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Meditation For Dummies®

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The title of this book is a little misleading because learning to meditate was one of the smartest decisions I ever made.

Meditation is power. Whatever you do, meditation can help you to do it better.

For example, my colleges and I demonstrated, for the first time, that the progression of even severe coronary disease often can be reversed when people go on my program of comprehensive lifestyle changes. Although many people believe that this program is based primarily on diet, meditation is actually an equally important part of it.

So — why meditate?

In Meditation For Dummies, 4th Edition, Stephan Bodian helps dispel many of the most common misconceptions about meditation.

Many people view meditation as:

In fact, meditation is:








Extremely productive





Meditation is the practice and process of paying attention and focusing your awareness. When you meditate, a number of desirable things begin to happen — slowly, at first, and deepening over time. As I describe in Love & Survival:

First, when you can focus your awareness, you gain more power. When you concentrate any form of energy, including mental energy, you gain power. When you focus your mind, you concentrate better. When you concentrate better, you perform better. You can accomplish more, whether in the classroom, in the boardroom, or in the athletic arena. Whatever you do, you can do it more effectively when you meditate. It is for this reason that spiritual teachers and texts often caution that one should begin the practice of meditation only in the context of other spiritual practices and disciplines that help develop compassion and wisdom to use properly this increased power.

Second, you enjoy your senses more fully. Although people sometimes view or use meditation as an ascetic experience to control their senses, meditation also can enhance your senses in ways that are profoundly sensual. Anything that you enjoy — food, sex, music, art, massage, and so on — is greatly enhanced by meditation. When you pay attention to something, it’s a lot more enjoyable. Also, you don’t need as much of it to get the same degree of pleasure, so you are more likely to enjoy without excess.

When you keep a wall around your heart to armor and protect it from pain, you also diminish your capacity to feel pleasure. When your life is in a continual rush, you may miss exquisite pleasures that exist from moment to moment. Attention spans get shorter. The need for stimulation continually increases just to feel anything. Meditation increases awareness and sensitivity; as such, it can be an antidote to numbness and distraction.

Third, your mind quiets down and you experience an inner sense of peace, joy, and well-being. When I first learned to meditate and began getting glimpses of inner peace, this experience changed my life. It redefined and reframed my experience. Before, I thought peace of mind came from getting and doing; now, I understand that it comes from being. It is our true nature to be peaceful until we disturb it.

This is a radically different concept of where our happiness and our well-being come from. In one of life’s great paradoxes, not being aware of this truth, we often end up disturbing our inner peace while striving to get or to do what we think will bring that same peace to us.

Fourth, you may directly experience and become more aware of the transcendent interconnectedness that already exists. You may have a direct experience of God or the universal Self, whatever name you give to this experience.

Meditation is simple in concept but difficult to master. Fortunately, you don’t have to master meditation to benefit from it. You just have to practice. No one ever really masters it completely, but even a few steps down that road can make a meaningful difference. It is the process of meditation that makes it so beneficial, not how well you perform.

In my research studies, most of the participants reported much greater difficulty practicing meditation than exercising or maintaining their diet. Why? You have to eat; it’s just a question of what you eat. Meditation, on the other hand, is not part of most people’s daily routine or experience. Exercise is more familiar to people, and also there is a macho quality to exercise — you’re out there really doing something, whereas meditation still has what some of our research participants at first called the “wimp factor.” From outward appearances, it looks as if you’re not doing anything when you meditate. In fact, meditation is a powerful, active process.

There are many different types of meditation. It is found in all cultures and in all religions all over the world — because it works. Truth is truth. Whereas the forms vary, certain principles almost always are found.

This attitude of paying attention can help transform everything we do into a form of meditation. Whatever we do with concentration and awareness becomes meditation.

As the editor of Yoga Journal for many years, Stephan Bodian has had the opportunity to become familiar with many different approaches to meditation and yoga. He has distilled the best of these here and gently leads you step by step to discover a form and style of meditation that works best for you.

Meditation For Dummies, 4th Edition. Smart. Very smart.

Dean Ornish, MD
Founder, President, and Director, Preventive Medicine Research Institute
Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
Author, Love & Survival and Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease

Foreword © 2012 by Dean Ornish, MD


Everyone seems to want to know how to meditate these days. From anxious teens to their overwhelmed parents, harried construction workers to hurried executives, retired Baby Boomers to busy Gen Xers and curious Millennials, more and more people are seeking solutions for the stressful, time-urgent, overstimulated lives we lead. Because the Internet can’t provide satisfying answers to all of life’s questions, people are turning in increasing numbers to time-honored practices like meditation for proven remedies to life’s inevitable ills.

