Where To Meditate: 11 Surprising Places To Find Some Zen

Where To Meditate: 11 Surprising Places To Find Some Zen

In search of simple, quick and cheap stress relief? Meditation is what you’re after.

Often associated with Eastern-world practices, meditation has been making headlines and infiltrating the West. It’s no mystery as to why: Just 20 minutes has been shown to decrease stress, help with depression and even lower blood pressure.

Best of all, there’s no catch: Meditation is free, and you can take it anywhere (all you need is your head). We were curious where you take your meditation; while we might typically think it’s a practice for stillness and silence, it turns out there’s no place too loud or exclusive to find peace of mind.

We asked on Facebook the strangest place you’ve found yourself practicing, and from your answers it’s clear: Meditation can happen in motion, and is often helpful in times we anticipate feeling tense. Check out some creative and brilliant places to meditate below, then tell us in the comments where else you like to clear your head.
“In a tree.” — Marty Daymunde

“In the middle of a rock concert.” — Jane Sayre

“On the NYC subway!” — Lauren Loma Calixte
on subway

“On a plane.” — Sandrine Laurent

“In the car.” — Heather Hunter

“Public restroom!” — Jane Sayre
bathroom stall

“While running on a treadmill.” — Travis H Heinrich

“While in an MRI. It helped keep me calm in the tube.” — Katherine Nobles

“In the middle of the airport.” — Sky Can Horn

“In the dentist’s chair.” — Sean Mac An Ultaigh

“In a bar.” — Denise Helberg Snider

For more on meditation, click here.

Where To Meditate: 11 Surprising Places To Find Some Zen.

Dr. Nalini Chilkov: Depression, Desire, Addiction: Is Meditation the Answer to Changing Your Brain?

Does the discomfort of discontent, longing, envy, jealousy, anger, compulsion, and anxiety contaminate your life, tighten your body and constrict your heart? Feeling out of control, impulsive and addicted is a tyranny, a prison in which there is no real peace or freedom. Is it possible that cultivating awareness and a kind and generous heart through time-tested meditation practices could be the path to freedom from addiction, craving and unhappiness? Might generosity, open heartedness, peace and contentment cultivated through mindful awareness practices replace our angst?

Our modern materialistic, dehumanizing, time- and task-driven life fuels our sense of lack and cravings for such things as shopping, food, work, drugs, alcohol, sex, high-risk sports and even the Internet. Where is real peace to be found? How are we to get off the wheel and come home to our tender-hearted selves?

According to Dr. Stephen C. Hayes, “Mindful awareness facilitates greater awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions and leads to greater capacity for self-regulation and self-control.” Advances in brain research tell us that our brains, our emotional habits and responses are all malleable, that we are not stuck with our current self-limiting patterns, but that surprisingly simple techniques can actually change our brain and our lives. We are plastic. Like clay, we can reshape our brain, our thoughts, our emotions.

Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. states:

You’re not stuck with the brain you’re born with. By changing your brain, you can change your life. With simple breathing and awareness techniques it is possible to quell anxiety and panic, calm inner turmoil and fight depression by learning how to short circuit automatic negative thoughts, conquer impulsiveness, obsessiveness and anger, develop focus and stop obsessive worrying.

Joan Halifax Roshi, Abbot of Upaya Zen Center is part of a group of scientists and Buddhist teachers who have been meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over 20 years. These meetings, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute endeavor to bring modern science and traditional Buddhist practices together to explore how meditation transforms our hearts and minds, our brain, our bodies, our behavior and emotions, even our communities and our world.

At Upaya Zen Center, she and Dr. Al Kaszniak, a research psychologist and Zen teacher who has studied consciousness both on and off the cushion, host a program called Zen Brain, Zen Mind. The next in a series of Zen Brain, Zen Mind retreats, Greed and Generosity, The Neuroscience and Path of Transforming Addiction, focuses upon the challenge of addiction, greed and desire and the possibility that Buddhist Meditation Practices and Buddhist Perspective and Philosophy combined with modern brain science offer a compassionate, effective and skillfull means to addressing these problems at the level of the individual, the family and the community, and most importantly the heart and mind.

