Meditation Basics

Meditative practices are the root of many of the world's ancient spiritual traditions. They are now recognized by western science and modern traditions as beneficial to health and longevity. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism each have huge stores of physical and mental exercises that have been developed all with one purpose: to make it easier to meditate and achieve deep internal stillness. Taiji, Yoga, Qigong, chanting mantras, cultivation of concentration, mindfulness, vegetarian and sattvic* diets all have a core purpose beyond improved health and longevity: to allow us to sit in meditation without distraction.

If you've ever tried to meditate, you know that sitting without distraction can be hugely challenging. The good news is that it does become easier and there are many, many techniques and tools for making it easier. The other good news is that meditation's benefits show up immediately, making it easier to choose to meditate.

Starting a Meditation Practice

• Make the time to meditate. Set a consistent time every day to meditate. First thing in the morning and last thing in the evening work for me, but Meditation Monkey ValleyMeditation Monkey Valleyeach person has to find their own rhythm. The times recommended in Daoist practice are 6am, 6pm, midnight and noon. It is your meditation practice. Find the times that work best for you.

 Choose a clear, clean, uncluttered place to meditate where you can be undisturbed for ½ hour at a time. Different traditions recommend sitting in different directions. The Wu Dang Daoists face North. Other traditions recommend facing East or South. Generally, it is not recommended to face West. If you're not sure which way to face, try different directions and see what works best. Or face a window that has good light and connects you to nature. If you have a good outdoor spot where you can meditate that is also powerful.

• If your family members are awake at the time you choose to meditate, ask them to not interrupt you. If possible, keep pets out during your meditation. Pets can be a big distraction demanding attention, or coming and sitting against you.

• If there is a lot of ambient noise, play some quiet music or use a natural white noise to mask the sounds. I like music that includes the sounds of nature: wind, waves, rushing water, bird calls, etc.

• Make an agreement with yourself that anything the mind brings up during your meditation can wait until after you are done.

• Get comfortable. The traditional way to meditate is in lotus posture, but most of us, in the West, can't sit in lotus for any amount of time. As an alternative we sit either cross-legged on the floor, or in a chair.

• If you choose to sit on the floor, you'll want to put a cushion under your tail bone. The cushion height will vary depending on your flexibility. If you find your low back becoming stressed after sitting, you need to add additional height to your cushion. If your knees bother you when you sit, place rolled up towels or pillows under your knees. You want your knees sufficiently supported that the muscles in your thighs can relax.

• If you choose to sit in a chair, you want to keep your spine erect, neither collapsing your spine nor leaning back. Sit in a chair in which your knees and hips are at a 90° angle. If your knees are lower than your hips, put pillows or something under your feet. Keep your legs comfortably relaxed with the knees slightly open. Sofas and armchairs tend to not work for meditation because they are too soft and the arms may force you to keep your shoulders up. Dining chairs are generally good. If the seat is too hard, put a cushion under your hips.

• Be sure you will be warm enough. If you tend to get cold, cover yourself with a throw blanket or put on extra socks. You will be still for 15-30 minutes, so make sure you are adequately covered. Some people have a shawl or blanket that they use only for meditation. It is best not to sit where there is a draft and to not have a fan or vent blowing on you.

• Meditate. To begin, make a commitment to sit and meditate every day at the same time for at least a week. Best is to commit to 21-28 days. This will establish the habit of meditation. It takes time, even for experienced meditators, to get into the "zone". Give yourself at least 10 minutes to let go of the day and quiet the mind. Even if you just get a few minutes of internal quiet, you will begin to reap the benefits of meditation.

There are many techniques for meditation. Many of them are designed to train the mind in concentration and single-minded focus. They include repetition of sounds aloud or quietly, following Qi or energy flow patterns in the body, synchronization of breath and visualizations, breathing patterns, focusing the mind on single points, and ultimately sitting with no thought.

To meditate, sit with your hands in your lap in Primordial Hand Seal—women place right hand over left, palms up and touch the thumbs together forming a circle in front of the belly. Men place left hand over right. Touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth, just behind the teeth. Focus the eyes on the tip of the nose. Women can close the eyes, men should keep the eyes slightly open, just allowing a slip of light to enter.

A beginning form of meditation is to turn the internal gaze to the lower belly, the Dan Tian, gently contracting the perineum on the inhalation and relaxing on the exhalation, while counting breaths.

Start with a count of 36 breaths and then build up to 108 or more. Let the breath be slow, gentle, even and deep. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath. If/When thoughts and emotions arise, just observe them and let them go rather than allowing yourself to be drawn into the mental drama.

At the conclusion of the meditation, turn the palms over the belly and rub the belly, three times in one direction and then three times in the other direction. Rub the palms together until warm and dry, wash the head three times—rubbing the hands up the face, over and down the head to the neck and back again. Stretch your legs and give them a chance to wake up before trying to walk around.

Corinne ChavesCorinne Chaves has been teaching meditation since 1994 and Qigong since 2006. She studied Wu Dang Qigong, Sanfeng Taiji, Daoist meditation, Xing cultivation and Emitted Qi healing with Master Tseng Yun Xiang (Wu Dang Chen) beginning in 2002. Over the period 2008-2011 she spent the total of a year in Wu Dang deepening her studies with Wu Dang Masters Zhong Yun Long and Huang Chuan Bo. In 2011 she competed in the 5th International Wu Dang Taiji Competition and won gold with her performance of San Feng Taiji Jian (Sword). See more at or

*Sattvic diet is a diet based on foods that contain one of the three yogic qualities (guna) known as sattva In this system of dietary classification, foods that decrease the energy of the body are considered tamasic, while those that increase the energy of the body are considered rajasic. A sattvic diet is sometimes referred to as a yogic diet