Indeed, according to a recent government survey, more than 10 percent of adults in the United States meditate regularly. That’s tens of millions of people! Why do they bother? Because it works. Whether you’re seeking greater focus to get your job done more efficiently, less stress and more peace of mind, or a deeper appreciation of the beauty and richness of life, the simple practice of sitting down and turning your attention inward can do wonders for your body and your mind.

The truth is, you can learn the basics of meditation in five minutes. Just sit in a comfortable position, straighten your back, breathe deeply, and rest your attention on the coming and going of your breath. It’s as simple as that! If you do it regularly, you’ll find that it won’t be long before you’re feeling more relaxed and enjoying life more. I speak from personal experience: I’ve been practicing meditation and teaching it to others for more than 40 years.

Simple though it may be, meditation also has tremendous subtlety and depth, if you’re interested in pursuing it further. It’s a lot like painting: You can buy your materials, take a few lessons, and have fun applying paint to paper. Or you can attend classes at your local education center or community college, specialize in a particular medium in art school, and make painting a central part of your life. In meditation, as in art, you can keep it simple — just get up every day and sit quietly for five or ten minutes — or explore the subtleties to your heart’s content. It all depends on your needs, your intentions, and your level of interest and passion.

About This Book

When I began teaching meditation, I was always hard-pressed to come up with a single book that taught the basics, provided a comprehensive overview of techniques and practices, and offered guidance in going deeper. Global surveys generally ignore the nuts and bolts — what to focus on, how to sit, what to do about your crazy mind, and so on. Books that teach you how to meditate tend to offer just a few techniques. And those that show you how to explore the rich inner world of meditation often have a sectarian spiritual perspective that limits the breadth of their presentation. (In other words, you may have to be a Buddhist or a yogi or a Sufi to know what they’re talking about.)

Unlike those other books on meditation, Meditation For Dummies, 3rd Edition, covers all the bases. If you’re looking for simple, easy-to-follow meditation instructions, you can find state-of-the-art guidance here that’s filled with helpful tips from seasoned meditators as well as time-honored wisdom from the great teachers of old. If you want to get an overview of the meditation field before you zero in on a particular method or teaching, you can catch a glimpse of the primary approaches that are readily available these days. If you’ve been meditating in a particular way and want to expand your horizons to include other techniques, you’ll be pleased to discover that this book features dozens of different meditations for a variety of purposes. They’re drawn from a range of sources and traditions. And if you just want to understand why other people meditate — for instance, your partner, your friends, the guy in the office next to yours — and why you may want to join them, jump on board! You can read through whole chapters on how meditation makes you happier (and healthier), what science has learned about the physical and psychological benefits of meditation, and how you can get the most from meditation.

As a special bonus, this book includes instructional tracks, which are available online at With these tracks, I guide you step by step through a dozen of the most powerful and effective meditations described in the book. When you’ve had your fill of reading and want something more experiential, you can sit down in a comfortable position, pop in the disc, and let my voice lead you effortlessly through the complete meditation process, from start to finish. What could be more accessible and user-friendly than that?

This book is many things at once: an instructional manual, a survey course, and a guidebook for deeper exploration. Feel free to read it from cover to cover if you want, or just browse until you find the chapters that appeal to you. Throughout the book, you find meditations and exercises you can experiment with and enjoy. Some of them are also offered at, so you can discover how to practice them directly without referring to the text.

The best thing about this book, in my humble estimation, is that it’s fun to read. Meditation doesn’t have to be a dull or somber affair. Quite the contrary: The whole point of meditating in the first place is to lighten up and experience more peace and joy in your life. So forget those stereotypes of the enigmatic Zen monk or the reclusive navel-gazer! You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about meditation and enjoy yourself in the process.

Feel free to skip the sidebars that appear throughout the book; these shaded gray boxes contain interesting info that isn’t essential to your understanding of meditation.

Within this book, you may note that some web addresses break across two lines of text. If you’re reading this book in print and want to visit one of these web pages, simply key in the web address exactly as it’s noted in the text, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist. If you’re reading this as an e-book, you’ve got it easy — just click the web address to be taken directly to the web page.

