Even though meditation is sometimes thought of as a spiritial practice, there are many secular form of meditations that absolutely anyone can use, whether atheist, agnostic, or other.
No matter what some hardcore religious folk might tell you, you have just as much right to meditate as anyone else. There is no reason why the practice of meditation should have any spiritual ties whatsever, as Sam Harris says in this video.
That said, there are some techniques that are more appropriate to non-spiritual people, so let’s take a look.
Best non-religious meditation
Let’s start by discussing general mindfulness.
Mindfulness simply means doing one thing at a time and focusing on what you’re doing. And surely there can’t be anything religious about that. Surely mindfully doing one thing is just healthy.
As Wellness expert Olivia Rosewood says, “[Mindfulness is] merely the momentary pause of thought. It is as religious as the holding of breath as you dive underwater.”
There are lots of mindfulness exercises that you can do. And they are not in the least bit spiritual.
Meditation, however, is a little bit different to mindfulness. So, let’s take a look at some of the best types of non-religious meditation.
1: Just breathe
I know those church-goers think they own everything. But they can’t own your breath. You can focus on your breathing without being religious. Obviously, JUST BREATHING is not religious, right?
Just sit silently and focus on your breathing. This is an effortless practice that clearly is not remotely spiritual.
Here is a quick version for you to try:
- Sit comfortably with good posture.
- Make sure your back is straight. Roll your shoulders back then let them relax.
- Close your eyes.
- Now focus on your breathing.
- Observe the sensations of the breath entering through your nose, down your throat, into your diaphragm, and back out. Simply sit observing your breathing.
- If you find it hard to focus, count your breaths.
- If you experience thoughts or emotions, remind yourself that they are only thoughts and emotions, and then continue focusing on your breath.
- Aim for 108 breaths. When you do this, you will promote parasympathetic nervous system activity, reduce amygdala activity, reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, and balance cortisol. Basically, it will make you relax.
You might wonder what a mantra is. If so, read my Beginners Guide To Mantras. Tells you all you need to know.
Mantras derive from Hinduism. However, they do not need to be religious. They are simply words or sounds that we repeat to ourselves.
For instance, repeat the word “Calm.” There you go. That’s a mantra.
Buddhists would advise you to recite a mantra 108 times, but just recite the word “calm” until you feel calm. It’s ridiculously simple but also powerfully effective.
You could even call Nike’s “Just Do It” a mantra. It evokes an emotional response and if you repeat it enough times you will feel like “Just doing it”. And surely Nike is not religious (even if their name is actually based on an old Greek god).
You know when I said that mantras were originally religious and that scientists don’t like religion? Well, as though to prove both points, scientists in Scandanavia have created a new type of mantra meditation for non-religious folk. It’s called Acem . It involves reciting gibberish. No joke. Apparently, it really works too.
4: Mindful Art
All forms of art can readily be made into meditation.
Take singing, for example. Simply pick your favorite song and sing it. Meanwhile, focus your mind 100% on the sensations of your voice and the feeling of your breath reverberating around your body.
Sit outside somewhere beautiful, overlooking a lake, or perhaps a waterfall or mountainside. Now draw or paint the landscape while focusing 100% on the painting.
No matter what type of art you’re into, turn it into a meditation technique. All art can be done mindfully.
Silence truly is golden. One of the most beautiful meditations in the world is to focus on pure silence.
Silence is infinite. It expands across space and time. When you meditate on silence, you expand your consciousness to stretch out across the cosmos.
6: Our Guided Meditation
So, there we go. Six meditations agnostics can use. And there’s not an ounce of religiosity between the five of them.
You might also like to use an app like Calm
Meditation Is A Non-Spiritual Practice
As Stephen Batchelor says in Confessions of a Buddhist Atheists, “[Mindfulness] is not concerned with anything transcendent or divine. It serves as an antidote to theism, a cure for sentimental piety, a scalpel for excising the tumour of metaphysical belief. (130)”
It is a little bit spiritual though…
The majority of meditations do have their roots in Buddhist philosophy. Therefore, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it is a little bit spiritual.
Spirituality is NOT what you think it is.
I challenge you to read my guide to the actual meaning and importance of spirituality. And then tell me whether you are spiritual or not (You will be surprised. Everyone I explain spirituality to says “Really?! That’s what it actually means to be spiritual?!”) So yeah, click that link. And if you are still not spiritual, no biggie.