Amidst the beautiful arroyos and mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico, one can experience firsthand how simple meditation and awareness practices combined with modern knowledge of brain science can heal and transform. Here, you can engage in reflection and discussion, turn inward and explore the path to freedom from greed, compulsion and desire. Whether you struggle with addiction and desire, counsel, teach or study, sit down, rest on the breath, come home to your own tender heart. Perhaps this is where you will find the end of addiction and the seeds of enduring inner peace and an open generosity with which to meet your life.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.


via Dr. Nalini Chilkov: Depression, Desire, Addiction: Is Meditation the Answer to Changing Your Brain?.

Mack Paul: Meditation Is Medicine

I think my favorite Zen story is about an exchange between Hui Neng, the fifth Chinese patriarch who lived about 1,400 years ago, and Wo Lun, a monk who wants to demonstrate his spiritual attainment.

Wo Lun tells Hui Neng this:”Wo Lun has skillful meansEnabling him to cut off all thoughts.In the face of circumstanceshe is not aroused,and daily, monthly,wisdom grows.”

Hui Neng sees Wo Lun’s pride and his sense of spiritual superiority and offers a corrective, gently couched in the language of his own experience.

“Hui Neng has no skillful means.He does not cut off all thoughts.In the face of circumstances his mind is often aroused.  How can there be the growth of wisdom.”

Wo Lun expressed the misconception, apparently as common then as now, that meditation produces wisdom. Hui Neng tells him what he’s learned, that the human brain is a really sensitive and reactive organ that isn’t tamed. He doesn’t argue or try to impress Wo Lun with the righteousness of his own thinking. The contents of his mind are of little interest. Awareness has taught him that his mind makes him suffer, and he recognizes that thinking is, by its nature, delusional.

People begin meditating in the hope meditation will make them wise. The attentive learn how quickly clarity and ease dissolve into anger and stress under pressure. There’s a saying that a mindful act makes a Buddha of a common man as an unmindful one makes a common man of a Buddha. The awakened state is not necessarily steady or stable. We wake up, and then we fall back asleep. It is perfectly natural.

I’ve spent the last 30 years working with troubled kids in public schools. It has been instructive. If you want to observe the human mind in its purest, rawest form, kids are perfect. They just can’t hide the simplicity of their motives. A kid hurts, and when he hurts he has a tendency to hit somebody. The person he hits hurts and hits back, or he takes it out on somebody else. The consequence is an expanding cycle of psychic pain that is carried into adulthood. Those most affected don’t learn the cycle. They just delude themselves and others into thinking their mean attitudes are grand moral principles. We all experience this. When I pick up a newspaper or turn on the computer to catch the news, there is a high probability that I will see something that makes me mad. I read an opinion that threatens and hurts, and I want to hit back with my own opinion.

I began my meditation practice because I was overwhelmed with the constant conflict that is the nature of teaching in public school. Worn down and exhausted, I have awakened many an early morning with my mind on fire with upset. I get up and sit, because God knows I won’t be sleeping, and begin shifting my attention from my fevered thinking to my breath and my aching body.Sitting quietly is an invaluable practice in keeping the mouth shut. There is a river of mean thoughts and the hurt of wanting to hurt someone to make the hurt stop. There is the iron grip of angry, hurt thinking that just magically lets go. There is a relief that is like a fever breaking. I’ve been through this many times over the last two decades. It is kind of a miracle that makes it possible for me to go back to work with a clear mind and an open heart. One of the positives of working with kids is that the water flows quickly under the bridge.

With a kid, you can start each day with a clean slate. Every day, we try to do a bit better, and every day we do. The work has been very difficult, but it has also been a great joy.I’ve learned that thoughts are simply thoughts, and meditation is a medicine for infection that is crazy thinking. When you take your medicine, you don’t spread the infection any further. The act of turning attention to the breath to soothe the body is very simple. It is not easy. It is a basic human responsibility.For more by Mack Paul, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.

via Mack Paul: Meditation Is Medicine.


