How to Create a Simple and Supportive Meditation Space
Recently, I ran across a Pinterest pin with a a checklist for creating your meditation space. The pin listed items divided up by the senses plus some extras, like these:
Those items might be nice if you want to create a cozy space for self-discovery, personal reflection, or listening to the whispers of your heart. But, believe me, not a single one of these items is necessary for mindfulness meditation. You don’t even need a room.
To be clear, I’m speaking about the practice of mindfulness meditation, not meditations or guided visualizations meant to help you relax, increase your self esteem, or improve your body image. Those can be helpful, but they’re completely different from mindfulness meditation.
The only thing you truly need to meditate is your mind. Meditation is about working with your mind, whatever the environment. However, in the beginning it’s helpful to have a relatively quiet and supportive ambiance in order to establish and stabilize your practice.
11 Tips for a Simple Meditation space
So what do you really need to meditate?
Here are my suggestions, as a long-time meditator and mindfulness teacher, for a simple and supportive meditation space.
1. A regular place
If you have an entire room for meditation, you're so fortunate. If you don’t have a separate room, then find a corner in your bedroom or living room, or any room in the house. Alternatively, you could sit outside on a deck, on the grass, or in a nearby park.
Sit in the same space each day, if you can. The familiarity will help you build and stabilize your practice. After a while, many people find their mind begins to relax as soon as they enter their meditation space.
But this isn’t an absolute requirement if you happen to travel often or live with many other people. Just do your best to establish a regular place. If you need to switch around from time to time, don’t fret about it.
2. Relative quiet
As a beginner, it helps to have a relatively quiet space for meditation.
Unless you have beginner’s luck, it takes time for your mind to begin to quiet down.
At first, your mind might seem noisier than ever because you’re paying attention for the first time. Don't let that deter you. It's a phase you’ll move through with practice.
Although your aim in meditation isn’t to silence your mind completely, the practice of mindfulness will help you to achieve more calm, spaciousness, and a sense of distance between you and your thoughts.
Later on, once you’ve gained some stability in meditation, you can learn to use sound (whatever sounds arise in the environment rather produced sounds like singing bowls or music) as a support for mindfulness. But in the beginning sounds may distract you, so opt for a relatively quiet place.
But again, don’t go into a state of angst about it either. Just find the most workable space you can. If you find yourself distracted because the refrigerator hums, the heater pings, or the roof creaks, just bring your mind back to the breath or whatever object you’re using for your mindfulness practice. You’ll have to do this again and again. We all become distracted like this when we’re learning to meditate. There’s no need to feel bad about it.
3. Well ventilated / well heated
The two main obstacles in mindfulness meditation are restlessness (also called agitation) and dullness (includes sleepiness).
If your meditation space is too warm, you’re more likely to feel sleepy and lose your mindfulness. Open a window and let in some fresh air or rinse your face with cool water.
While I’ve never heard it said that cold will produce more restlessness, the antidote to agitation is to practice in a room that is warm and dark and to wear heavier clothing. So avoid an overly cold room too.
Adjust the temperature in your meditation space according to the weather and your particular body thermostat. This will help you stay clear, fresh, and awake during meditation.
Of course, sometimes the temperature will be beyond your control. Then we do the best we can, bringing the attention back to the breath if it’s distracted by cold or heat.
I spent three winters meditating in a small "chalet" with a tiny wall heater that warmed just the few feet directly in front of it. It took me awhile to let go of the constant complaints in my mind about the cold, but eventually I did, for the most part. So I know it's not easy, but we work with the situation at hand.
4. Relatively uncluttered and clean
Clutter can be highly distracting. Some studies show that clutter can effect your physical health and attention span. For example, research indicates:
Women with cluttered homes have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone
Clutter can make it more difficult to focus on the task at hand
Women who live in cluttered spaces are more likely to feel depressed or fatigued
The opposite of mindfulness is distraction. Clutter provides many opportunities for the mind to become distracted, either with the things themselves or the inner messages you tell yourself about needing to clean up. Any object can invoke memories from the past or thoughts about the future.
So keep your meditation space as free from clutter as possible. Consciously select any object you wish to add to your space, asking yourself whether it will enhance or detract from a supportive ambiance for meditation.
The same applies to cleanliness. For most of us, a clean environment raises our energy while a dirty one brings us down.
Your space needs to be easily accessible so you don’t miss sessions because it’s a hassle to get there. If your space is in a barn across a snowy field or in your yoga studio around the block, you may rarely get there.
6. A comfortable seat
Unless you engage in walking meditation, you'll spend most of your time on your bum. Be sure you have a comfortable place to sit. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, on a sofa, or on your bed. Or you can buy a mediation cushion and sit on the floor.
But it’s not necessary to have an expensive cushion or to sit on the floor.
The mind and body are intimately interconnected. A feeling of relaxation in your body usually enhances relaxation in your mind. So a comfortable seat can support the quality of your overall meditation experience.
“Relaxation,” however, doesn’t mean to slump or half-recline. In sitting meditation, your back should be straight, but not tense, allowing for the natural curve of your spine. This allows the energy to flow more freely through you subtle energy challenges, and helps to reduce mind chatter.
7. Clear boundaries
Your space may have built in boundaries, like a door, that protect you from interruption. If your space doesn’t have physical boundaries, you’ll need to create verbal boundaries.
