Different formal meditation practices


Meditation can be practiced sitting, lying down, walking and standing. Here is some advice  for practicing in each of these situations


Support your starting sitting practice : Andrew Weiss

To support your formal sitting practice at home, try to find a special place. You don’t need much room, just a place for a cushion or chair, and perhaps some beautiful object you enjoy looking at, such as a small vase of flowers or a plant or a rock or a carving. Try to use this space only for your meditation practice: It will help you to meditate every time you sit down there. Remember, sitting meditation should be enjoyable and rewarding. If it isn’t, you won’t want to do it, so make the space as inviting as pos-sible. If your back permits, try to make sure that your meditation setup encourages you to keep your back straight without the support of a wall or chair back.

Sitting Meditation:  Sharon Salzberg

Notice where you feel your breath most vividly. Perhaps it’s predominant at the nostrils, perhaps at the chest or abdomen. Then rest your attention lightly—as lightly as a butterfly rests on a flower—on just that area.  Become aware of sensations there. If you’re focusing on the breath at the nostrils, for example, you may experience tingling, vibration, or warmth, itchiness. You may observe that the breath is cooler when it comes in through the nostrils and warmer when it goes out. If you’re focusing on the breath at the abdomen, you may feel movement, pressure, stretching, release. You don’t need to name these sensations—simply feel them.

Let your attention rest on the feeling of the natural breath, one breath at a time. (Notice how often the word “rest” comes up in this instruction? This is a very restful practice.) You don’t need to change it, force it, or “do it right”: just feel it. You don’t need to make the breath deeper or longer or different from the way it is. Simply be aware of it, one breath at a time.

You may find that the rhythm of your breathing changes. Just allow it to be however it is. Sometimes people get a little self-conscious, almost panicky, about watching themselves breathe—they start hyperventilating a little, or holding their breath without fully realizing what they’re doing. If that happens, just breathe more gently. To help support your awareness of the breath, you might want to experiment with silently saying to yourself “in” with each inhalation and “out” with each exhalation, or perhaps “rising” and “falling.” But make this mental note very quietly within, so that you don’t disrupt your concentration on the sensations of the breath.

Mindfulness of Breathing :  Thich Nhat Hahn

To practice mindful breathing, just observe the natural rhythm of the breath. Please do so without forcing it to be longer, deeper, or slower.

With attention and a little time, your breath with deepen naturally on its own.
Occasionally, your mind will wander off. Our practice is simply to take note of this distraction and to bring our attention gently back to our breath.  During the duration of several in and out breaths, follow your breath from beginning to end.

Becoming familiar: Matthieu Ricard.

Instead of “meditation”, I think we should actually use different words because the Tibetan word is much more accurate, instead of meditation we say “familiarization“.

You “familiarise” yourself with a new way of being, a new way of thinking, familiarization over years of practice is like a musician that becomes so well-trained in his instrument. In the beginning you have to be very attentive but then, after some time it becomes second nature, you are the helm of your own mind, to be much less vulnerable to, say, thoughts of animosity instead of letting it grow, and after a while it becomes so strong that you are compelled to act in a destructive way, and then you look at it and then somehow you let that thought vanish and disappear and therefore you are no more a puppet in the hands of your thoughts.

Noticing pleasant, unpleasant and neutral: Martine Bachelor

Feelings arise generally because of contact with something, a sound, a sensation, etc…  They can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.  We are not trying to develop only certain feelings.  We are trying to be aware of them at a basic level and try not to grasp at them but to know them.


A Lying down practice: The Body Scan

Jon Kabat Zinn

The Body Scan is a variation on a traditional Burmese practice – called sweeping……..The traditional method involves tuning in to sensation in a narrow horizontal band that is slowly brought down through the entire body as if you were giving yourself a CAT scan. This is analogous to the way certain metals such as zinc are purified in a circular zone furnace. I thought it would be hard for people in chronic pain to sit for forty-five minutes, so I modified the practice. It is done lying down starting at the toes and moving up through different regions of the body.

This practice is a way of getting out of the head and developing intimacy with the body. The challenge is, can you feel the toes of your left foot without wiggling them. You tune in to the toes, then gradually move your attention to the bottom of the foot and the heel, and feel the contact with the floor. Then you move to the ankle and slowly up the leg to the pelvis. Then you go to the toes of the right foot and move up the right leg. Very slowly you move up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, then the upper back and chest, and the shoulders. Then you go to the fingers on both hands and move up the arms to the shoulders. Then you move through the neck and throat, the face and the back of the head, and then right on up through the top of the head.

And all the while, you’re in contact with the breath. I tend to have people feel the breath moving in and out of the body region they’re attending to, so that there’s a sort of dual awareness. As you move up the body, you’re learning how to focus on a particular region, then let go of it and move on. It’s like cultivating concentration and mindfulness simultaneously, because there is a continual flow. You’re not staying with one object of attention.

Does the body scan work like a relaxation practice?

The body scan is a meditation practice, not a relaxation exercise. Relaxation is done with a goal in mind. Meditation is about nonstriving and emptiness. If you get into thinking, ”I’m doing this meditation to take away my pain,” you’re coming at it with the wrong motivation. Meditation doesn’t “work” or not “work”; it’s about being with things as they are.

From an interview with Joan Duncan Oliver.

Jon Kabat Zinn et al: Direct sensing of the body turns us the volume on the body’s messages and turns down the volume on mental chatter

What was Nancy learning through the Body Scan? She was discovered that there were different ways she could pay attention and know herself. If she thought about her body in the usual way, her mind would be filled with ideas and concepts and all their associations. Now she saw she could focus on the body or on any part of it, but as a pattern of directly experienced sensations. Although she did not know it, this shifted her mode of mind from doing to being as the experiment unfolded.

