Last week, we talked about how to get started meditating. In that entry, I said that you don’t need tools to meditate – and you really don’t! But, if you’re anything like me, sometimes having a few tools helps jumpstart a project, and a small (or medium) investment can make me more likely to stay committed.
If either of those are true for you too, here are the tools I’ve been using to meditate, from “essential” to “nice to have”:1
Insight Timer App (Apple & Android, free)
I’ve tried a few different timers, but this is definitely my favorite! Its main feature is a graceful meditation timer, which counts either up or down, which allows you to either pick ahead of time how long your session will last or just keep track of how long you sat. It also has groups and free guided meditations. You can also participate in the social media parts of the app, if you’d like!
Tips: Search for meditation timers on your phone and try a few out! You’ll learn which one you like best after trying out a few.
Zafus are cushions that are designed for meditating. They’re (often) filled with buckwheat hulls that you can add or remove to your preference (I recommend this style). You don’t need a special cushion for meditating, but I was blown away with how much more comfortable a zafu was than the old pillow folded in half that I was using.
Tips: I stopped by a local meditation center in Denver to try out different cushions and adjust it to just the right amount of buckwheat hulls – I’d recommend this if at all possible. If not, you can find cushions online at places like Hugger Mugger (the brand I have), Dharma Crafts or Etsy.
Books and Magazines
I tend to like books about Buddhist meditation (though you don’t need to be Buddhist to meditate!). My absolute favorite author is Pema Chödrön (I own two copies of When Things Fall Apart, among her other books). Lion’s Roar magazine is wonderful, too – check out some of their articles on their website to get a taste of their magazine.
Tips: Head to a bookstore or library and spend some time looking at the variety of books on meditation to get a better feel for which style you like best!
Lighting a piece of incense is a great way to signal to yourself that you’re getting ready to practice (and make your room smell great!). Incense smoke sometimes irritates my eyes and makes me sneeze, so I try to choose low smoke incense. I use about 1/3 of a stick of Shoyeido incense each time I meditate. I burn the incense in a bowl my mom gave me filled with the leftover bits of dried rice – nothing fancy here! Incense comes in many forms – sticks, cones, powder – but I think sticks are the easiest to use.
Tips: Buying incense online can be tricky! Try to find a store nearby where you can smell the incense before buying. Many natural foods stores sell incense too!
Malas are strings of beads that help count mantras (repeated sacred chants), breaths, etc. There is a lot of symbolism in the number of beads and the kinds and colors of beads used, which you can read more about if you’d like. I use mine, which is a smaller version (27 beads, instead of 108) to keep my mind on my breathing – one bead per breath. You can find malas at Dharma Crafts or on Etsy (or at your local shop!).
Tips: Spend some time to find the right mala for you. Look up the meaning behind the stones (if that’s something you’re interested in) and search for one that has colors that you like.
Statue or Picture
When meditating, it can be hard to know what to look at. Some people close their eyes, which works just fine. Shambhala Buddhist meditation instruction encourages people to keep their eyes slightly open and focused in front of them, symbolically being open to what is before you. Either way, it can be nice to have something to focus on. Usually, I’ll just pick out a place on the wall or floor, but sometimes I will use a tiny Kwan Yin statue as my focal point (because she was badass).
Tips: You can use whatever you’d like: a picture of a beautiful place, a statue or picture of a religious icon you prefer, or even a plant you have in your home. Sometimes, I just watch the incense smoke!
I’ve mentioned I don’t really love guided meditation, but I know a lot of people do! The Insight Timer App mentioned above has a lot of free options (which I haven’t used, so your mileage may vary). Another popular option that I have tried is Headspace, a subscription based meditation app. They have a generous free trial if you want to give it a try!
Tips: try out free guided meditation recordings before investing in anything, to make sure you like that style of meditation.
Again, there is no need to rush out and buy everything on this list! You will not be a “better” meditator just by having all the “right” tools – meditation isn’t a contest. 🙂 The most important thing to do is to practice. But, if having a few tools helps you get started or stick to your goal, go for it!