Tell your partner, housemates, or children when you’ll meditate and how long you'll be in session. Ask them not to interrupt you and to maintain relative quiet during your meditation time.
I know this can be difficult with children, so you may need to make arrangements with your partner or a friend to watch over your kids while you meditate.
8. A timer
You can use your watch or smart phone to time your session.
This works much better than staring at a clock you've place in your line of sight or cranking your head around every few moments to look at one that you’ve removed from your field of vision. Be sure the timer has a gentle ring so it doesn’t startle you.
9. Optional: Inspirational teachings
Some people inspire their practice by reading a passage from a book, listening to an audio teaching, or watching a video at the start of a session. If this is you, have what you need easily available in your space so you don't have to rummage around for it every time.
And, be sure not to spend so much time on your method of inspiration that there's none left for your actual practice of mindfulness meditation.
10. Optional: A Journal
If you’d like to make a few notes about your practice or record insights that arose during your meditation keep a journal nearby.
Always makes notes at the end of a session, not during your practice. Bear in mind that note taking or journaling can quickly bring you back into your thinking mind, so use these practices judiciously and maybe not at all.
11. Optional: A simple altar
If you'd like to practice a secular form of mindfulness without any religious or ritualistic trappings, that’s fine. You can skip this section.
Some people, however, find that ritual brings them into the space of meditation and sacred objects inspire them. If you'd like, you can create a simple altar with:
Inspiring or sacred objects or images of respected figures that remind you of the purpose of meditation. Cover a small table with a nice cloth and place the objects on top.
You can add fresh flowers, incense, and/or a candle if you wish. In the traditional teachings, these are thought of as offerings, which can help you increase good qualities like generosity.
A regular ritual like lighting a candle and/or a stick on intense may help you connect with the deeper meaning behind meditation or it may assist you in entering more readily into the practice.
But an altar is not necessary for the practice of mindfulness meditation. Decide for yourself whether these types of objects would inspire or distract you and set up your space accordingly.
Things to Avoid in Your Meditation Space
I don’t recommend listening to music or using bells or singing bowls during meditation practice. It's difficult to listen to music without moving into "like"or "dislike" and getting entangled with the experience of the music. That can bring you back into the conceptual mind, which is what you want to leave behind in mindfulness practice.
When you move on to using sound as an object of your mindfulness practice, it's much better to use sounds that naturally arise in your environment rather than created ones. That way you're not creating attachment by only selecting pleasant sounds and furthering aversion by avoiding unpleasant ones. So you won’t need a “playlist” or an Mp3 player unless you listen to audio teachings to inspire your practice.
You also don't need an oil diffuser as your goal in mindfulness meditation is to work with your mind as it is and many essential oils have an effect on the brain. However, you know yourself best. If you have a high level of anxiety and feel you need a support like this, then follow your own inner wisdom.
I'm not saying you should never listen to music or use essential oils to relax. I just don't recommend them during the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Of course, it's your meditation space, you can add whatever else you'd like to create a warm and cozy atmosphere like calming pictures on the wall or a shawl or blanket to keep your warm. In the end you have to decide for yourself. Just remember to be selective and to choose items that will not become a distraction.
A Meditation Space That Supports Your Practice
The purpose of mindfulness practice is to be present in the moment. You don’t need excess paraphernalia to do that, and in fact, having too many objects around or things to do may just distract.
And if you have an emotional pattern that urges you to get everything “right,” you might create a lot of distress for yourself trying to make the perfect space according to someone else's checklist.
In short, relax and keep it simple.
If you'd like to know about getting started with mindfulness meditation or dealing with restlessness in meditation, read these:
The Danger of a Peaceful Meditation Space
In the beginning, you need a quiet and comfortable atmosphere to calm your mind. The activity of your mind will be challenge enough.
Once you've mastered the basics of mindfulness meditation, you can slowly expose yourself to more distractions and learn how to use them as objects of your mindfulness practice.
There’s a wonderful story of a dedicated yogi who had practiced for years in a cozy retreat environment with a beautiful vista and animals all around. His mind became very peaceful.
But then it occurred to him that he may have just turned into a serene vegetable. He thought it might help his meditation to be in a scarier and less pleasant place. So his teacher advised him to go to another place, a cave devoid of sun with water dripping down the walls. To make matters worse, a flock of pigeons flew around the inside of the cave, night and day. Their excrement landed on him from time to time and their flapping wings kept him awake at night.
As you can image, all the feelings of peacefulness he had carefully cultivated in his beautiful and tranquil environment momentarily disappeared. It was very hard for him at first, but still he vowed not to be distracted and continued his meditation training in these difficult circumstances. As a result, he came to the point that nothing bothers him at all. That is true freedom, isn't it!
You can read the full story here: Story of Togden Amtin
Don't worry! No one is expecting you to go to extremes like that. But this story underscores that mindfulness means being present to your experience, all of your experience — pleasant and unpleasant, on the cushion and off.
There are methods to help you integrate mindfulness in your daily life, which I’ll write about at another point. But in the beginning, you need a quiet environment without distraction in order to learn the basics of mindfulness and begin to stabilize your mind.
How does your environment effect your ability to meditate? I would love to hear in the comments below.
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