Foolish Assumptions

When I wrote this book, I made a few assumptions about you, dear reader, that I thought I should share with you before we begin:

  • You’re intrigued enough by the topic of meditation to pick up this book, but you haven’t yet discovered how to meditate. Or if you have, you still feel the need for more guidance.
  • You want less stress and more happiness and peace of mind, and you’re willing to devote a little of your precious time to achieve it.
  • Because you can’t afford to spend long hours meditating in a monastery or ashram, you want instruction that you can put to use right now at home or at work.
  • You don’t live on a desert island or in some isolated part of the globe; instead, you inhabit the ordinary world and confront the usual stresses, pressures, and responsibilities that most people face.

If these assumptions apply to you, you’re definitely in the right place!

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout this book, I use icons in the margins to draw your attention to particular kinds of information. Here’s a key to what those icons mean:

playthis For direct personal guidance in practicing the meditations marked by this icon, just put down your book, cue up the audio track, and follow my lead.

remember If I haven’t said it before, I should have — it’s important information that bears repeating.

tip If you want your meditations to be easier and more effective, follow these tidbits of insider advice.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the material in the print or e-book you’re reading right now, this product comes with some access-anywhere goodies on the web. Check out the free Cheat Sheet for tips on how to prepare for meditation, how to get the most from your meditation, how to make sure you’re meditating correctly, and more. To get this Cheat Sheet, simply go to and type Meditation For Dummies Cheat Sheet in the Search box.

Where to Go from Here

After you know the lay of the land, your next step is to decide where to go. Remember that you don’t have to read the book sequentially, from cover to cover — you can pick it up anywhere your interests lead you. I’ve written it intentionally with just such an approach in mind.

If you’re drawn to a more theoretical discussion of the philosophical, historical, and scientific background of meditation, by all means start with Part 1, in which I discuss meditation’s history, its health benefits, and its positive effects on the body and brain. But if you’re eager to get to the nitty-gritty and can’t wait to sit down and start practicing, you may want to head directly for Part 2, which provides everything you need to know to meditate effectively.

After you’ve been practicing for a few weeks or months, you can return for a refresher course and fine-tune your meditation by reading in Part 3 about the various difficulties and obstacles that may arise as well as about strategies for developing and expanding your practice. And if you have particular areas of interest, such as spirituality, healing, or performance enhancement, you can find what you’re looking for in Part 4. Feel free to browse, meander, and read whatever strikes your fancy!

Finally, I would love to hear from you. To get in touch with me, check out my website at or email me at

Part 1

Getting Started with Meditation


Get an overview of the meditation journey to help guide you in your practice.

Motivate yourself by realizing the many great reasons to meditate.

Explore the multicultural history of meditation to understand how it evolved.

Discover how meditation has entered the mainstream in education, business, and healthcare.

Delve into the research into meditation’s effectiveness in order to appreciate its many benefits.

Trace the many ways meditation actually changes the brain for the better.

Chapter 1

Embarking on Your Meditation Journey


Climbing the mountain of meditation

Finding picnic spots and lesser peaks along the way

Checking out the major meditation techniques

Knowing what you’ll see when you get to the top

Developing concentration, receptive awareness, contemplation, and cultivation

Access the audio tracks at

The great thing about meditation is that it’s actually quite simple. Just sit down, be quiet, turn your attention inward, and focus your awareness. That’s all there is to it, really (see the sidebar “Meditation: It’s easier than you think”). Then why, you may be wondering, do people write so many books and articles about meditation — including detailed books like this one? Why not just offer a few brief instructions and forget about all the verbiage?

Say, for example, that you’re planning to take a long trip by car to some picturesque location. You can just jot down the directions and follow them one by one. After a few days, you’ll get to where you want to go. But you’ll enjoy the trip more if you have a travel guide to point out the sights along the way. And you may feel more secure if you carry a troubleshooting manual to tell you what to do when you have problems with your car. Perhaps you’d like to take some side trips to scenic spots or even change your itinerary entirely and get there by a different route or a different vehicle!

In the same way, you can consider the practice of meditation to be a journey of sorts — and the book you hold in your hands to be your travel guide. This chapter provides an overview of your trip, offers some alternative routes to your destination, explains the basic skills you need to know to get you there, and points to some detours that may advertise the same benefits but don’t really deliver.

Getting an Overview of How the Journey Unfolds

No doubt you picked up this book because you’re searching for something more in life — more peace of mind, more energy, more well-being, more meaning, more happiness, more joy. You’ve heard about meditation, and you’ve wondered what it has to offer.

