Pointers for setting up a meditation practice
One important factor in starting your practice is researching and finding a meditation technique that resonates with you. Once you have, try it out for a couple of weeks and observe the results. There are many techniques out there.. Personally, I'd recommend starting with a breathing technique as it has a very calming effect on the body as well as providing good focal points; something you'll come to learn can be extremely helpful. I’ll post the steps to a sample technique at the end of this article.
I’m not going to go into detail about the mechanics of different techniques at this time as there are plentiful resources out there to help explain them. I do caution that it's easy to get carried away in playing with and looking for different results from different techniques. Regardless of technique, the overall goal is to help you get to the point where you can hold the mind in a state of quiet. But please note, regardless of technique, this can take some time.
One caution when researching techniques, if they are instructing you to visualize or imagine something, ( a "guided meditation" ), then that's not meditation, it's a relaxation technique. Relaxation is fine, but it's engaging thought, so it‘s not meditation. Again, the intent of a technique is to give you something to focus on instead of engaging in thoughts and fantasy.
Meditation is an ACTIVE practice. It is not, sit back and be taken for a ride. A technique is not going to do the work for you. It's a tool that you employ. The basic element of every ( real ) technique is keep you actively focused and concentrating. But as with many things, over time and with practice, it takes less effort to achieve your goal. So rest in the knowledge of when you start, and for a good while to come, it will take effort.
Think of engaging a technique to strengthening a muscle… the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. When you first start, 2 pounds might seem like it is challenging to lift. Then, after a year of training, you're on to lifting 20 pounds. At that time, you look back at the 2 pounds and it seems like nothing.
Likely when you begin a meditation practice, regardless of technique, you'll see just how engaged you are in thought and how little control it may feel like you have over it this habit of thought. Again, this is a muscle you are just learning how to flex.
What will typically happen is, you are focusing on the meditation technique, like breathing, focusing on the breath in and breath out, and thought will take you away into some fantasy. When this happens, your focus and attention merrily goes along for the ride. At that time, try to catch yourself, become aware that you’re wandering, and pull yourself back to the technique.
You're focused on the breath, then suddenly you’re going through your shopping list which leads to memories of your last vacation which leads to … and you may wander for 15 or even 30 minutes before you realize that you’re not focusing on your breath, that you’re caught up in runaway fantasy and that’s OK!!! What’s important is that you realize that you were wandering, you caught yourself, you broke that train and you went back to focusing on breath! That is success!!! Catch and release. Catch yourself when you're wandering, release the thoughts, and come back to the technique.
Over time you’ll build up that muscle where wandering happens less and less. When you do find yourself wandering, you’ll catch yourself sooner. Residing in your technique will become more dominant.
Some Meditation Tips:
Make it a habit… 15 minutes to start. As distracted or agitated as you may be, just make yourself sit there. Let your body get used to sitting. I recommend sitting in the morning before you become engaged in your day, when the world is somewhat quiet. Similarly, the early evening can be nice as well. Much of your activity of the day is complete and there can tends to be less of an emphasis of things you need to do for the day.
Turn off your phone and find a place clear of distractions in your home.
Find a dedicated place to meditate. You can make a shine or alter of some kind if you like. A place of beauty and serenity to whatever extent you like. Nothing else happens there, keep it free of distractions. Having this space can serve as a reminder of why you want to meditate in the first place and can serve as a way to help "get you in the mood".
You can sit on a chair to meditate. You may see people sitting on a floor in full cross legged lotus position but that's not necessary. You're welcome to try but likely within minutes you'll be in adequate enough pain that you'll be focusing on pain extensively. You can definitely work on flexibility and yoga, but just start in a chair. Ideally you do want to sit up as straight as you can. You may find if you're leaning forward, then you're likely drifting into sleep and if your head is leaning back, you're daydreaming.
I don't recommend lying down, you'll likely fall asleep… so laying down would be a good posture for a relaxation technique.
Take some time to settle before you begin your meditation. Move your attention to feel your feet on ground, your butt in chair, or your hands in your lap. Make an active effort to separate from the doings of your day.
One thing I've found that can be helpful is to talk to yourself before you sit down and start. You can tell yourself, "There's nothing else I need to do for the next 15 minutes, there's nowhere I need to be and nothing I need to do during this time." Give yourself permission to take this time for yourself. Here you are making an agreement with yourself that you are committed and deserving of this time. It's a gift to yourself really.
Make sure you're adequately awake. It can be very easy to get daydreamy and sleepy when meditating, so make sure you're awake. If you find yourself getting daydreamy, which is just a different kind of thought… and you're getting involved in fantasy, then stop, take a break, or resettle, focus on your feet, walk around a little bit then come back and try some more.
Keep a journal of your meditation experiences, especially any that give you a change of perspective or specific insight. These can be helpful reminders when you’re going through a challenging time in your practice. Going back and reading about these past experiences can take you back and remind you of the beauty or insights you experienced at that time. Write it as if no one else is or will be looking at it and aim to be free of judgement.
Research various techniques. Try them out and find one that feels right to you. And that may change over time. I recommend starting with breathing technique. (See sample below)
Remember, when the mind wanders, catch and come back… catch and release. Just the act of recognizing that you're wandering provides benefit.
Make it a habit. Try to take some time every day, even if it's a few minutes.
Sample Mindfulness Breathing Technique:
Assume a comfortable posture: Sit with your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and hands resting gently on your knees or in your lap.
Take a few deep breaths: Before starting the focused breathing, take a few deep breaths to help you relax and let go of any tension or distractions.
Focus on your breath: Close your eyes gently and bring your attention to your breath. Observe the natural flow of your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
Follow the breath: As you breathe in, mentally note the sensation of the air entering your nostrils or the rise of your abdomen or chest. Be fully present and mindful during each inhalation.
Notice the pause: At the end of the inhale, there's usually a brief pause before you exhale. Acknowledge this momentary pause without trying to control or manipulate it.
Exhale mindfully: As you exhale, pay attention to the sensation of the breath leaving your body. You might notice the feeling of warmth or coolness at your nostrils or the gentle sinking of your abdomen or chest.
Maintain continuity: Continue to follow the cycle of your breath, from the inhale to the pause to the exhale. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your breath without judgment.
Let go of thoughts: It's normal for thoughts to arise during meditation. When they do, acknowledge them but avoid getting entangled in them. Let the thoughts pass like clouds in the sky and return your attention to your breath.
End with awareness: When the timer goes off, take a moment to bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Slowly open your eyes, stretch if you need to, and take a few deep breaths before resuming your activities.
Have a specific meditation or mindfulness questions you'd like to discuss? Feel free to drop me a note on my website.
I wish you peace on your journey.