Starting a Meditation Practice at Home
by Acharya Jenny Warwick
Once you have received meditation instruction, it is said that the most effective way to gain a sustaining meditative experience is to practice regularly, ideally every day, at home.
The three basic things one needs to get started are:
- A meditation cushion or seat,
- A meditation space,
- Time and motivation to do it.
The Meditation Seat
The meditation seat should be firm – allowing you to sit up straight without bouncing or needing to balance yourself. Practicing on your bed or couch is not recommended unless you cannot for physical reasons sit on the floor on a cushion or on a chair. One needs a firm surface on which to place your meditation cushions. In this way you will find balance in the meditation posture.
If you are meditating on a chair, use a chair that allows you to place your feet flat on the floor. Traditionally, if you sit on a cushion on the floor, the meditation posture involves crossing the legs in front of you. Any comfortable posture that allows you to keep your spine erect will most likely do. The key to a successful posture is to be elevated enough so that your thighs can angle slightly downward from the hips. The posture of meditation is upright and alert, but not stiff. In this way the breath and energy of the body can move freely.
A Space for Meditation
If you are living alone you can simply clear a spot for your meditation practice in your house or apartment, find something firm to sit on, and schedule a session into your day.
When you create a place to meditate in your house or apartment, make an effort to keep that space clear. It doesn't have to be big, but it should feel uncluttered. Having a designated space can remind us of our meditation practice and of the experience of spaciousness associated with it. In that way the space itself has a way of waking us up even when we are not meditating.
Children, depending on their interest, can be invited to be with you while you are meditating. Usually they are too energetic to meditate, but sometimes precocious children can naturally settle into meditation for a little while. The guideline regarding the age to teach children how to mediate is 8 years old, but you may have children of a younger age who show interest in sitting practice.
Finding the Time
Managing to find the time to meditate when you have a family, a spouse or and/or children can be difficult. The demands of family are often unpredictable. One commonly feels that one is "on call". For parents there is often little time to visit with each other or friends without the children. Even if you can only carve 10 minutes a day for meditation out of your schedule, it is still very beneficial to do. When your family gets used to you going off and sitting quietly, you can ask for their support in extending your session.
Scheduling your sessions can be the key to success in maintaining your practice. It clarifies the intention to practice by giving practice a set time in your day. Practice is supported by the force of habit when it is part of your daily routine. Early morning is often found to be a convenient time, though any regular time is fine. When one misses a day, or even a week, reconnecting to the daily schedule can help you establish it again. If you have gone a long time without practicing meditation and want to start up again, take a look at the details of your day and find a place in the flow of the day's events to "get back on the horse". If your inspiration is waning, go to an inspirational talk or read over a book that speaks to you about your original motivation to meditate.
Your home practice can enhance group or solitary retreat. The discipline of keeping a practice going in our daily lives is the element that makes retreat a deep self-sustaining experience. On retreat we follow a schedule that includes many hours of meditation practice as well as study. We appreciate that we can be well disciplined and happy in the simplicity of retreat life. Our practice feels natural and steady. With the intensified practice of the retreat we notice that our mind feels sharp when we contemplate the teachings that support our practice. When we get home from retreat, we see the positive effect of the concentrated effort on retreat and are more inspired to keep our daily practice going.
At the same time, you may be able to set aside longer periods for practice at home, say on the weekends or over the holidays. In this way, you can mix the experience of retreat and daily life. It is fine to experiment with these longer sessions – seeing how they work with your schedule and family members.
Meditation is a method for finding out who we are. It is a way of slowing down and discovering our true self - free from the baggage of anxiety and wishful thinking. By meditating, we discover the nature of our mind and experience to be basically healthy and good. Starting and maintaining a regular practice at home gives us the natural confidence and strength to fully appreciate our journey of meditation.
Editor's note: For help in selecting a cushion, visit our video page or meditation cushion guide.