In the previous article, Practical Meditation Part 1: The Purpose And Benefits Of Meditating, we discussed the benefits of meditation. Here in Part 2, we describe a simple, effective way to practice meditation on a regular basis.
The first thing to note is the word “practice”. Meditation is not something you do once and conquer. And there is no beginner’s luck in meditation. Instead, meditating is something that you must work at regularly in order to improve your skills. That is why you “practice meditation” and not “totally dominate it”.
Second, meditation is not just for yogis or buddhists. The skill has its roots in ancient religious and philosophical constructs; but anyone, regardless of country, religion, ethnicity, or political party, can meditate as part of a health routine. As mentioned in the last article, mediation has practical applications that improve the brain and mind.
Third, meditation is hard. When you first start practicing meditation, you typically find it very challenging. That is normal. Do not give up because it is challenging. The challenge is a huge part of the practice. Overtime, however, you will learn how to meditate better and feel the resounding effects in all areas of your life.
Step 1: Pick a Place
You usually want to meditate in a quiet place that is comfortable to minimize distractions. Meditation takes a lot of concentration, so a busy room with kids running around, loud rock music, or construction is not a good idea when you are starting out. Make it easier on yourself and pick a place that is a little more secluded. Oftentimes, this means leaving your home. Find a cozy spot in a park or by a lake or river. Go to an empty office at work. Get in your car and drive to a (safe) abandoned parking lot; or just sit in your car as its parked in the garage. If you do not want to leave your home and you can not find a quiet room, just go wherever you can. Understand, however, that it will be more challenging for you in the beginning.
Step 2: Sit Up Straight
Choose to sit on the floor or in a firm chair. You can place a pillow underneath you for support, if needed. If you are on the floor cross your legs “indian-style”. (What is the politically correct form of “indian-style” these days? I heard it is “criss cross applesauce” or “tailor-style”. I think I prefer the politically offensive term.) Straighten your back, do not hunch, and rest your hands upon your knees. If you are on a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor, keep your back straight and away from the back of the chair, and place your hands on your knees.
Step 3: Take Some Deep Breaths
Just sit for a bit and take some deep breaths through your nose. Do not breath through your mouth. As you breathe, get settled in your sitting position and shift until you are comfortable. Once you are settled, try to remain as still as possible. Do not stiffen, however. Keep your body loose, but upright. (This is where yoga comes in handy. Yoga strengthens your body so that sitting is comfortable and effortless.)
Step 4: Focus on Your Breath
Pay attention to your breath. Breathe in through your nose slowly. After inhaling, do not hold your breath, but let it rest a moment. (Holding your breath takes force and closes the airway; whereas resting your breath is just extending that moment between inhaling and exhaling.) Next, slowly exhale through your nose. Rest your breath again. Repeat. Inhale again slowly for two counts, rest for two counts, exhale for two counts, and rest for two counts. Inhale (one…two), rest (one…two), exhale (one…two), and rest (one…two). Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This is the only thing that you are responsible for during your meditation.
Step 5: Release Your Thoughts
Continue to inhale-rest-exhale-rest rhythmically. When a thought pops into your head, do not get angry and attempt to force it away. Instead, choose to release it from your mind. Choose to focus more on your breath and allow the thought to dissipate. There will be many distractions, such as sounds, itchy feelings, and smells, that will arise. (This is why a quiet place with minimal distractions is so helpful.) There will also be memories that pop into your head, such as your grocery shopping list; the deadline to sign-up your kid for soccer; your mother’s birthday gift that you still need to buy; the day your dog was put to sleep when you were a child; that time in high school when you failed an algebra test; the cool tie that your bank teller was wearing the other day. Many thoughts will arise in your mind. That is normal. Do not stress about it, and do not attempt to forcefully remove the thoughts. Just return to the only thing you are responsible for doing: breathing.
Here are some handy tips that will help make your experience better:
- Keep your eyes open and gaze softly at the floor three feet in front of you. This prevents you from falling asleep and adds to the challenge. However, if you find yourself very distracted, you can close your eyes gently.
- Start with 5 minutes. You will be surprised how long 5 minutes feels when you are meditating for the first time. Just do 5 minutes and gradually increase one minute at a time as you improve.
- Commit to three days each week. You have no problem incorporating three 5-minute meditations into your schedule. Put your practice in your calendar, though, so you do not forget.
- Choose one of these times to meditate, as it is a natural fit in your schedule:
- Shortly after you wake up
- Right after work, before you get home or shortly after you get home
- Right after a workout
- Shortly before bed
- Keep practicing. Do not give up because it is hard. Enjoy the challenge and consider how you might feel as you improve.
Do you have any tips to add to the list? If so, please share them below. Also, include any questions or concerns you may have. Stay tuned for more articles in this series that will keep you on track and help you improve your practice.