Now if you are one of those who think meditation is soft, woosey, or even effeminate, just consider that the Japanese Samurai practiced it for centuries. And if you think meditation is just something to be practiced by those who wear flowing orange robes, tie-dyed clothing, or beings that are just a bit, well, weird, think again. Meditation is something that all those with a brain should practice regularly.
Like I mentioned in Part 2, the practice of meditation can be likened to taking a car out of gear & letting it tick-over & idle. For those that are new to practicing meditation, I would like to start by saying 2 things: Firstly meditation in its practice is simple & easy to do. Secondly, do not be put off that you may not ‘get it’ or ‘feel it’ – it is very much about the processes that go on inside your brain-box. Although it can be very pleasant, try not to think of meditation as a skill that must be attained. Yes, the more you practice, the better you feel you become at doing it, but it really isn’t about success or failure, just learning to become more aware.
Before we get down to how to meditate, here are a few ideas about setting the scene:
- Allow yourself time: To begin with, 20 minutes should be adequate, but hey, this is your time so you chose. Some days, all I can manage is 5 minutes, other days it is an hour. But take it from me, if you need to be somewhere after though, set a timer, just in case you nod off.
- Reduce any distractions: Personally, I like to meditate straight after the school run, when the house is warm & the kids are out. Make sure you switch-off any noisy devices & pull the curtains too.
- Find something comfortable to sit on: The important point in meditation is to keep a straight back & try & position yourself so your knees are lower than your hips (to ensure you can breathe deeply & reduce any constriction to the blood vessels & nerves in your legs ). A straight back chair or a cushion on the floor is fine – if you can’t cross your legs, sit with the soles of your feet touching each other (Look-up the Restrained Angle yoga pose). Even lying flat on a bed is great, although again, mind you don’t accidentally nod off. (I love the fact that in some Buddhist monasteries, there is a monk who uses a stick to bring gentle awareness to those who may be edging into slumber during meditation practice)
- Wear baggy, unrestrictive clothes (or none at all): To wear or not to wear, that is the question. It is up to you. (Tip: Grab a fleecy throw & wrap it around you instead of clothing)
So now we’ve set the scene, how do we actually meditate. The simplest way is to use our mind to inwardly focus on our breathing.
The way that we breathe is quite unique. For a lot of the time our breathing is in automatic mode – our autonomic nervous system does the job for us without our conscious mind, actually thinking about it. But this changes in an instant the moment we happen to notice our breathing. Isn’t it funny how as soon as you notice your (or is it, you are) breathing, your body starts to take deeper breaths & you can actually hear it? It is this deliberate noticing (being Consciously aware) by the mind, that we are trying to harness with meditation. I can guarantee all of you reading this now have just instantly switched from auto to conscious, but if not, before you carry on reading, just take a few moments to simply become aware; Firstly, simply listen to the air coming in & out of your lungs. Concentrate on that rasping noise as the air pulls in & then releases out. Don’t be tempted to force or hold on to it – try to relax the tension in your chest & just keep your mind listening to that steady, natural rhythm. In & out, like waves crashing on a beach. In & out, in & out. Give it a go..
So there you are. You are consciously aware of your breathing – you are now meditating. Easy, isn’t it? Yes or no?
The hardest bit, as you will now experience, is keeping that awareness of your breathing going as your mind drifts off (Breath in & out, in & out…..bloody hell what was that noise? It’s just the neighbour. I hope they shut-up. There it is again. They are putting the bin out. Oh bugger did I put the bin out? Is it red bin day or black? What about the garden bin? When is that collected? Did I put the grass cuttings in? Did I cut the grass?)
Before you know it, chains of mundane thoughts have popped up & you mind is suddenly back in revving-off again down an avenue of thought with your breathing back in automatic. Do not be concerned about this – IT IS NORMAL & YOU ARE NOT FAILING. The job of our mind is to process the barrage of external information that enters through our senses & then to subsequently inform you of the relevance through ‘thoughts’ (Pop-ups). Some pop-ups are fleeting, barely registering, while others are completely absorbing & will seek to dominate. The real trick to meditating is to recognise thoughts when they occur & gently push them away, allowing your mind to return back to being aware of your breathing again.
If you fancy, have a go at the following;
- Adopt a comfortable position making sure your spine is straight
- Tip: Imagine a thread pulling the crown of your head upwards, making your head tilt downwards slightly
- Allow your eyelids to come together without any tension
- Take a deep breath in through your nose & just ‘Sigh’ or ‘Paaaaah’ out through your mouth
- Not hard sighing, just a enough to release all the air from your lungs
- Repeat a few times
- Then take a normal breath in through your nose & then out through your nose
- Allow your lips to gently come together without tension in the jaw
- Tip: Allow the tip of your tongue to rest on the spot where your front, upper teeth meet the roof of the mouth (it helps to release tension held in the vocal chords)
- As you breathe normally just concentrate on the sensation (not the noise) your body makes as the air is drawn in & out
- If you notice ‘pop-ups’, acknowledge them & bring your attention back to your breathing
- Tip: If your mind is wandering, throughout this meditation try alternating between how the sensations of the ribcage stretching & collapsing, the movement of air through your nostrils/back of the throat, & the sensations in another part of your body, say the feeling of your feet contacting the floor, or your buttocks (schoolboy snigger) sat on the cushion/chair
- As you breathe in, start to draw the air deeper down inside of your abdomen
- Tip: Distend your belly as you breathe in; put your hands on your belly & when you breathe in, imagine your belly-button pushing outwards, but don’t curve your back
- After a few moments of belly breathing, return to normal, calm breathing
- Tip: Remember the tongue & vocal chord trick.
- Imagine you are the sea & your breathing the waves lapping gently against the shore, barely a sound or ripple
- Slowly open your eyes & spend a few moments contemplating the experience (alternatively get up, stretch & go make a brew)