Space Just for You
Finding the right place in your home for a relaxing ritual is an important part in making it become routine. Once you start a regular program, you might find it hard to stop. "Everyone can do it," points out Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society of Barre, Massachusetts. "You may not feel total gratification the first time you try it or even the fifth time, but if you have the dedication you can get results."
Since most meditation experts suggest keeping a regular schedule (20 to 30 minutes a day, if possible) there is nothing more convenient and special than dedicating space in your home to the activity. "Choose anywhere you won't be distracted," suggests Kristin Hutchens, a program sales consultant for the Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, California. "The meditation space in your home -- it doesn't have to be sprawling with futons."
Choose a room that feels comfortable, and adapt that room to meet your needs. Avoid choosing a room like a kitchen or living room, because chances are the noise and activity level will be too high. Instead, choose a space that is more private and not the center of activity in your home. Some people relax and focus best in a dark room, but others prefer a space filled with natural light. "I think it should be a plain room, something very tranquil so your energy isn't bouncing off everything," says Salzberg. "If it's too dark, you may go to sleep."
An extra bedroom, a peaceful den, or a sunroom are all good choices for a meditative space. "Get rid of the clutter so it's a dedicated space," adds Salzberg. "Pick a quiet area, and it would be good if there isn't a phone there." If you have a room that overlooks a garden, pond, lake, or ocean, this would be a wonderful location to inspire you. A window can also be helpful if you get sleepy; the fresh air can keep you alert, and the view can refresh you upon opening your eyes.
You don't need to be behind closed doors. And although it can be helpful to face away from the doorway of the room you're in, to avoid distraction, "the key point of meditation is that it can be done in any circumstance," says Salzberg, "so don't feel discouraged if you find yourself on the living-room couch, if that's where you're really most comfortable." Just make sure anyone who shares your home knows your plans, so you can avoid unwanted disruptions.
Not everyone has the luxury of devoting an entire room to meditation or prayer. A corner or alcove is fine. Drape a cloth over a table and place objects on it that are important to you, such as a candle, holy books, symbols of your faith, photos of loved ones, mementos of relaxing places you've visited, and so on. Keeping these items in the space will help prevent your corner from becoming a multi-use space that you have to clean up each time before you can use it -- and also will remind you to do your meditation.
Setting Up the Room
What to add to your meditation room depends on your personal tastes and meditation goals. Every person will want and need different tools to concentrate and relax. "Put symbols of things important to you around, so each time you look at the imagery and you go into your silence you tap into that imagery," suggests Hutchens, who adds, "you want things that delight you but do not distract you." For Hutchens, senses are very important, so she includes candles and incense in her meditation room. Candles can add an element of ritual, of a sense of setting aside a special time.
Some people like to bring in elements of nature, which can be as simple as a pebble or a feather, or as elaborate as a tabletop water fountain. Others like to listen to tapes or CDs with music, natural sounds (ocean, rain, the woods), hymns, or chants, so a stereo system is a welcome addition for any meditation space. A journal, book of daily devotions, and holy writings also can have a home here.
The key to a great meditation space is creating a spot that allows you to relax and focus. Most meditation experts say that sitting is the most desired position. "You want a comfortable chair," says Salzberg. "Your back should be erect without being strained, so your breath will be normal." Depending on what feels best for you, a good chair, floor, exercise mat, or bench can all work. Cushions and pillows are also very helpful, and the goal is to feel free and open. "Being comfortable is very important," adds Hutchens. "It's not about sitting in a pretzel position or anything like that. You want to be upright and comfortable."
Meditation and Yoga
Speaking of pretzel positions, many people who master meditation techniques also find an interest in yoga. "Yoga literally means union, and there are many different forms of yoga," explains Hutchens. "Yoga is really bringing into union all the elements of body, mind, and spirit." Popular hatha yoga consists of breathing, postures, relaxation, and in most cases, meditation.
In some ways, the elements and principles of yoga go hand in hand with the basics of meditation ("it's a moving meditation," confirms Hutchens), but yoga usually requires more physical stamina. Yoga may also require more space for the movements and stretches that are part of the discipline. Always consult with a physician before you start a yoga program and make sure to learn good techniques that will benefit your mind and body.
In terms of setting up a space to do yoga, the same concepts apply as for a meditation area. You might want music or fresh air, and decide whether you'd prefer a bright or darkened setting. Mats for doing yoga are a specialized type of exercise mat, generally available at sporting-goods stores. A wood floor under the mat is best; yoga done on carpeting is easier when the rug is thin.
Dos and Don'ts
- Choose a space that is quiet and allows you to focus your energy and attention.
- Consider having a CD player or stereo nearby so you can listen to soothing sounds or inspiring music.
- Make sure everyone in your home knows about your special space, and your schedule. A simple note on the door is always a good way to alert family that you don't want to be disturbed.
- Choose a space that is not extremely dark or especially bright.
- Select a busy kitchen or living room. (However, if the living room is comfortable and quiet, go for it.)
- Worry if you can't dedicate an entire room. A corner or alcove can work if you use room screens or add objects to the space to define the zone as your special area.
- Place too many items in your meditation or prayer zone. You can find yourself being distracted by all the extras in the space.
- Feel you absolutely need a window. Fresh air and a beautiful view are always nice, but consider them extras.