditation. It can give you a little more motivation to stick to it. 

Answering these questions can help you feel more present in the moment. 

What does it mean to be mindful? 

Being mindful means you're aware of what's happening internally and externally, Weston says: "You're aware of what's going on in your body. You're aware if you have an emotional reaction to something. You're aware of the thoughts going through your mind."

Do I have to be sitting down? 

No. In fact, walking meditation is a common form of practice in Buddhism called "kinhin." And it's just as "valid and helpful" as sitting while meditating, Weston says. 

You can also meditate during everyday tasks.

"You could bring mindfulness to a simple activity like brushing your teeth or folding your clothes," Weston says. "It will still have a measurable effect on building that muscle of mindfulness." 

You could bring mindfulness to a simple activity like brushing your teeth or folding your clothes.
Jade Weston
Senior Meditation Producer at Ten Percent Happier

Can I play music while meditating? 

You can, Weston says, but you might want to be mindful of why you want to play music. 

"Is the experience of just sitting with whatever sounds are naturally occurring uncomfortable?," she says. "Is it too boring to sit without music? Are we craving a pleasant distraction?" 

Take time to think about what intent is fueling your desire to play music, but it's not definitively good or bad.

What baby steps can I take toward making meditation part of my daily life? 

You don't need to meditate 20 minutes every morning to see results. You don't need to meditate even five minutes a day, Weston says. 

"Small moments of mindfulness throughout the day like brushing your teeth or doing one or two minutes of guided meditation will make a difference," Weston says. 

Most beginners who start small end up increasing the amount of time they meditate per day, Weston says: "It's really natural for people to want to do more."

What effects will I see on my life outside meditation? 

Over time you'll develop the ability to "respond not react," Weston says. 

"When we don't have the skill of mindfulness we are more likely to have knee-jerk reactions when things come up that are challenging," Weston says. 

The practice of meditation is the practice of identifying how you feel without letting it totally control how you react.

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