9 Meditation Tools to Help You Practice
There are many things we can do to help aid our practice at home. From sitting on a cushion to listening to guided meditations, here are a few tools you can try for your meditation practice. They may not all be for you, but hopefully some of these tools will be helpful in your practice.
1. Zafu and Zabuton Set
If you are comfortable sitting on the ground, it’s great to have your own meditation cushion. A zafu is a round cushion used for meditation, and provides a way to sit comfortably for many people. The zabuton is the cushion or mat that goes below the zafu in order to rest your knees and feet comfortably.
Having a dedicated sitting device can be a great asset to your practice. Research on state-dependent memory suggests that having some routine to a practice can be beneficial. For example, sitting on the same cushion every day in meditation will help your mind and body associate the time on the cushion with ease and mindfulness. If a cushion is not comfortable for you, try sitting in the same chair every day!
2. Books on Meditation
Reading is another great thing we can do. Reading and learning new practices can be a great tool for our meditation practice and daily living. We have some lists of our favorite Buddhist books and our favorite books about meditation, and there are hundreds of books out there. From mindfulness and sutta studies to trauma and neuroscience, there are books about almost everything.
It’s important that we don’t let reading substitute for a dedicated practice. Although we can learn quite a bit from learning the teachings and new practices, we have to actually practice them! If you do take up reading, make sure to actually put into practice what you’re learning.
3. Podcasts and Talks
Podcasts and dharma talks are a great way to help your practice. You can listen to a podcast at the end of a long day, while driving, or exercising. There are podcasts offering talks on Buddhism, talks about meditation, discussions, and more. We have a few of our own podcasts (check the button below), and listen to quite a few podcasts ourselves. If you’re looking for a useful meditation tool on the go, we suggest finding some you like!
We don’t have space here to list every single podcast we like related to meditation and mindfulness, but there are a few we recommend checking out:
- DharmaSeed, a collection of talks from Spirit Rock and IMS
- Audio Dharma, a collection of talks and meditations from Insight Retreat Center
- Dhamma Talks, Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s collection of talks and meditations
- Tara Brach, wonderful dharma talks from a psychologist and powerful teacher
- Metta Hour, a podcast with Sharon Salzberg and guests
4. Guided Meditations
If you’re new to meditation practice, guided meditations can be one of the most useful tools you have. Guided meditations give us the opportunity to listen and understand while we practice. Rather than going it alone, we can get instruction and reminders for our practice. Although sitting in silence is also beneficial, the guidance can really help us get a deeper understanding of the methods and techniques to practice.
Many of the podcasts mentioned above have guided meditations available, so you can check those out. You can also surf YouTube for meditations from many teachers. Finally, apps like InsightTimer (see #7 below) have guided meditations you can try!
5. A Teacher & Community
This isn’t exactly a tool, but it can really help our practice to have a community and a teacher. You can look on places like Meetup.com for local groups, find online groups through places like Worldwide Insight, or take a trip to go on retreat. Building a sangha can be incredibly helpful in our practice, as we can learn from others and connect deeply.
A teacher allows us to have somebody with whom we can discuss our practice openly. Meditation teachers who work one-on-one with individuals can help you find practices that work well for you, give you some direction with your practice, and act as both a guide and a companion on the path. We offer one-on-one coaching, and many teachers offer donation-based coaching and training.
6. Essential Oils
This is not a traditional meditation tool, but one we use personally in our own practice. Essential oils can be helpful in encouraging mindfulness, compassion, and a settled mind. Whether it’s some jasmine to help promote calm or some type of citrus to give some energy, you can check out essential oils for your practice. It may not be for everyone, and cats may have sensitivities to some oils, but you may find that they help your practice!
We use essential oils directly on the skin (make sure it is an oil which can be applied topically) and diffuse them when we practice. You can also use a diffuser necklace like those from Online Essential Oils Guide. Remember that essential oils are beginning to be understood, and there is beginning to be research suggesting benefits, so give it a shot.
7. Insight Timer
There are many ways we can use technology in our practice, and many meditation apps out there (including our own app). Our favorite mobile app for meditation is InsightTimer. We know there are many great apps out there, and don’t mean to say the other ones are bad in any way. However, InsightTimer is hands-down one of our favorite meditation tools available.
With InsightTimer you can set reminders to practice, use their meditation timer, connect with other meditators, follow teachers, listen to guided meditations, and more. It really is a wonderful app. One of our favorite things about it is the huge selection of teachers and teachings. The meditations and practices aren’t limited to one tradition, so you can investigate new things and find what fits your needs.
8. Mala Beads
Mala beads are more than just a decorative garland. Yes, there are some beautiful sets of beads out there, but they can also be used for practice. Malas are traditionally used for meditation, and there are different ways to practice with malas. You can repeat mantras, count the breath with the beads, or use the experience as a practice in mindfulness of the body as you feel each bead.
There are tons of places to buy mala beads, and we even make some ourselves. You can find tons of beautiful ones out there made with care and love, but we especially love Buddha Groove, the Mala Collective, and Dharma Crafts. We have given many gifts from these vendors and worked with them closely, and highly recommend checking them out!
Finally, we want to make the point that you can have all the right tools, clothing, malas, cushions, etc., but all you really need to practice is yourself! We can sometimes get wrapped up in the thinking that this thing or that thing will “fix” our practice, but the truth is that all we need to practice is ourselves. Look at the Buddhist monks, and how simply they live. Remember that you can find ways to help your practice, but ultimately you need to just sit down and actually practice!