Being an adventurous sort, I like to think of meditation as a climb up a mountain. You’ve seen snapshots of the summit, though from the bottom you can barely glimpse it through the clouds. But the only way to get there is up — one step at a time.

Different paths up the same mountain

Imagine that you’re getting ready to climb a mountain. (If you live in the Netherlands or the midwestern United States, get out your National Geographic for this one!) How are you going to get to the top? You could take some climbing lessons, buy the right gear, and inch your way up one of the rocky faces. Or you could choose one of the many trails that meander up the mountain and take a leisurely hike to the summit. (Of course, you could always cheat and drive your car, but that would ruin my metaphor!)

Although they all end up at the same place, every trail has its unique characteristics. One may take you on a gradual ascent through forests and meadows, whereas another may head steeply uphill over dry, rocky terrain. From one, you may have vistas of lush valleys filled with flowers; from another, you may see farmland or desert.

Depending on your energy and your motivation, you may choose to stop at a picnic spot en route and while away a few hours (or a few days) enjoying the peace and quiet. Hey, you may enjoy that one spot so much that you decide not to climb any farther. Perhaps you’d rather climb one of the smaller peaks along the way instead of going the distance to the top. Or you may prefer to charge to the summit as quickly as you can without bothering to linger anywhere.

remember Well, the journey of meditation has a great deal in common with climbing a mountain. You can aim for the top, or you can just set your sights on some grassy knoll or lesser peak halfway up the slope. Whatever your destination, you can have fun and reap the benefits of just breathing deeply and exercising muscles you didn’t even know you had.

People have been climbing the mountain of meditation for thousands of years in different parts of the world. (For more on the history of meditation, see Chapter 3.) As a result, topographic maps and guidebooks abound, each with its own unique version of how to make your way up the mountain and its own recommendations for how to hike and what to carry. (To get a sense of the range of meditation materials available, just check out the shelves of your local library or scan the website of your favorite online book source.)

Traditionally, the guidebooks describe a spiritual path involving a set of beliefs and practices, often secret, that have been passed down from one generation to the next (see the sidebar “Meditation’s spiritual roots”). In recent decades, however, Western researchers and teachers have distilled meditation from its spiritual origins and now offer it as a remedy for a variety of 21st-century ills. (For more on the benefits of meditation, see Chapter 2. For more on meditation research, see Chapter 4.)

Although the maps and books may describe the summit differently — some emphasize the vast open spaces, others pay more attention to the peace or exhilaration you feel when you get there, and some even claim that there’s more than one peak — I happen to agree with the ancient sage who said: “Meditation techniques are just different paths up the same mountain.”

Here are a few of the many techniques that have been developed over the centuries:

  • Repetition of a meaningful word or phrase, known as a mantra (see Chapters 3 and 15)
  • Mindful awareness of the present moment (for more on mindfulness, see Chapters 7 and 17)
  • Following or counting your breath (see Chapter 7)
  • Paying attention to the flow of sensations in your body (see Chapter 7)
  • Cultivation of lovingkindness, compassion, forgiveness, and other healing emotions (see Chapter 11)
  • Concentration on a geometric shape or other simple visual object
  • Visualization of a peaceful place or a healing energy or entity (see Chapter 18)
  • Reading and reflecting upon inspirational or sacred writings (see Chapter 15)
  • Gazing at a picture of a holy being or saint
  • Contemplation of nature
  • Chanting praises to the Divine

Throughout this book, you find opportunities to experiment with many of these techniques as well as detailed guidance in the practice of one in particular — mindfulness — beginning with your breath and then extending your meditation to every moment of your life.

The view from the summit — and from other peaks along the way

When you reach the summit of the meditation mountain, what do you see? If you can trust the reports of the meditators and mystics who have climbed the mountain before you, you can declare with some confidence that the top of the mountain harbors the source of all love, wisdom, happiness, and joy. Some people call it spirit or soul, true nature or true self, the ultimate truth, or the ground of being (or just being itself). Others call it God or the Divine or the Holy Mystery, or simply the One. There are nearly as many names for it as people who experience it. And some spiritual traditions consider it so sacred and powerful that they hesitate to give it a name.

As for the experience of reaching the summit, seasoned meditators use words like enlightenment (from ignorance), awakening (from a dream), liberation (from bondage), freedom (from limitation), and union (with God or being).

An old saying likens all these words and names to fingers pointing at the moon. If you pay too much attention to the finger, you risk missing the beautiful moon, which is the reason for pointing the finger in the first place. Ultimately, you need to experience the moon — or, in this case, the summit — for yourself.