Lewis Richmond: Is Meditation Narcissistic? on Huffington Post

Is meditation narcissistic? The short answer is: it depends. The act of sitting in silence, eyes closed or facing a wall, attention focused on the inner landscape of breath, body and mental activity, could at least be characterized as self-absorbed — some might call it navel gazing. The term “navel gazing,” which the dictionary defines as “useless or excessive self-contemplation,” was originally a concentration practice of Hindu Yoga. Jack Engler , a psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher, has written extensively about the wrong use of meditation by psychologically unbalanced people. In the book “Buddhism & Psychotherapy,” he speaks of those who “practice meditation in the service of defense, rather than self-awareness.” Engler’s contributions are part of a growing literature about the many ways that the goal of true meditation can be subverted by those with a distorted motivation.

Motivation indeed is the key. While “right meditation” is the eighth spoke in the wheel of the eight-fold path, “right motivation” is the second. When Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, confronts Mara the Tempter, he dismisses Mara by saying, “You are not striving for the welfare of the world.” In other words, Mara — who could be seen as the narcissistic shadow of the Buddha — lacks correct motivation. Mara wants the fruit of spiritual practice to satisfy his own selfish needs for power, status, security or perfection. Perhaps today’s Western practitioners leap a bit too quickly into the innerness of meditation without a thorough grounding in all the other spokes of the Path — “right view,” “right intention” and so on.

These days I am growing less fond of this prefix “right,” which is a legacy of 19th century scholarship. To my ear “right” is a bit superior-sounding and moralistic. I have come to prefer simply “Buddhist” — Buddhist view, Buddhist motivation, Buddhist action, Buddhist speech, Buddhist livelihood, Buddhist effort, Buddhist mindfulness, Buddhist meditation. There are other paths; this is the Buddhist one. Each of these eight spokes are important; each supports the others and helps keep Mara-like self-absorption at bay. Emphasizing one at the expense of the others is not salutary.

The prince Siddhartha left the palace and took up the life of a monk not because he needed more adulation, wealth or influence (he already had those things) but because he wanted to clearly understand the causes of suffering and how to assuage it. In many places throughout the Sutras, the Buddha says this, “I teach suffering and the cause of suffering.” In other words, Buddha strives for the welfare of the world; that is his work.

This concern for the suffering of others is not an idea; it is a deeply emotional response. Siddhartha was upset by the suffering he saw, a powerful emotional reaction that changed his life. This is described often in Buddhist scripture. The Vimalakirti Sutra begins with the news that the Bodhisattva Vimalakirti is sick. When the disciples of the Buddha go to visit him, Vimalakirti explains that he is sick because all sentient beings are sick. And in the “Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life ,” Santideva says that while an ordinary person experiences the suffering of others like a grain of sand in the palm of the hand, for the Bodhisattva it is like a grain of sand in the eye. Suffering is painful; the Bodhisattva feels that pain on behalf of others.

Meditation practiced in this spirit and with this motivation is not at all narcissistic; in fact, it is narcissism’s opposite. Neuroscientists are now looking at the brain scans of people with strong narcissistic tendencies, and are seeing anomalies in the region of the frontal lobe having to do with emotional response. It is not clear yet how this might relate to Buddhist practice, but it supports Jack Engler’s observations about people who practice meditation to armor themselves against feeling.

Buddhist Motivation is not some elementary or preparatory practice to be left behind once meditation begins. Cultivating Buddhist motivation is a lifelong endeavor, because the tendency to slip into self-aggrandizement does not necessarily diminish as one’s spiritual prowess grows. In fact, it can increase. In many meditation traditions — including my own school of Zen — every period of meditation begins with a recitation of the four Bodhisattva vows, and concludes with a dedication to the welfare of all beings. Buddhist meditation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is not navel gazing; it is deeply relational.

