Where Should I Meditate?

Jay Michaelson
September 5, 2019
A person sits cross-legged on the floor next to a chair

One of the most frequent questions we get at Ten Percent Happier is where to meditate. I’m going to answer it.

1. Fantasy vs. Reality

First, judging by some of the advertisements for mindfulness, you’d think that people who meditate all do so in a perfect, airy environment that’s bathed in white light and scented with just the right amount of jasmine in the air.

Reality is usually something different. Life is messy, we’re busy, and often, we’re worrying about “doing it right” and in the right time and place can get in the way of actually meditating.

The fact is, though, it doesn’t really matter where you meditate. Really.

Don’t fret over creating the perfect meditation space, and don’t wait for conditions to be perfect. Accept the imperfect. Maybe you hear your two-year-old crying in the next room. Maybe you’re squeezing in a guided meditation on the way to work.

That is fine – and more than that, it’s part of the point.

One of the features of mindfulness meditation is that it is not about having any one particular feeling. Forget those advertisements of bliss and perfection. Mindfulness is about relating in an open, non-judgmental way to whatever feelings or perceptions you’re actually experiencing.

And that means that, if you hear a noise while you’re meditating, you can just notice it and, for a moment, make it the focus of your meditation. (Some people actually note, to themselves, “hearing” or “noise.”)

Now, there’s often an invitation to go into a whole involved story: OMG, why can’t I find a good place to meditate; why can’t my partner be more respectful; whatever.

Decline the invitation. You’ve noticed the sound, maybe even noticed how it makes you feel. Now you can gently go back to watching the breath, or whatever you were doing before.

So, if you can’t find that perfect meditation spot, meditate wherever you are.

2. Your Spot

Okay, but obviously some things are nicer to notice than others, and some places to meditate are more conducive than others. So, second pro-tip: creating your regular spot.

At home, it can be really helpful to designate a certain spot for meditation, so you build the habit. Human brains work this way. Once you get into a groove, it’s helpful to go to your usual place and do your usual thing. It becomes just part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth.

Does the spot need to be filled with fresh flowers and copies of Dan Harris’s latest book? Not really. Just a simple place, where, optimally, you won’t be disturbed, and you can enjoy a few private minutes.

For some people, sure, that means a special meditation room. For others (probably most people) it might just mean a corner of a room. The idea is, if possible, to have a regular place where your mind gets used to going. Eventually it will say to itself, even without prompting, “oh, ok, meditation time.” That takes out a lot of the starting friction.

Can you meditate on your bed? Sure, especially if that’s the easiest place to carve out for yourself. Just be mindful that you’re not vegging out, or going to sleep, but that you’re setting aside some time for meditation.

Can you meditate in the bathroom? Might sound weird – but definitely. I’ve worked with parents for whom the bathroom is the only place in the house where they can count on not being interrupted by their kids. Most of the time, anyway. So, that’s fine.

And if you’re one of those lucky people whose workspace has a “wellness room” or similar space where you can just be by yourself for a few minutes – I suggest you consider using it! That’s what it’s there for.

3. Gear Up (or not)!

Meditation, like listening to music or doing yoga or cooking dinner, can be a great excuse to buy lots of gear. Cushions, backjacks, chairs, benches, chimes, timers, blindfolds, earplugs, pillows, air purifiers, air ionizers, air filters, fans, little ‘Zen’ water fountains with tiny babbling brooks breaking over the rocks. You get the idea.

To be honest, if you’re into it, I have zero problem with buying this kind of stuff. As long as you don’t confuse buying meditation swag with actually meditating, whatever. There are worse ways to spend your money.

Of course, you don’t actually need most of this stuff.

Really, the only important piece of meditation equipment is what to sit on – and this is something you’ll find out by trial and error. For some people, sitting on the sofa or in a comfy chair is the most natural and simple solution. (One friend of mine has a “meditation chair” which he only sits on to meditate. He has a big apartment.)

For others, chairs and sofas may cause them to be too comfy and fall asleep. Or they might not have the right back support. So, those folks might consider one of those oval cushions that you sit on, or a fancy meditation bench that you kneel on.

Most likely, you’ll just have to figure this out for yourself, because every body is different. You might consult with one of Ten Percent Happier’s coaches on the app, and see what they have to say.

And of course, make this process part of your mindfulness practice. Notice how the body feels in different sitting positions. Practice acceptance for however it feels, while also noting whether you might want to try some different furniture in the future. Catch those crazy-making stories as soon as they arise, and just decline the invitation to follow them. Maybe approach the whole process lightly.

4. Don’t Do This

Let me conclude by telling you a story of how not to do it.

Back in my twenties, I had seen pictures of people meditating on meditation cushions, sitting cross-legged and upright with no back support at all, and so for a few years (years!) I thought that was how you had to do it. Except, I had scoliosis as a teenager and still have pretty bad posture. It was miserable! The back pain, starting a few minutes in, was debilitating, distracting, and probably not good for my back either.

So I stopped meditating. I figured I couldn’t do it. Other people, good for them. But not me.

It took literally a few years before I read books that described meditating in different positions, and saw people sitting in chairs or with back support. Years!

These days, my meditation gear is very, very simple. I sit cross-legged on a “backjack” – which, I see on the internet, is described as a “floor chair.” I take my shoes off, and if I’m not sitting on a carpet, I put a curled-up sock under my ankles. Often I wear earplugs because they help me concentrate. That’s it.

As you can see, the simple choice of where to meditate reflects how we approach meditation – and, not exaggerating too much, how we approach the rest of life. It is really not a big deal, unless we make it into one. It’s up to each of us. And it doesn’t need to stop us from doing the important stuff.

Dr. Jay Michaelson is the editor of wisdom content for Ten Percent Happier. He’s been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay’s eight books include The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path and the brand new Enlightenment by Trial and Error.

Dr. Jay Michaelson has been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay is a journalist on CNN Tonight and at Rolling Stone, having been a weekly columnist for the Daily Beast for eight years. Jay was also an editor and podcast host for Ten Percent Happier for four years. He's an affiliated professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. Jay’s eight books include "The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path" and the brand new "Enlightenment by Trial and Error".

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