How Do I Know if I Am Meditating Correctly?
In-Meditation Signs that You Meditate Correctly
What it Means to Meditate Correctly in Traditional Yoga Meditation
A Brief Overview of the Purpose of Meditation in Yoga
The purpose of meditation is become aware of the ways in which your attention is always already absorbed. In yoga, you realize your freedom in noticing the ways in which your awareness is always already habitually absorbed by inner/outer life.
Traditionally, meditation begins with focused attention. Focused attention is used as a means of cultivating a sense of inner stability—i.e., the capacity to not be swept up in/by whatever was determining your attention. Common objects of focus include a mantra or your breath (which is always already happening). Regardless of which object you select, the basic practice of focused attention meditation involves turning (and returning) your attention to said object whenever the mind wanders.
Noticing that you’re distracted is a “win” because, in the moment you notice that you are/were distracted, you’ve become directly aware of how your attention was pre-occupied. Similarly, noticing that you’re frustrated or that you’re thinking are all instances of “success” because you’ve become directly aware of how your attention was pre-occupied. (You may even notice patterns in your thinking/feeling, but actively searching for patterns is not our objective.)
How Do You Know if You Are Meditating Correctly? Check for the Following Signs.
Is Meditation Practice Supposed to Change the Way Your Body is Feeling?
How do you know if you are meditating correctly?
You are meditating incorrectly (i.e., not meditating) if you are trying to become calm (or trying to eliminate/repress/suppress your stress/anxiety). You are meditating [correctly] when you notice that you are trying to become calm (or that you are trying to eliminate/repress/suppress your stress/anxiety or painful feelings). You are meditating [correctly] when you notice that you are trying to acquire/eliminate a certain feeling/state. This desire can manifest itself in other ways:
trying to “transcend” your current experience and transport yourself to some “peak experience” or state of being (You are meditating correctly when you notice that you are trying to get away from your current experience.)
trying to fix/purify your inner life, or trying to obtain something like self-mastery. (You are meditating correctly when you notice that you are trying to fix/purify/control your inner life and, indirectly, how others perceive of you.)
In short, you’re meditating incorrectly if you’re trying to accomplish something—anything—in/with your meditation; you’re meditating incorrectly if you’re trying to accomplish any number of things associated with meditation: becoming still/motionless, extra alert, “non-judgemental”, and/or “dis-identifying” from your thoughts, prevent mind wandering, achieve some form of heightened awareness, or simply trying to be in the present moment, etc. You’re meditating correctly when you become aware that striving was happening.
All of this also means that you are meditating incorrectly if you are trying to mediate correctly. You are meditating correctly when you become aware that striving was happening—you were trying to meditate correctly. Meditating correctly has nothing to do with producing any particular feeling/state. You simply notice whatever is arising as you continue to return your attention to your chosen object.
How to Meditate Properly: The Basic Practice/Indication of Successful Meditation
The Most Important of all Signs You Are Meditating Correctly May Not Be How You Feel or How Well You Can Focus
So, how do I know if I am meditating correctly?
Of all the so-called signs you are meditating correctly, the most important noticing instances of fleeing yourself—that is, when you notice striving or desire, the impulse to self-transcend. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that striving/desire is “bad”; we’re simply noticing the nature of its constitution.) You are meditating correctly when you’ve noticed incarnations of habitually and automatically running from yourself.
This means that you’re meditating correctly when you’re able to remain with the more challenging aspects of inner life rather than habitually (and unthinkingly) react to them. You’re meditating correctly when you’re no longer fleeing your anxieties, compulsions, rumination, etc. (including by trying to achieve a different state of being)—when you’re neither heeding nor fleeing the compulsion to be elsewhere or otherwise, but are simply bearing witness to its self-occurring.
And you are meditating correctly when you notice the other side of this self-moving compulsion (i.e., striving to flee yourself): the feeling of dis-ease or “lack” that motivated the very quest to accomplish something in/with your meditation, that motivates the quest to have/do/be whatever allows you to feel complete (so you never feel compelled/impelled to avoid or strive for anything, ever again).
All of this also means that you are meditating [correctly] when you notice whatever is happening, even in moments of deep focus: when focused, you are aware that focus is happening. When inhaling, you are aware that inhaling is happening. When exhaling, you are aware that exhaling is happening. Sensations are happening. Even the body is happening.
He continuously perceives the body as the body, sensations as sensations, the mind as the mind. Exhaling, he knows “I am exhaling”; inhaling, he knows “I am inhaling”. - Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (circa first century BCE)
This article is intended as a short response to a single question. A similar article addresses the question of the when, if ever, it is okay to think during meditation.
Our article on the purpose (and benefits) of meditation offers a more comprehensive discussion of the role of meditation in traditional yoga philosophy and practice.