In the process of coaching my clients I often find myself asking them what sort of activities they use to center themselves. We seem to be a world full of people who have very few activities reserved in the day for just us, and in a world of constant connection to the internet I feel it is vastly important to carve out that sort of space for yourself. Even if it is only ten minutes a day I feel approaching that time with respect and dedication is one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself. I normally ask clients if they do some form of meditation and I was surprised to be met with very similar answers:
“Yes a little, but I am not very dedicated. It is difficult for me to focus.”
“Yeah but I don’t think meditation is for me. My mind is always wandering.”
“I would like to, but I don’t really know how to meditate.”
“I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing.”
Those folks who express to me that meditation isn’t for them because of their active mind are my favorite. While i think everyone can benefit from a practice, those who suffer from the mind tornados, you are exactly who meditation is for. While everyone has their own purpose while practicing, the reason people meditate is to quiet the mind. This is a perfect activity for you. These answers are the impetus for the creation of this article. I see such a desire to strike out on the path of seeking a sort of peace that is found within, but people seem to falter very early on. Maybe the books they pick out are enigmatic and confusing. There is no shame in that, I have a book full of Zen koans which I have been pondering for over ten years. Or perhaps you have attended a meditation class without knowing the specific kind they were practicing? I wandered into a school teaching Rudra style meditation a few years ago, in which you sit facing the instructor and breath in a series of of short huffs following the instructor and never break eye contact from him. The amazing this is there are as many flavors of meditation as there are people, and finding what works for you is an incredibly rewarding journey. And while I may go into my favorite methods at a later time I want to give you nice starting point if you have never meditated before, or if you find yourself a bit perplexed at your current practice.
Step One: Location
So to begin find a quiet place that you enjoy. The neat thing about meditation is it can be done anywhere! In your favorite park, your backyard, a corner of your bedroom. The most important part in the beginning is that you feel safe in this place, so my suggestion is in a quiet place in your home. If you live with people, especially small children, try for a time when they are potentially away or at least quiet. Starting out I found that very small sounds could distract me and make a ten minute session seem like eternity. I have found that right after I wake up is my favorite time to practice, before my partner has awakened and before the cat realizes it is time for breakfast. As you go on feel free to experiment with adding spa music, or incense, or whatever makes the space feel like your own to your location. For now the point is to limit distractions. Turn your phone on airplane mode, set yourself a timer and sit down.
Step Two: Posture
My goodness I think there are entire tomes written on correct postures during meditation. I think there is good reason for this. Consider that with this practice you are building a foundation, a place for your mind to rest and be quiet. The first step to finding calm for the mind is to build a solid foundation within the body. Simply sit down and cross your legs. You do not need to go into half lotus or full lotus at this point if that is uncomfortable for you. Simply crossing your legs is fine. I recommend using a cushion under your hips. Make sure that the back of the cushion is slightly higher than the front, inclining your pelvis slightly forward, this relieves pressure from the knees. You are also welcome to use a chair if you find that crossing your legs is painful, simply keep your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. The most important feature no matter your preferred method of sitting is to keep the back straight. Imagine the planes of the body being aligned, like balancing a tray. Think of your ears being aligned with your shoulders, the shoulders being aligned with your hips and your nose being aligned with your navel. The back is straight but not tense in this position. At this point people become very aware of their arms and their hands, and again there are endless postures and suggestion as to what to do with your hands. For now I suggest simply placing your hands on your knees, palms down. Your arms should be relaxed. You are welcome to meditate with your eyes open or closed, what ever you feel limits your distractions.
Step Three: Time
I suggest in beginning with a timer set for five minutes, especially if you are not currently practicing. It is easy to feel intimidated by time, and as time is relative, it is easy for five minutes to feel eternal especially if we are used to thinking about what we are supposed to be doing. Sometimes I still feel guilty when I sit down to meditate, because I know there are five million other things I am supposed to be doing. Let those thoughts pass. This time is for you.I also suggest you find something soothing for the alarm at the end of your time. Don’t use the sound you picked to wake in the morning. As you progress step it up to ten minutes or more. The length of the session is not the important part. It is what you gain from these moments of mental quiet.
Step Four: Breath Practice
Becoming aware of your breathing is a pillar of meditation practice used in a multitude of traditions. Part of the beauty of the focus on your breathing is the simplicity of the exercise. First bring your awareness to the task by taking a few slow breaths, concentrating on the feeling of the air filling your lungs. As you inhale let your belly expand and as you exhale the belly retracts. This is contrary to how most of us normally breath, by filling the top of our lungs and drawing in the stomach. Try to be aware of how this type of breathing feels to you as you continue to focus only on filling your lungs entirely and slowly letting each breath go. Breath at a pace that is comfortable to you, there is no need to gasp or hyperventilate. At this point you may notice your awareness begin to drift, to go on a mind adventure. That is perfectly alright. When you notice yourself drifting bring your awareness back to your breath, the gentle expansion of your lung taking in, and slowly expressing. Every time your attention wanders, bring it back to the activity at hand.
Step Five: Moving Forward
Congratulations! You have made it to the end of your alarm, and the end of this exercise. I hope you have enjoyed the activity here. How does your physical body feel at the end of this? What sort of thoughts came to mind if you noticed yourself wandering? What is the texture of your thoughts after this activity? Take note of your thoughts as your move through the day after your meditation activity perhaps.
But wait, you say. What in the world am I supposed to do now? All I did was sit quietly and think about breathing!This is true, and it really is that simple to begin. Now the trick is to practice. I encourage you to take ten minutes for yourself each day, perhaps in the morning when you first awaken, and sit down to your moment of quiet again. You may notice this time your thoughts are unruly and much more rowdy than before. Or perhaps you find yourself feeling antsy. That is perfectly normally. Meditation is not a quick fix for a quiet mind. Meditation is a practice, and you have to put forth effort in your endeavor. Remember these moments are entirely for you. There is nothing else you need to do, no one you need to answer to. So for a little while just sit quietly and breath.