Meditation is so simple a child can do it, which may explain why children don't bother and most adults can't figure it out.
If you can sit still in a simple chair (see image above for an example) and can count to ten with your eyes closed, you can be meditating successfully from your first day onwards using this tutorial.
The secret is in your breathing. You breath differently when you meditate and additionally you keep track of your breaths by counting. (I'll bet the Yogi Guru Ramalamadingdong didn't tell you that in your last meditation course.)
Here's how it works. By changing your breathing, how you inhale and exhale, you automatically set in motion the physiological response known as relaxation. By additionally counting your breaths in a specific pattern (can you count to ten?) you kill the mental monkey chatter, and viola, off you go!
Monkey chatter? Uh, yes, monkey chatter. If you've never meditated before, getting past monkey chatter is the single most frustrating part of the meditating experience. Just as you've settled into a comfortable breathing routine, all of your sudden your mind is filled with thoughts, analyses, monologues, dialogues, trialogues, sentences, paragraphs, and whole books of words, words, words.
Yikes! What is going on?
Physiology, in a word. As humans, we are primates, and all primates have a biological urge, a necessity to make noise through our vocal cords. Don't believe me? Go to the monkey compound of your local zoo, and observe the monkeys. They chatter all day long. Because they do not have language as we humans know it, they have nothing to say, but by gosh do they ever chatter. Hence the name monkey chatter.
Every primate species has this imperative, including humans, which explains why certain people are so relentlessly talkative even though they have nothing of consequence to say. They are succumbing to the biological urges of their physiology without being consciously aware of it. (Sound like your ex?)
Monkey chatter is the bane of meditation, and one of the first things which needs to be addressed. Some schools of meditation (such as Zen) advise that one should just sit quietly and wait for the monkey chatter to subside on its own. This often works, although unfortunately it can take weeks, months, or in some cases years before that happens. That's a long time, and most Westerners are not that patient.
There is a quicker way which will give you results on the first day. It's called four-two-four-two breathing (4-2-4-2 breathing). It is derived from pranayama which is a yogic form of breathing exercise found in the Hindu tradition in India. BTW, India has lots of wild monkeys running around in trees, so people there are used to hearing monkey chatter from real monkeys. Thus in India those persons who imitate the monkeys by speaking incessantly are said to have "monkey minds".
We can still the monkey mind within by a strategic change in breathing. Before you set out to meditate it is first necessary to learn a different way to breathe. Most Westerners do shallow breathing from their chest. That will get the air in and out, but it also is an invitation for the monkey within to babble on.
Thus, we make a change. The inhale part of our breath becomes slower and longer. While you are inhaling, imagine the air filling your torso up from your hips right up to your collar bones (that's the bottom of your neck). Expand your abdomen to accomodate this increase in air, then expand your chest, and then expand your collar bone as you fill up with air completely. Then hold your breath full briefly.
The exhale part your breath also changes, and becomes slower and longer as well. You begin by slowly exhaling from your collar bone, then exhale your chest and finally exhale from your abdomen and hips making sure you squeeze every last bit of air out of your entire torso by contracting your stomach muscles. At this point you do something quite new. You hold yourself empty of air very briefly.
Try that a couple of times (only once or twice) just to get the idea. If your head feels a bit giddy or zoned, you're doing it right.
Now let's put that breathing into a well-defined structure. The idea here is physical comfort.
Slowly do the inhale (from hips to collar bones) to the count of four. Now hold your lungs and torso full for a count of two. Slowly exhale (from your collar bones to your hips) to the count of four, and hold your torso empty for a count of two. This is where the name 4-2-4-2 breathing comes from.
Keep the count even and adjust it faster or slower until you can do the breathing with physical comfort for several breaths. That's the basic technique.
Let's now do a couple of quick definitions. A single 4-2-4-2 breath is called a complete breath. In and out. We can do several of these complete breaths one after another and we call that a sequence.
My gosh, if you've gotten this far, then you're ready to begin meditating. So let's get started.
Find a straight-backed chair in which to sit (see image of the humans at the top of this page). Choose a quiet room where you will not be disturbed for a few minutes. Close your eyes and begin 4-2-4-2 breathing. You will want to start with a sequence of complete breaths (4-2-4-2). To do a sequence, count the number of complete breaths you are doing, from one to ten, and then turn around and count your next complete breaths backwards from 10 down to one. That is a sequence - up to ten and back down again.
The idea is to do four sequences. Each sequence takes about five minutes or so, which means we are doing approximately a 20-minute meditation session.
That's it! Do those four sequences every day and you're a regular meditator. Could this be any easier?
Oh, yes. One thing you need to know about the four sequences. Likely you'll get totally lost somewhere in the middle of the third sequence, and like completely lose track of your counting. Not to worry. That's the idea. You've just arrived at the "place" you're supposed to be. When you "get back" just pick up the count as best you can where you figure you are and complete the sequences.
What happens with all the breathing and counting is that the monkey chatter gets stilled and you get to the "place" that meditation is all about.
So is there a down side to this approach? Yes, the downside is the same as the upside: it's very easy. So easy, in fact, that one can get bored in just a few days.
But a slight modification can fix that. If after a few days you find yourself getting a bit bored, then change the 4-2-4-2 pattern of breathing to extend the exhale part of the breath only. Thus your count can become 4-2-6-2, or 4-2-10-2, or any long exhale you can manage. Try 4-2-18-2 on for size.
What happens when the exhale is extended? You get really ripped. (And it's fully legal everywhere in the world.) Talk about Cosmic. If you're a Pisces, you're gonna love this. And if you're not a Pisces, you'll get a chance to taste Pisces Land first hand.
Now if these instructions aren't enough to get you started, or you've gotten started and would like to explore meditation a little bit more (and get a bit more zoned), likely you'll want to download and read this beginner's manual for meditation (6.2MB download which unzips to a pdf file) for some additional ideas. Requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader.
The more you do meditation the more you learn about meditation, and the more you discover can be explored with meditation. For instance, advanced level meditators might have a go at the Merkaba meditation, but don't even think about this high-octane bliss-out unless you've been meditating *every* day for a couple of years.
Nonetheless, imagine for a moment sitting down every day to get really ripped, legally, and you also get a totally Cosmic Connection in your life to boot. And the more consistently you do it, the better it gets. (In case you were wondering, there are some very interesting reasons why people meditate every day.)
You just might figure out why the Buddha is smiling.