How to Meditate Properly: Am I Doing It Right?
Have you ever finished a meditation that seemed full of thoughts and wondered…
Am I doing this right?
The popular conception of meditation is that a meditation is only successful when you can’t ‘stop thinking.’ But ‘not thinking’ is a nearly impossible feat. Resisting the mind and forcing it to stop thinking works sort of like not thinking about pink elephants. As soon as you want to stop thinking, you just think more.
Whether you’re resisting your thoughts or allowing them, it’s totally natural to wonder how to meditate properly. What does it feel like to meditate properly? And can you meditate incorrectly?
To answer these questions, we’ll first want to break down what meditation is and the three categories of meditation. Each category has its own set of guidelines to meditate properly. We can then look at the only category of meditation techniques that transcends thinking, and list exactly how to know if you’re meditating properly as a Vedic Meditatior.
The 3 Types of Meditation
The broadest definition of meditation is ‘a thought process.’ Usually, meditation is a closed-eyes technique that allows us to experience a change in our awareness state or our consciousness state. There are three categories of meditation that create completely different benefits and outcomes for the meditator. Each category has its own take on ‘the right way to meditate,’ and each category provides different meditation skills that create different results for the meditator.
1. Focused Awareness
The first type of meditation is probably the most common in the West. Focused awareness meditation, or concentrative meditation techniques, all require the meditator to focus or concentrate on something specific to the exclusion of all other thoughts. Meditation techniques that fall into this category include:
- Sound baths
- Body scanning
- Spirit journeys
- Guided visualizations
- Guided meditation
- Breathwork or breathing exercises
- Any meditation form that requires focusing on not thinking (focus on breath, on body parts, on space, on an idea, etc)
This kind of meditation is useful to train the brain to focus, but it does not ‘get rid of thoughts’ or remove deeply embedded stressors and traumas from the body. The body cannot deeply rest while the mind is active, and active concentration during meditation requires intentional thought.
Though focused awareness meditations can change the meditator’s mood or state, they do not change the meditator’s baseline stress level. Once the meditator goes about their daily activities, their previous state of stress will return… unless they force their mind to concentrate on something else. Forced concentration can result in overlooking or avoiding deeply embedded stressors or traumas, effectively resisting the mind and the body.
Continually resisting the mind and body can exacerbate the stress and exhaust the meditator.
While Focused Awareness is an effective meditation technique to change states or train the mind to concentrate, it is a completely different technique than the mantra-based approach we use in Vedic Meditation.
2. Open Awareness or Open Monitoring
The second meditation form is called Open Awareness, in which the meditator sits with their eyes closed and observes their thoughts. According to one study, open monitoring meditation reduces the involvement of brain regions related to memory function.1
“Mindfulness meditation and related interventions consist of focused attention meditation (FAM), which improves concentration abilities, and open monitoring meditation (OMM), which improves the ability to monitor the contents of experience without any reactions or judgments. Both FAM and OMM aim to keep the practitioner’s attention away from distractors, such as particular bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts, which evoke mind-wandering. Consistent with this, FAM and OMM can reduce mind-wandering and activity in the default mode network (DMN), a network associated with mind-wandering.
To achieve this, during FAM, meditators practice sustaining their intentional focused attention on an explicit object. After advancing in FAM, during OMM practitioners reduce intentional focused attention gradually and keep their attention away from distractors without an explicit object.”
This form of meditation still requires concentration, and while it may reduce mind wandering and improve focus, it does not allow the body to rest deeply. It moves thoughts around to a different part of the brain and may provide more of a sense of control over thoughts, but does not ultimately release stress.
3. Automatic Self Transcendence
With automatic self-transcendence, there is no concentration. There is no focus or forcing the mind to do anything in particular. This meditation technique has some commonalities with open awareness but is different because of its effortless nature.
Vedic Meditation falls in this category of meditation forms. With Vedic Meditation, we use a mantra to guide our awareness beyond thought and into transcendence. We begin to not only be very open with our thoughts and monitor them, but we completely allow any thoughts until the mantra easily comes to mind.
The mantra then tips our orientation from the external world toward the thinking layer, then guides our awareness beyond thinking into those quieter states of awareness. Finally, our awareness effortlessly reaches the quietest states of our consciousness until we transcend thinking altogether and experience pure being.
How do you know that you are meditating properly?
The basis of every meditation practice is a technique that the meditator follows as instructed. Among the various techniques in those three categories of meditation, there is a range. Meditation techniques range from systematized and tested techniques with very clear instructions that produce specific results, to unstructured techniques that allow the meditator to meditate for 10 or 5 minutes, to skip meditations if they want, or to change the method how they like.
With Vedic Meditation, the mantra-based technique is clearly structured and its teaching is systematized to ensure that new meditators learn to meditate correctly and receive the intended benefits. This means that we can accurately assess if a meditator is practicing correctly or if they may not receive the intended benefits because of errors in their technique.
We’re able to self-assess and we’re able to learn what kinds of benefits to expect. We’ll know if we’re meditating correctly when we follow the technique as it was taught to us by a qualified Vedic Meditation instructor, and when we see the intended benefits in our lives.
We meditate for twenty minutes twice each day, with two minutes at the end of each meditation session where we’ve released our mantra and we’re sitting quietly. We allow the mantra to come in and out of our awareness easily, without forcing it or concentrating on it. We sit with our backs supported and our heads free, and we don’t regulate our breathing or our sitting position beyond what is natural and comfortable.
Can you meditate incorrectly?
One guaranteed way to meditate incorrectly is to blend multiple techniques into one meditation sitting. Each meditation technique only guarantees results if it is practiced on its own, as recommended or taught by an instructor. When we blend multiple techniques in one sitting, we prevent each one from taking its full effect.
Another way to meditate incorrectly is to be inconsistent with our practice. If the technique instructs to meditate twice a day for twenty minutes, then we know we will not receive the full benefits if we only meditate once a day or if we shorten our meditations to 10 or 15 minutes.
What does it feel like to meditate properly?
We should know that we’re meditating properly when we follow the requirements of the technique we’ve learned, including being consistent and using only one technique at a time. When we start seeing the results guaranteed by the meditation, whether they be greater concentration or a greater sense of peace and calm.
If we’re not seeing the kinds of results we want after following the technique closely, we don’t need to assume we’re bad at meditation. Rather, we can look at other forms of meditation and learn another technique that promises the results we’re looking for.
In order to know if you’re doing a Vedic Meditation practice properly, it’s important to learn in person from a qualified instructor through the Learn to Meditate course. Vedic Meditation works for all ages and experience levels and can be done anywhere. There is no app, no special pillow or sitting position, and no bad meditations.
If we are using our mantra correctly, we may very well have thoughts all throughout the meditation. Thoughts are not a signal that we’re meditating incorrectly though: in Vedic Meditation, thoughts are a signal that we’re releasing stress.
As long as we’re consistent, we will start to experience transcending thought inside our meditations, where we lose all sense of time and place and drop into the field of pure Being or the source of consciousness.
Those moments where we have many thoughts in meditation and release stress will help us to feel less reactive and more peaceful outside of meditation. Those moments where we experience pure Being, no matter how brief, will start to transform our lives.
We will start to want different things and be able to discern our intuition more clearly. We’ll feel more resilient to stress and see changes in expectation as opportunities rather than triggers.
You can learn how to meditate properly. If you’re interested in taking the Learn to Meditate course and receive your own mantra, click here. Learn more by checking out the latest Vedic Meditation news and frequently asked questions.
- Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 9968 (2018) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28274-4