People turn to meditation for many reasons – health, calmness, spirituality – and follow many different paths, including Zen, Vipassana, Shamata etc. In the end, it does not matter much why one comes to meditation – it always benefits us in the most holistic way and for our own highest good.
The really good news is that you can start where you are and do as much as you want. Many people who start with just 5 or 10 minutes a day find themselves drawn into a longer practice as they begin to enjoy the meditation itself as well as the benefits it brings.
So, how do you start? Which particular meditative practice do you choose? "Just as there are many different paths you can take to climb a mountain, there are a variety of seemingly 'different' meditation techniques that you can follow," says spiritual teacher Vikas Malkani in The Little Manual of Meditation. He points out that all paths lead to the same destination.
Choose the path with which you are most comfortable. Some may find comfort in familiarity, especially when they start. Someone who has been brought up as a Christian, for example, may start their practice by deeply contemplating a Christian prayer, line by line, to fully understand its meaning. Or they might try a mantra meditation by meditating on a word that expresses a core Christian value, such as love.
Sufi masters recommend meditating on "Allah." Equally, one could meditate on each of the 99 names of God, contemplating the quality it represents.
India has given us the syllable Aum (or Om), a popular, non-denominational choice for mantra meditation. Mantra meditation focuses on a single word or a short phrase chanted repeatedly. Sanskrit mantras produce vibrations in the body that add to the value of the meditation.
A few ground rules apply to all forms of meditation. Find a clean and quiet spot where you are not likely to be disturbed, preferably close to nature.
The spine should be straight but not rigid. The head, neck and spine should be in a line. Most meditation is performed in a seated posture. In the Indian tradition, this is usually the Lotus position, but if this is difficult you can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. The idea is to choose a position that you can hold for the duration of the meditation. The eyes are either closed or the gaze is lowered. This helps you cut out the external world and move within.
When you are ready, cleanse your body and spirit with a few deep breaths before going on to your chosen meditation.
Note: If you're based in Singapore and looking for some help in starting a meditation practice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.