This shift is particularly important to those of us who have struggled with chronic unhappiness because for us the thoughts that are so quick to jump in are often negative and self-critical. The experience of inhabiting the body without succumbing to the pull of our thoughts about the body can lead to a profoundly liberating change in our relationship to our bodies – and to life in general.


Instructions for doing walking meditation: Gil Fronsdal

To do formal walking meditation, find a pathway about 30 feet long, and simply walk back and forth. When you come to the end of your path, come to a full stop, turn around, stop again, and then start again. Keep your eyes cast down without looking at anything in particular. Some people find it useful to keep the eyelids half closed.

We stress walking back and forth on a single path instead of wandering about because otherwise part of the mind would have to negotiate the path. A certain mental effort is required to, say, avoid a chair or step over a rock. When you walk back and forth, pretty soon you know the route and the problem-solving part of the mind can be put to rest. Walking back and forth, the little interruption when you stop at the end of your path can help to catch your attention if it has wandered.

As you walk back and forth, find a pace that gives you a sense of ease. I generally advise walking more slowly than normal, but the pace can vary. See if you can sense the pace that keeps you most intimate with and attentive to the physical experience of walking. After you’ve found a pace of ease, let your attention settle into the body. I sometimes find it restful to think of letting my body take me for a walk.

Once you feel connected to the body, let your attention settle into your feet and lower legs. In sitting meditation, it is common to use the alternating sensations of breathing in and out as an “anchor” keeping us in the present. In walking meditation, the focus is on the alternating stepping of the feet.

With your attention in the legs and feet, feel the sensations of each step. Feel the legs and feet tense as you lift the leg. Feel the movement of the leg as it swings through the air. Feel the contact of the foot with the ground. There is no “right” experience. Just see how the experience feels to you. Whenever you notice that the mind has wandered, bring it back to the sensations of the feet walking. Getting a sense of the rhythm of the steps may help maintain a continuity of awareness.

As an aid to staying present, you can use a quiet mental label for your steps as you walk. The label might be “stepping, stepping” or “left, right.” Labeling occupies the thinking mind with a rudimentary form of thought, so the mind is less likely to wander off. The labeling also points the mind towards what you want to observe. Noting “stepping” helps you to notice the feet. If after a while you notice that you are saying “right” for the left foot and “left” for the right foot, you know that your attention has wandered.

When walking more slowly, you might try breaking each step into phases and using the traditional labels “lifting, placing.” For very slow walking, you can use the labels “lifting, moving, placing.”

Some people find that their minds are more active or distractible during walking than during sitting meditation. This may be because walking is more active and the eyes are open. If so, don’t be discouraged and don’t think that walking is thus less useful. It may in fact be more useful to learn to practice with your more everyday mind.

You can train your mind to be present any time you walk. Some people choose specific activities in their daily routines to practice walking meditation, such as walking down a hallway at home or at work, or from their car to their place of work.

In our daily lives, we spend more time walking than sitting quietly with our eyes closed. Walking meditation can serve as a powerful bridge between meditation practice and daily life, helping us be more present, mindful and concentrated in ordinary activities. It can reconnect us to a simplicity of being and the wakefulness that comes from it.


11 thoughts on “Different formal meditation practices

  1. I like the variety of techniques on this page. I wish mindful writing was on here too and wonder whether mindful writing is something that you and your readers do?

  2. Thanks for posting this article! I’ve actually just written a book about learning about mindfulness in a Buddhist context and applying it in my daily life. For yet another perspective on it, here’s the link:

  3. It’s so good to see so much of Buddha dharma coming into everyday knowledge and practice. Hopefully it can successfully and sufficiently spread to avert all of the craziness that has been demonstrated as the history of mankind, that is before there ain’t no world for anything to do anything anymore at the rate things are panning out.

  4. Hi Karl, I’ve been enjoying your blog since I discovered a few weeks ago. Perhaps at some point you might include mantra meditation among those formal practices presented here. I began a meditation practice over 40 years ago with transcendental meditation but didn’t stay with it for more than a year or two. Then about 5 years ago I returned to meditation, this time of a Buddhist nature. Over time I have returned to mantra meditation thusly: I recite the Karaniya Metta Sutta aloud, and after a pause to notice the breath, I recite Thây’s retranslation of the Heart Sutra, The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore, and then recite or chant the mantra Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha 108 times using a mala. I find this is a very calming practice. As a psychologist, I often suggest mantra meditation to clients with obsessive traits or disorders who find sitting silently leads to a complete interruption of the session. It helps occupy the mind with noble intention, and the distractions we all experience are less likely to interrupt the session.
    Namasté, Shielagh

    1. Hi Shielagh, Thanks for your suggestion and even more for your presence on the site. I get encouragement from the messages I receive from all corners of the globe. I am aware that other forms of meditation could be mentioned, such as you say, or visualizations for example. I myself used mantras for a number of years, a few years after I started meditating. Similar to you I started over 40 years ago. However, while not denying the usefulness of all of these practices I decided to stick to the form of meditation I have been trained in more recently in my mindfulness training, firstly with Jon Kabat Zinn and then with the UMass Medical Centre, which only uses the breath as a support. So my piece is written to bear testimony to one narrow stream while not denying the usefulness of many other streams out there. IN my mindfulness classes I take a similar approach – training in sensitivity to the breath-in-the- body – and not using too many other methods. However, I really appreciate your words and am going to follow up with reading the Sutta and with The Insight that brings us to the Other Shore. Best wishes, KArl

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