Meditation is a personal experience. It should be relaxing, stress reducing, and above all, it should be enjoyable. In part one of this blog series, I discuss what meditation is and what it is not. In part two of this blog series, I discuss the benefits of meditation and why we should all be meditating.
In this third part of my blog series on How to Meditate, I want to give you some basic techniques. These will be generic - not specific to any particular meditation practice or "religion". I put this word in quotes and remind you that meditation is not a religion even though it may be associated with words like Buddhism or Hinduism, which are oftentimes considered religions.
Let me begin by stating the obvious. Meditation is a quiet practice. You must necessarily practice meditation in a quiet place without distractions. By distractions I don't mean traffic noise, an occasional siren, people talking while passing by, or for people in prison the constant noise of fellow inmates. What I mean by distractions are the stereo, TV, phone calls, roommates, family, and house guests. Essentially, anything that potentially wants to interact specifically with you. Whether it be a time or a place, as much as possible, you need to remove yourself from the places and objects that will call to you during your meditation practice. In some cases you may want to use a white noise generator, a room fan, or a CD of some steady sound such as gentle rain to block out distracting noise. Otherwise, turn it all off.
Now that you've eliminated possible distractions, you need to get physically comfortable. Meditation posture is very important. You may be sitting for only a few minutes at first but, over time, you will want to extend your meditation sessions to 20 minutes, a half hour, or longer. Not only do you need to be comfortable, you also need to be in a posture that will not aggravate the body. But, you also need to sit in a meditation position that will help you maintain some alertness. You are not taking a nap, so sitting in an active posture will keep you awake.
Some meditation cushions may be helpful, but you can sit in a chair or use some blankets and pillows to get started with meditation. I suggest that you practice meditation for a while to learn more about your body before investing in expensive cushions and props. In most cases, you will find that sitting in a cross-legged posture as in the picture above is the best posture for meditation. It is easeful and yet active. Simply ensure that the knees are level with or somewhat lower than the hips. This puts the spinal column into an alignment that will support the upper body.
On a side note, you may want some sort of timer so that you will commit to a specific length of time for meditation. Don't use your cell phone as you will most assuredly get a call or text during meditation. And, a kitchen timer will likely rip you out of your meditation, which can not be good. We offer an affordable kitchen-like timer with a vibration mode, which is more gentle.
Once you have gotten into a comfortable posture, it is time to relax and meditate. The best way to relax quickly is to take some deep breaths. Just breathe normally, but breathe in deeply and release the breath normally. Be sure to relax your belly and let the breath go into the abdomen. We're not showing off at the beach, so there's no need to hold your stomach in. You might breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth or through one or the other exclusively. Do this at least 3 or 4 times or until you start to feel more relaxed. If there is any place in your body that feels tension, imagine yourself breathing deeply into that spot - stretching and releasing. If the spot is particularly nagging you, you may need to reposition your body slightly. Or, you may need to project some loving thoughts into the spot to let it know that you care about the discomfort.
Deep breathing should help you become relaxed, but try also to become aware of any places where your muscles are active. This most often occurs in the shoulders. If you feel tight in the shoulders, raise them up to your ears with the in breath and let them gently come down with the out breath. Do that for a few repetitions until the shoulders relax.
Once you feel more relaxed, gently close your eyes. This will help to block out visual distractions, though some meditation techniques suggest staring at a candle flame or a specific point or even a black dot on a piece of paper on the wall across from you. These are all fine as long as your eyes are not wandering about the room. The sight of a book, a clock, a pile of laundry, and any number of things can trigger excessive thinking about something other than your meditation session.
By now you can begin to breathe normally without any effort. But, to maintain some focus on your meditation and away from distracting thoughts, you can gently begin to count the breath. You should do so in a manner that doesn't change the way you breathe, however. In other words, don't go "huff one", "huff two", "huff three" and so on. Let your breathing be natural and count the breaths as though you were observing them from the outside. You can count to five and then start over. You can count an entire breath, or count the in and the out breath separately, in which case you might want to choose an even number to count to. Again, the counting of the breaths is to simply stay focused and not go off on a complex thought process about the day's activities.
At the end of the meditation session, be gentle with yourself. You've accomplished a great task and you should reward yourself by being loving with your body and your state of mind. If you've used a timer that has signaled the end of the session, slowly reach out and silence it without opening your eyes if you can. Take several deep relaxing breaths and gently open your eyes. When you are ready to get up, be gentle. If you are on the floor, lean forward to stretch. Carefully stretch out your legs. Support yourself as you get up.
Your very first meditation session may not go so well. You may not have been able to relax at all. Your eyes may have fluttered as if they were resisting you when you tried to close them. Your mind probably wandered and you forgot to keep counting the breaths. Your legs may have gone numb and your back may have started to ache. This is perfectly normal and you may continue to experience some or all of these issues for quite a few more meditation sessions.
But, I encourage you to continue. The benefits of meditation are not quickly seen. And, they may not come easily. However, you will be surprised at how different you feel after just one week of daily meditation practice - even if the sessions are only 5 minutes long. Do try to work on making them a little longer each day. Most people meditate for a maximum of 20 minutes, once or twice a day.
In my next article, I will go a little more in depth on meditation technique. I will talk about some focus methods that may help you go deeper in your meditation sessions.
Thank you for reading,
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