We’re all collectively going kooky as the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus traps us in our homes, but one of the best ways to clear your mind and haul yourself out of a rut is to practice meditation. There are a lot of types of meditation, each with many subtypes: Zen, Vipassana, Samatha, Transcendental, mindfulness, guided meditation, and so on, and there’s a lot of overlap.
The tenets of mindfulness, a less dogmatic approach to meditation than others, aren’t all unique to mindfulness. Much of its focus on gaining insight into your mind is lifted from millennia-old meditation practices. Guided meditation is most often bouts of quiet mindfulness punctuated by somebody’s directions of what to focus on. How you decide to set up your home meditation space is, in part, influenced by the type of meditation you plan to practice.
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Set Up a Happy Environment
Making a meditation space is extraordinarily personal, and the one piece of advice that should supersede anything else is to make it a relaxing place that you enjoy being in. Having said that, clear yourself some room. It’s hard to concentrate if you have so many piles, boxes, and pieces of furniture in your face that you feel like you’re in a Rack Room store. Plunk down some plants. Add art if it makes you happy, or take it away if it distracts you.
Some people swear by candles, burning incense, or essential oil diffusers. Certain scents in particular can be relaxing; it depends on the person. Lavender and vanilla are the two most common ones, but sandalwood, rose, pine, and jasmine are also popular. Gear reviewer Medea Giordano has more tips on how to turn your home, or at least a room in it, into a sanctuary in her story on ways to stay calm and relax. Some methods, like tea or an Epsom salt bath, can be added to your meditation routine before or after your meditation session to draw out the calmness it brings you.
Meditation isn’t gear intensive. Just like yoga brands, there are a million and one stores clamoring at you to buy a few hundred bucks worth of Lycra. You don’t need a high-tech outfit. Wear something stretchy. Yoga clothes work just as well for meditation if you already have some. If you don’t, Lululemon and prAna are solid brands for stretchy yoga pants and looser, meditation-specific pants. Or you could wear sweatpants; Uniqlo has the best, in my opinion. Or don’t wear anything at all. It’s your home. Just avoid denim if you’re going to be sitting in a meditation position.
Try a Meditation Cushion
The one piece of gear I recommend you go out and buy is a meditation cushion. Some prefer to sit cross-legged on the floor. Others can meditate in a chair or on a bed, but a good cushion can save you from back pain and a sore tailbone, especially if your floors aren’t carpeted. Take a look at the Bean Products zafu. It’s $30, it’s made in Chicago, and it’s full of organically grown buckwheat. Our gear reviewer, Scott Gilbertson, bought his in 2011 and used it for seven years.
There are a few types of filling. Cheaper cushions use polyester, wool, or cotton fluff, like you’d find in a pillow. It’s cheap and easy for the manufacturers to source, but you’ll end up sinking into the cushion after a short while of sitting on it, if not immediately, and have to constantly refluff it. And with the lack of support, you might notice your back or tailbone hurting after a while. Literally, I’m saying they’re a pain in the ass.
The two more premium choices of fill are buckwheat and kapok. Buckwheat is firm and you won’t have to constantly fluff it up because it won’t compress from sitting on it for a long time, but it’s heavy and some people are allergic to buckwheat dust. Kapok is a natural fiber used traditionally in Japanese cushions, and it’s firmer than wool and polyester. They hold their shape well, but are less firm and stable than buckwheat.
Good Noise, Bad Noise
I used to practice Zen in a zendo on the 30th floor of a skyscraper in Manhattan. Up there, the faint noises of traffic below were not too loud, but not too quiet either. Zen is all about training yourself to think of nothing, a skill like a muscle that gets stronger with use and practice, and the softened sounds of trucks driving over metal grates and horns honking provided me with a stream of opportunities to work that muscle to block out noises, and therefore thoughts. Mindfulness too benefits from gentle background noises. Having some noises to focus on when practicing mindfulness meditation gives me more material to be mindful of.
If the noise outside your home more resembles a carnival or The Hurt Locker than a gentle soundscape, then you might want to buy a white-noise machine. Likewise if you practice discursive meditation, in which you examine a problem or piece of truth from many angles. Very opposite to the Zen goal of thinking about nothing. If you’re reasoning with yourself as part of discursive meditation, you may be less welcoming to the intrusions of traffic and weird bird noises, so consider a white-noise machine or app if your neighbors or neighborhood is too noisy to concentrate.
Get a Machine Head
Most cheaper white-noise machines, along with YouTube videos and apps, will play on a predictable loop, and because the brain is excellent at picking out patterns you could find yourself distracted after a while. Better white-noise machines will randomly add noises to the soundtracks to keep from driving you crazy. Check out our favorite white-noise machines for recommendations.
For guided meditation, you’re going to be listening to a person’s directions. Whether that comes from a YouTube series or an app, you’ll need to bring the often-intrusive phone, laptop, or tablet into your sanctuary of stillness. Even if you leave the device in another room and bring in a Bluetooth speaker or headphones, you’re not out of reach of the pings that demand your attention, so take a few moments to silence your notifications and messages, and turn on Do Not Disturb.
Many meditation apps such as Calm offer free trials. Now’s the perfect time to get back into meditation or to try it for the first time. It’s almost free–and can be, if you want to try it without a cushion before you commit–you can do it anywhere there’s a floor, and it just might save your sanity when all you want is a brief escape from your home, even if it’s all in your head.
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