The Eightfold Path was designed to be practiced as a seamless whole. Otherwise things can go awry. Any single practice or effort can go off the rails. Mara’s stratagems are indefatigable and ingenious. The ego constantly looks for ways to bend the benefits of the practice back toward the self and its selfish needs. It helps to have other people — practice companions, good spiritual friends and teachers — to watch you and point out where you might be veering off.

One contemporary Japanese Zen teacher, when asked by a student what was the most important principle of Zen practice, replied, “Look under your own feet.” We must ask, are we standing on solid ground, or on quicksand? This question is the continuous life koan of every seeker of the truth and every aspirant for wisdom.

via Lewis Richmond: Is Meditation Narcissistic?.

Dawn Gluskin: Meditation, Demystified HuffPost

Meditation is a mystery to many in the Western world. Sure, we’ve all heard of it, but most say they “don’t have time” to slow down for it and others say they simply don’t know how or they’ve tried it and couldn’t do it “right.” Some even misunderstand it as being against their religion or think something crazy might happen, like they’ll start levitating during a session. While I actually think that levitating would be pretty cool — no, that’s not going to happen! What will happen is a slew of positive health benefits. Regular meditators experience a sense of calm, peace, balance, and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. They also may have the ability to stay more focused with longer attention spans and better thought control than they would have without meditation. Other side effects can include increased happiness, more creativity, and deeper self-awareness and acceptance. The Dalai Lama, reportedly, has boldly declared, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

So, what is stopping us? Despite all of the fantastic benefits, statistically, less than 10 percent of Americans have a meditation practice. And the reason why is quite simple. As a whole, we don’t know any better. We live in a very fast-paced society and have it ingrained in our brains that if we slow down, we’re going to get passed up and plowed over. Further, as a society, we are over-medicated and taught that the cure for pretty much everything lies within a pill. Therefore, we’ve lost faith in our own bodies and their amazing abilities to heal. If doctors wrote out prescriptions to start a meditation practice and fuel our bodies with healthy nutrition, then miracles could happen. But we’ve come so far in science that we overlook the basics that are right in front of us and easy for all to achieve. There is no money to be made in telling people to meditate, and we’re a very profit-driven society.

We can all become spiritually rich if we turn to tools like meditation, which help us to raise our own vibrations and those of the world around us. A meditation practice helps us to get to the core of our being. By stilling our minds and silencing the overwhelming abundance of thoughts wildly dancing through at any given time, we’re able to hear the voice of our loving inner guide over that of our fear-based ego. Once we’re able to loosen the tight grasp that the ego mind has on us, we can swap out unpleasant insecurities, anxieties and fears for peace, happiness, and fulfilling our destinies.

There is an old Zen adage, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day — unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” At first, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But, anybody that has had a meditation practice will say, “I totally get it!” When we’re super busy, we usually feel tense and high-strung, which is our body’s normal reaction to stress. Meditation helps us to feel calm and thus allow stress to melt away. Meditating is not going to make our schedules any less hectic. However, it will make us more clear-headed and able to deal with whatever life tosses our way so that we actually begin dancing joyfully amidst the chaos. We’re essentially training our brain how to relax and deal with things in a much more level-headed and peaceful manner.

If this all sounds good to you, but you still have no idea where to begin, here are seven steps to get your practice going:

