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Meditation Techniques for Beginners from Various Traditions

Updated on December 15, 2012

The Faces of Meditation

A Buddhist statue representing a meditating Buddha.
A Buddhist statue representing a meditating Buddha.
The lotus posture is used by many in the eastern traditions, but it is not a necessary posture.
The lotus posture is used by many in the eastern traditions, but it is not a necessary posture.

Beginners Can Choose From Different Traditions

There are meditation techniques for beginners from several religious traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Christianity. Perhaps the most familiar techniques have come from Hindu yoga practices and the Buddhist Zen tradition. Christian meditation, or contemplation, began as a practice in the 14th century with the desert fathers and has had a recent ecumenical renaissance. With the opening of China in the late 19th century, Taoist meditation methods were also introduced to the west, and they are now becoming more well known.

There are methods that can be adapted for young and old, the flexible and the inflexible. As mentioned in the photo to the right, you don't have to worry if it impossible to twist your body into a lotus posture. It simply is not required to practice meditation and obtain its benefits. Sitting upright, but comfortably, in a chair with back support is acceptable for meditations in the Christian and Taoist traditions, although Taoists sometimes use lotus postures as well. It might be said that Taoists cover all possible meditation styles, as they also have standing and moving meditation practices.

Commonalities In Meditation Techniques

One of the important things to remember for beginners is that meditation is something that you allow and cultivate over time. It is not like you are trying out for the Olympics. It takes time to accustom your mind and body to the practice, and applying the attitudes of patience and loving kindness towards yourself go a long way towards furthering the practice and its rewards.

Another thing to remember is to practice for 15-20 minutes twice a day. Get up early morning before other members of the family get up and can disturb you, so you can start out your day fresh and clear-minded. The other practice time can be done in the evening or afternoon as it suits you. Meditation masters say that progress in your meditation practice requires two sessions per day, while practice for once a day is a maintenance routine.

A Zen Buddhist Meditation

Posture is an essential aspect of Zen meditation practice. The optimal posture is where you put your lower body in a stable tripod position, with the buttocks resting on a meditation cushion or chair and the two knees resting on the floor. The legs may be arranged in one of the lotus postures or bent backwards underneath the chair or on either side of a cushion. For those who cannot do any of these postures, sit on the forward third of the chair with your knees at a shoulder's width apart and feet flat on the floor. Wear shoes if you are on a concrete or tile floor.

The posture you arrive at should allow you to have a straight back with a small curve inward near the base of the spine. This posture allows for relaxed breathing with the diaphragm. Some practitioners find that rocking a little to each side helps before settling into the posture. The chin tilts downward a little and is tucked in. The head is held as if it is being suspended from the ceiling from the crown. The hands are place in the cosmic mudra position with your active hand holding the other hand and the thumbs are touching. For men, the right hand is over the left and it is the opposite for women. The tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth.

Zen Meditation focal point

Place your attention on your breathing. Breathe through the nose unless you have sinus congestion. When the attention wanders, gently bring it back to the breath. The eyes are normally kept open, looking at a point about 3 feet in front of where you sit. You see the point but are not specifically looking at it. Some people call this "maintaing a fuzzy, but alert awareness." It helps keep you alert.

As you are watching your breathing, body tensions may be noted. Allow these tensions to relax and return your attention back to the breath. Tension in the muscles of the face, eyes and jaw are very common. You may want to focus specific tensions briefly to allow them to relax and then go back to the breath.

Imagine your breath is going into your belly and going out of it. Of course, your belly has to be relaxed to do this. The point on which you focus is at 2 inches below the belly button, where the body's physical and energetic center exists, the hara. You will note an expanding outward of the abdomen when you are breathing into the hara.

Beginner's Zazen Instruction

Taoist Symbolism

A stylized version of the T'ai Chi symbol that represents to interplay of yin and yang energies in the universe.  Meditation helps nurture the yin aspect of your being.
A stylized version of the T'ai Chi symbol that represents to interplay of yin and yang energies in the universe. Meditation helps nurture the yin aspect of your being.

A Taoist Meditation for Beginners

The meditation methods of Taoists are connected to the body, in much the same way as Zen meditation. The central energy point is in the same location, but it is called the lower dantien. Postural considerations of Taoist meditation include a slight tucking in of the hips to flatten out the small of the back and a slight lifting of the spine in the lower back. Sitting in a chair as described above for the Zen meditation is preferable because it does not cut off circulation to the lower half of the body. There are even standing postures that are used by beginning and advanced practitioners.

Qigong Meditation Resources

A Taoist Qigong Meditation for Beginners

Follow the postural advice for the Zen meditation for sitting, using the modifications mentioned in the paragraph above. Use the mudra given in the video below. Close the eyes or let them rest peacefully at a point 2-3 feet in front of you on the floor.

This meditation uses a dissolving approach for letting go of muscular or nervous system tension. Spend the first 5-10 minutes of so doing steps 1-9, and then stay at step 10 to finish off the meditation. With practice, you will note that it takes less time to relax and you can spend more time breathing in and out of the dantien. This fosters energy accumulation at this point as well as circulation through the upper torso. Here are the steps:

1. Follow the breath as it goes in and out of the nose.
2. Feel the breath in the nose and relax the face, see the tension as dissolving away.
3. Relax the eyes and return to the breath.
4. Feel the breath enter the sinuses, relaxing any tension that is encountered and relax the top of the head. Return back to the breath.
5. Feel the breath as it passes through the throat. Dissolve the tension, let it go. Gently allow yourself to breathe it out.
6. Sense the breath as it enters the top of the lungs, as well as the muscular tension in the chest and upper back. With each out breath, allow the muscular tension to release and dissolve, relaxing the rib cage, shoulders and arms.
7. Sense tension in your spine as you breathe in and out. Allow the spine to relax, but don't slump over. Maintain your posture. Keep in mind that you are being held up by an imaginary string from the crown of the head. Relax each vertebrae or vertebral groups.
8. Relax the belly and hips. Notice the breath as it goes in and out of the lower dantien. The belly expands to the front, sides and a little to the back of the spine. Be aware of any tension in this region and release it with each exhalation.
9. Relax the legs, knees and feet in that order, releasing muscular tension and feel it dissolve away with each exhalation.
10. Finally return your attention to the lower dantien and just watch the breath as it goes in and out of it. When distractions or tensions occur, bring your mind back to this central energy point.

WuDangTao Guided Meditation

Centering Prayer Meditation for Beginners

Centering prayer is a modern development on a centuries-old method of prayer inherited from the desert fathers of the Christian church. It is a method that involves the use of a sacred word to return one's central intention to be in the presence of God. Some even use the breath as a sacred reminder of our gift of life. Thus, the person meditating in this tradition is opening himself or herself up to listening in silence, instead of talking, which is done in active meditation forms like oral prayers.

As with all meditation methods, we have the wandering mind to deal with. Thoughts always crop up, but with disciplined, but gentle, return to the sacred word, the chatter of the mind lessens over time. Gaps develop in which we can rest in God's presence. It opens one up to the possibility of contemplative prayer, the profound communing type of prayer of the saints.

The posture for this type of meditation is comfortable sitting with the feet on the floor, but lotus postures can be used as well by those who are flexible. It also helps to have an erect posture to facilitate good breathing and preventing falling asleep. The video by Father Keating below discusses some important considerations on how to do centering prayer.

Father Keating on How to Do Centering Prayer


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