I don’t think “tuning out the world” is an accurate description of what meditation is supposed to accomplish. Or maybe I haven’t reached that level.
When I meditate, I sit with my back straight (benefit 1: better posture), and close my eyes, and just try to think about my breathing. It’s not that I’m tuning anything out; rather, I’m trying to focus on what my breathing sounds like, feels like, what my chest and diaphragm expanding would look like. I’m not tuning things out, I’m tuning one very specific thing in.
Of course, you can’t just force yourself to think about your breathing for twenty minutes (or, again, I can’t). Your brain will come up with other stuff to distract you. At that point, you need to do three things:
- Allow the thought to fully surface. Don’t try to wrench your train of thought back to your breathing, but allow the thought to become clear.
- Accept the thought. What I generally say to myself at that point is, “Yes, I’m thinking about purple elephants. That is a perfectly normal thought, but not my concern at the moment. I will allow this thought to leave, and will return to it later, when I am not meditating.”
- Make a mental note of what you were just thinking (which transforms it from just “meditation” to “mindfulness meditation”).
Once you have accepted the thought and allowed it to leave, return your focus to your breathing and continue the meditation.
When you’ve had enough, go back to your list of mental notes, and see if there’s anything there that needs further examination (benefit #2: better self-awareness).
After a good few minutes of meditation, I find that my thoughts become less attached to emotions (benefit #3), that things tend to be in more perspective (benefit #4), and that I have become aware of issues that I didn’t know were truly bugging me (benefit #2 again).
And (benefit #6), the actual physical act of just sitting down and breathing for awhile tends to relax me.
ETA: Another thing that I tend to do, before I go to sleep, borders on meditation: lie down, on my back, and, starting with my toes, I move each part of my body in each range of motion. So, I bend my toes, relax them, and extend my toes, and relax them. I roll my ankles around and relax them, then roll them the other direction, and relax them. I continue this all the way up to my face, and then start over again.
After three passes of this, I’m generally relaxed enough that I have absolutely no desire to move. Which would be nice for sleeping, except I can’t sleep on my back, so I know I’ll eventually have to move onto my side. Sometimes I go from that to actual meditation, but most times, I just lie there and enjoy the relaxation.