Of course, you may have no interest in lofty states and experiences like enlightenment or union. Perhaps you bought this book simply because you want to reduce your stress or enhance your healing process or deal with your emotions. Forget about the Holy Mystery — a little more clarity and peace of mind would suit you just fine, thank you very much!

Well, the truth is, you’re going to follow the same path no matter how high up the mountain you want to go. The basic instructions remain the same, but you get to choose your destination. Among the most popular stopping places and promontories en route to the summit are the following:

  • Stronger focus and concentration
  • Reduced tension, anxiety, and stress
  • Clearer thinking and less emotional turmoil
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Support in kicking addictions and other self-defeating behaviors
  • Greater creativity and enhanced performance in work and play
  • Increased self-understanding and self-acceptance
  • More joy, love, and spontaneity
  • Greater intimacy with friends and family members
  • Enhanced feelings of happiness, contentment, and subjective well-being
  • Deeper sense of meaning and purpose
  • Glimpses of a spiritual dimension of being

remember As you can see, these way stations are actually major destinations in their own right, and all of them are well worth reaching. (For more on the benefits of meditation, see Chapter 2.) You may be quite content to stop halfway up the mountain after you’ve reduced your stress, improved your health, and experienced greater overall well-being. Or you may feel inspired to push on for the higher altitudes that the great meditators describe.

The taste of pure mountain water

To elaborate on this mountain metaphor a bit, imagine that a spring at the summit gushes forth the pure water of being and never runs dry. (Depending on your orientation, you may prefer to call it the water of grace or spirit or unconditional love.) Those who make it to the summit get to dive into the pool that surrounds the spring and immerse themselves completely in the water. In fact, some even merge with the water and become identical with being itself. (Don’t worry. You won’t merge if you don’t want to!)

But you don’t have to climb all the way to the top to enjoy the pure taste of being. The water flows down the mountain in streams and rivulets, and nourishes the fields and towns below. In other words, you can taste being everywhere, in everything, because being is the essence that keeps life going at every level. Until you start meditating, though, you may not know what being tastes like.

remember When you meditate, you get closer to the source of the water and learn how to recognize its taste. (Depending on their personalities and where they are on the mountain, people use different terms to describe the water’s taste, such as calm, peace, well-being, wholeness, clarity, and compassion.) It doesn’t matter where you’re headed or where you stop on your way up the mountain; you still get to dip your hands in the water of being and taste it for yourself. Then you can begin to find the taste of being wherever you go!

There’s no place like home — and you’ve already arrived!

Throughout this chapter I’ve constructed the metaphor of the mountain, but now I’m going to knock it down with one sweep of my hand — like a wave washing away a castle in the sand. Yes, the journey of meditation requires steady effort and application, like a climb up a mountain. (For more on effort and discipline, see Chapter 10.) But that metaphor hides some important paradoxes:

  • The summit doesn’t exist in some faraway place outside you; it exists in the depths of your being — some traditions say in the heart — and awaits your discovery. See the sidebar “Discovering the treasure in your own house” to see what I mean.
  • You can approach the summit in an instant; it doesn’t necessarily take years of practice. While meditating, for example, when your mind settles down and you experience a deep peace or tranquility, sense your interconnectedness with all beings, or feel an upsurge of peace or love, you’re tasting the sweet water of being right from the source inside you. And these moments inform and nourish you in ways you can’t possibly measure.
  • The mountain metaphor suggests a progressive, goal-oriented journey, whereas, in fact, the point of meditation is to set aside all goals and just be. As the title of the bestseller by stress-reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Or as Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” And the truth is, like Dorothy, you’re always already there!

Of course, you’re not going to give up all your doing and striving instantaneously and just be, even when you meditate. You have to slowly work up to letting it all go by practicing your meditation and gradually focusing and simplifying until you’re doing less and less while you meditate — and being more and more. The following are a few of the stages you may pass through on the path to just being:

  • Getting used to sitting still
  • Developing the ability to turn your attention inward
  • Struggling to focus your attention
  • Being distracted again and again
  • Becoming more focused
  • Feeling more relaxed as you meditate
  • Noticing fleeting moments when your mind settles down
  • Experiencing brief glimpses of stillness and peace

And here’s perhaps the greatest paradox of all: If you practice meditation diligently, you may eventually come to realize that you’ve never left home, even for an instant.