Some people do consider meditation religious. But honestly, it isn’t an issue. After all, a lot of things began as a form of spirituality.
Here’s a list of things that started out spiritual, as meditation did:
- Tai Chi
- A lot of martial arts
The reason is this: practically everyone in the world used to be religious or spiritual. Hence, any ancient practice will invariably be tied to a religion, including meditation.
In the West, the church was ubiquitous into the 1800s. It’s only recently that religion and spirituality have become less popular. 
So inevitably, any practice that is more than one hundred years old will likely be tied to some spirituality. It’s not a big deal. People recognise the real-world health benefits of yoga, tai chi, etc., so those things are no longer considered spiritual. They’re just health.
You’d be stupid not to meditate.
Because there are more than one hundred health benefits of meditation. Are you seriously going to ignore all the health benefits of meditation just because some people think it’s spiritual?
Science and spirituality both tell us to meditate. And science and spirituality do not agree on much.
Tell the National Institute of Science that praying to God will change your life, and you’ll be met with a few stiffly raised eyebrows. But say to them “Meditation makes me healthy, happy, and a better human being” and those same scientists will nod approvingly and say, “Yes, it does, we just finished proving that in the lab.”
That’s because meditation is now a scientific practice. And the fact that science approves of it proves the point I want to make. You can do meditation if you’re non-religious and non-spiritual.
So. Say this loud and clear with me… “I can meditate without being spiritual!”
Which of these 3 types of people are you?
There are three main groups of people who meditate:
- The first is the devoutly religious individual. They believe in their one faith absolutely. And they’ll follow that religion no matter what, even if that religion causes harm. They will tell you that meditation is religious.
- The second type of person is the strictly non-spiritual person. These people hate theology and spirituality. They believe theology and spirituality are for the brainwashed. This mentality helps them to avoid being consumed by any belief. But it also prevents them from taking advantage of the positive aspects of spirituality. So, they think they can’t meditate.
- The third type of person doesn’t force themselves to stick to one type of religion or spirituality. They’re not going to follow a book just because society tells them to. But at the same time, they’re open-minded enough to consider that some aspects of spirituality might actually be useful. So they can meditate without it being spiritual.
Which do you think is best?
Are you the open minded-non-religious-meditator?
Which type of person are you?
I’m going to guess that you are in the third group. You are not religious. You’re not even particularly spiritual. But you are open-minded enough to believe that some meditative exercises could be helpful even though meditation originated from a faith [that much is just a historical fact].
If you are this type of person, great. Because that means that you are free to meditate, and that you won’t stop yourself from doing something good just because it has some basis in the metaphysical.
But I’m still worried about what people will think of me!
What if you’re an atheist and you don’t want anyone else finding out that you meditate in case they think you’re becoming spiritual or religious?
Even if you go around with the atheist logo tattooed on your body people will still ask questions if you’re meditating. Yes, even these days. If you tell someone you meditate, they’ll presume you are at least somewhat spiritual. That’s because modern society hasn’t quite caught up with the changing views on meditation.
Unbelievably, some people still think meditation is evil and satanic.
Most people in the West thought meditation was a sin until the 1960s (when the Beatles started meditating). Four thousand years have left a stain. Now anytime people see someone meditating, they instantly think “Religious person.”
We’re heading towards a point when meditation will not be seen as a religious practice, but we’re not there yet.
As neurological scientist Sam Harris says, “There’s going to come a time when we’re not talking about “Buddhist meditation”… we’re just talking about turning consciousness upon itself and what can be discovered by that process.”
We’re getting close to that point. But we’re not there yet.
So how do you stop other people from thinking you’re spiritual?
Just call meditation “mindfulness”
If you don’t want people to think you’re spiritual, just call meditation mindfulness.
The terms are interchangeable, but “meditation” conveys religious overtones where “mindfulness” does not. Even though this is absolutely stupid because mindfulness actually came from Zen Buddhism.
But, to cut a long story short, when the term “mindfulness” came to the West it came as a scientific practice, not a religious one, largely thanks to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn. Because of that, people tend to think of ‘mindfulness” as being a science.
So, if you want to tell people you meditate without having them say “You’re spiritual?!” just say “I practice mindfulness” instead.
And if you’re now ready to get started with meditation, or mindfulness, or “that conscious-focusing exercise that is not at all religious”, why not schedule a session with me ans I’ll help you to start meditating.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison