Frequently asked questions by mindfulness and meditation students?
Mindfulness and meditation are by their nature highly personal experiences, specific questions about your own practice should, where possible, be put to your own teacher. These FAQs are given for general guidance only. The point of our FAQs is to deal with general issues about meditation for a wide audience. Although contemporary forms of mindfulness have been developed over the last forty years, mindfulness is also a component of many traditional methods of meditation. When we talk about mindfulness we are generally talking about contemporary forms of mindfulness. When we refer to meditation we typically include contemporary mindfulness within this definition unless the need for a distinction is made.
When consulting these answers take them as a starting point and as purely general information. Test them against your own experience and feel free to suggest changes or improvements. All the points featured here are based on actual questions raised by newcomers to meditation. If you can’t find what you need here visit the meditation resources page. If you’re looking for a meditation or mindfulness class in Kent visit our find a meditation class page. If you’re looking for a more scientific understanding you may like to visit the Science of Meditation and Mindfulness website.
1.1 What is meditation? – Meditation is a set of exercises or a process of training bringing some benefit to the mind, the mental function, and related biopsycho systems. There are a very wide range of meditation and mindfulness methods, simple explanations are inevitably limited.
1.2 Where does meditation come from? – Written records of meditation in the Vedic tradition exist from over 3,000 years ago, but meditation is almost certainly older than that.
1.3 Who can do it? – There isn’t one answer, different practices may be able to have different effects, the capacity and motivation of the meditator is also a factor. Meditation can be undertaken by almost anyone who is able to;
- focus the mind, on a particular internal concept or process (thoughts, constructs) or
- give sustained attention to an external object (statue, candle, picture, sound) or
- engage with a particular behavior or action (walk, chant, breathe) or
- any combination of the above or
- disengage with clinging of internal or external objects or
- integrate engagement and disengagement in a single practice
Some forms of meditation may not be suitable for everybody. An experienced meditation teacher or guide should be able to give you more advice. If you have any health concerns check with your healthcare professional before you meditate for the first time.
1.4 Are their different kinds of meditation? – There are many different approaches to meditation as well as different methods. For example meditation can be undertaken whilst: standing, walking, kneeling or sitting. People may choose to meditate in order to reach a spiritual goal or simply for improved health or well being. For more information visit our Meditation Methods page.
1.5 What are the benefits? – Ask someone who meditates. Aside any spiritual goals that may be achieved, meditation in general is seen as a way of reducing anxiety and stress, increasing calmness and improving concentration. Some results are achieved on a physiological level by reducing blood pressure and lowering the pulse and metabolic rates. In the long term people who meditate tend to find life a more enriching experience. For more details visit our benefit of meditation page. Anecdotally, sustained periods of meditation are associated with profound, personal developments, many of which have been given little attention by scientific inquiry.
1.6 What are the drawbacks? – For most people there are few drawbacks to undertaking simple, calming mindfulness or meditation, the net results are usually positive. A key recommendation is to use reliable teachers using established methods at first. If you experience any negative physical or psychological effects stop meditating and consult an experienced qualified teacher or your doctor
1.7 How do I meditate? – This depends entirely on what kind of meditation you wish to practice. Follow this link to our meditation methods page.
1.8 How will I know if it works? – There are different ways to evaluate your meditation: against the practice itself and the objective of the meditation (although in some cases the meditation practice can be the goal!). An improvement in calmness, concentration and focus are indications that the practice is bringing some benefit. New meditators have also reported better sleep experience, decreased anxiety and increased peace of mind. Traditionally meditators are expected to test the meditation teacher and the methods they use before they make a commitment, this is just as important today as it ever was!
2 When You Start
2.1 What kind of meditation is right for me? – This depends on your own goals, capacity and experience. It’s not uncommon to try different forms of meditation before you find the one that works best for you. Experienced meditators also move between practices once they have a good understanding of meditation and mindfulness more generally.
2.2 Do I need a teacher/guide? – It is possible to meditate alone using a book or DVD as an initial point of reference? However the experience is likely to be more beneficial if you have an experienced and reliable meditation teacher. Some advanced meditation techniques cannot be transmitted by a book. Meditating in a group or class may also be particularly beneficial.
2.3 How do I find a reliable meditation or mindfulness teacher? – The same way you would find a teacher for a yoga class, music class or anything else. Do a little research, personal recommendation is useful and when you start to meditate evaluate the teacher and the meditation experience. A certificate or academic qualification are not always an indicator of a reliable teacher. Personally I look for a teacher that has mastered the meditation or mindfulness technique I want to learn. In particular I expect them to have practiced the meditation before they teach it. It is acceptable to ask a teacher about their own practice, thousands of hours of meditation training is not uncommon in reliable teachers.
2.4 Should I expect to pay a teacher? – It really depends, most secular professional meditation and mindfulness teachers charge a fee. Some classes run by not for profit groups, charities or academic institution may also be free of charge. Some spiritual traditions may teach meditation free of charge, others may expect a donation or indicate that students will be charged, it really depends. Even where meditation or mindfulness training is freely given there may be costs involved to the teacher. Some spiritual teachers may not be able to accept money but might welcome an offering (tea or biscuits for example). It’s normally clear what the cost of a lesson is. Paying a teacher doesn’t ensure a beneficial outcome, nor does attending a class or group that is made freely available.
2.5 How long should I meditate for? – For most beginners 15 to 20 minutes of meditation three or four times a week should bring some benefit. For long term committed meditators it can build to something much more significant.
2.6 Where is the best place to meditate? – Many people find that meditating in the same place creates a good meditation habit. You should aim to meditate somewhere you feel safe, comfortable and where there are few distractions.
2.7 How do I sit? – When you first start meditating sit in a position that is comfortable, consider that you will be aiming to sit still for at least 15 minutes. It’s important to keep the back as straight as you reasonably can.
2.8 Can I listen to music? – This depends on the meditation you are undertaking and your own personal preference. We teach beginners to meditate without music but this is what we have found to be most useful, your experience might be different.
2.9 What about candles, incense, cushions and beads? – Any external aid to meditation may be helpful to the process. It depends on the type of meditation you are doing and your own personal preference. Check with your teacher.
If you want to ask a question or and something to this general advice feel free to get in touch.