  1. Try to set up a little sacred spot in your home to go to every time you meditate. Put a few articles out that inspire you or that you have a spiritual connection too. If not, don’t let that stop you. That point is to just get it in when you can! My ideal spot is on my meditation pillow in my own little sacred spot, but as a new mom, I’ve logged plenty of recent sessions with a sleeping baby on my lap on the rocking chair. Those sessions are just as valuable!
  2. If you have something specific that you want to meditate on, think or pray about it before you begin your session. You don’t want to try to force or control your thoughts while meditating, so if you have something that you’re seeking guidance on, it’s best bring it up beforehand.
  3. Find a quiet spot and sit comfortably. If you have kids, you might need to sneak out of bed before the rest of the house wakes up or do it after they go to bed. Or, you might try headphones with some relaxing music to drown out the noise. Just find a way to make it work with your schedule and lifestyle.
  4. Decide how long you will meditate for. Beginners might want to start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase. Five minutes is better than zero! Just like working out, the benefits will compound over time. Generally, the more frequently and longer, the better, but don’t discount the short sessions. Thirty minutes a day is an excellent goal to strive for.
  5. Set a timer. There are many apps you can download for your phone or table that have timers, keep logs, and play chimes at the beginning and end of your session. Insight Timer is one of my favorites and will even publish your sessions to Facebook and Twitter, if you want to share.
  6. Now, close your eyes and focus on your breathe. Inhale deeply into your diaphragm and slowly exhale. Don’t force the breathe, but just let it flow naturally as your allow your attention to draw there. Don’t worry if thoughts come while you are meditating. That is going to happen, especially if you’re new to it. Just try to observe the thoughts without judgment.
  7. Continue this until your timer lets you know the session is up. Don’t quit early!! Completing your full session time is going to help you build the discipline needed for an ongoing meditation practice.

If you stick with it daily and increase your session length over time, you’ll soon notice some positive changes in your life. Try journaling afterwards to log any major insights or an especially great feeling. When I get in my 30 minutes a day, I feel so wonderfully grounded, peaceful, and ready to conquer the world!

Have more questions, or want to share your own experience? Come join my Facebook page or message me privately. I always love to hear from you guys!

For more by Dawn Gluskin, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.

Dawn Gluskin: Meditation, Demystified on Huff Post.


Time Magazine: Can Meditation Make You Smarter?

Most of us know that meditating is a great way to reduce stress. But meditative practice goes beyond taking a chill pill. Meditating is also associated with structural changes in the brain that help sharpen focus and improve memory and multitasking skills. But can this mind-body practice really help you get straight As?

Smarty (Yoga) Pants — Why It Matters
It’s not just treehuggers and ultra-yogis who meditate. In 2007, about 9 percent of American adults tried getting into their Zen zones at least once in the past year. Most people say they meditate to manage stress, but meditative practice affects the brain in many other ways.

While people have been meditating for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 1970s that scientists started focusing on its brainy benefits. Numerous studies suggest that regular meditation (about six hours a week) may actually change brain structure. Scientists have found meditation is associated with a thicker cerebral cortex and more grey matter — i.e., the parts of the brain linked to memory, attention span, decision-making and learning. But a year of silent meditation isn’t always necessary. One study found people who meditated at least once a week for four years showed increased cortical gyrification, the folding of the cerebral cortex that helps people process information.

It’s still unclear how meditation actually changes the brain, but some scientists say devoting complete attention to one specific object or thought actually alters our neural networks. And just remember, these studies don’t imply meditating will cause any changes in our brains, just that these cognitive abilities are associated with meditation.

Other research skips the brain scans and suggests some practical benefits of meditation. “Om”-ing is connected to better concentration and multitasking skills — things some of us might wish for when losing focus on the job. Researchers think meditation helps people deal with interruptions and work on multiple assignments more efficiently. Meditation can also help students battle stress on exam day, possibly boosting their academic performance. But before replacing the GCal with breathing exercises, beware of conflicting scientific findings.

Breathe In, Breathe Out — The Answer/Debate
So what’s the real deal? Meditation may be linked to some short-term perks, like acing a memory test, but scientists have yet to figure out how long the potential cognitive benefits of meditation last. Meanwhile, one study failed to find any correlation between short-term breathing meditation and cognitive abilities like memory, intelligence, and academic achievement. And some scientists argue that meditation only has brain-boosting power when we expect to see those kind of results.

It’s also worth noting that there are many different types of meditation, and certain people may benefit more from one meditation style over another. So if you’re looking to get some big results from a little inward reflection, choose a type of meditation you like, and feel most comfortable doing. From mantra to mindfulness and Zen to qigong, there are plenty of ways to get that third eye in focus.

Do you regularly practice meditation? What do you find are its best benefits?  Tell us in the comments below.

Greatist is the fastest-growing fitness, health and happiness start-up. Check out more tips, expert opinion and fun times at Greatist.com.