Starting to meditate
To start your meditation practice, find the time you are available, this could be in the morning or evening, your space that’s relatively quiet and make yourself comfortable either seated or lying down. Using cushions or other props to get physically comfortable can be helpful. You can use a pillow or cushion behind your back when seated, sit on a cushion, sit with your back against a wall or even lay down and cover yourself with a blanket to get comfy. When I first started to meditate on a more regular committed basis, I would sit down in a room before making dinner for my kids to meditate for 12 minutes.
Let go of any ‘must’ do such as must sit with crossed legs or must stop my thoughts. Allow the experience to be as it happens and be open to how your meditation unfolds. It shouldn’t be a chore or duty that needs getting done.
The time you spend meditating will pay you back by relaxing your mind and body, reducing stress and anxiety, helping you get better sleep, and can offer clarity and insights that you seek.
Using your breath in meditation
After sitting or lying down and getting settled in where you are awake, aware and relaxed. Set your intention to keep your awareness on meditating. Start to take slow deep inhales through your nose down to your belly and then slowly yet relaxed exhales out your nose. This type of relaxed deep breathing is used to calm and focus your mind and is a natural signal to your body to settle down. Put your attention on your breath and repeat this deep breathing for 3 to 4 rounds of breath. If your mind wanders off, just gently return your focus to your inhale and exhale. You will most likely need to do this over and over again. After your deep inhales and exhales, let your breath return to its natural pattern of breathing through the nose. Without trying to control this breathing, just put enough focus on it to quietly notice the inhale and exhale. Explore how it feels, the air coming in and the air as it leaves. When your attention drifts off, just bring it back to how the breath feels.
The slow deep breathing is used to start most types of meditation to settle your mind and body or the whole of the meditation practice can be to focus on your breathing.
Using the aid of your body to calm and focus your mind if another method and effective tool of meditation. After settling your body in and taking 3-4 rounds of those deep slow inhale and exhale breaths, take a few moments and feel your body, the presence of your whole body. Put your full attention on your body and how it feels to be in this body. Start by allowing your body to soften, feel the weight of your body. Feel your tongue in the mouth soften, your jaw loosening, your eyes softening. Your shoulders sinking down, upper body resting, your belly letting go and where your body meets the surface you are sitting or lying on. Once again, feel the whole of your body. Gently put your attention onto the palms of your hands. The sensation of the palms of your hands. Spend a few minutes and keep your attention here. The sensation will come to you. Stay with this direct feeling and then bring yourself back with a couple rounds of those deep slow breaths to come out of your meditation. Notice how you feel afterwards.
This same practice can be done with the soles of your feet too. I like to be bare footed for that though.
There is a big misunderstanding about meditation and that is that you are to have no thoughts or clear your mind in meditation. This approach makes meditation very frustrating. Instead we learn to observe the mind without getting involved or try to push it away. Be curious about when the next thought will arise or what it will be.
After you settle your body comfortably and take a few rounds of slow deep breaths, sit quietly. Your focus is on paying attention to when your next thought comes. Let them come and watch them go. You can use your breath or body awareness to keep yourself anchored into the present. Without judgement let the thoughts come and if you get carried away on a train of thought, notice that, unhook from it and come back to noticing your thoughts. It will happen over and over again. Don’t try to control your mind. It is just observing. I find the following image helpful – your thoughts are like the clouds, they come, move and go in the expansive blue sky and you and your awareness are the blue sky!
During meditation, emotions can arise as they are natural, normal and even welcome. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or the meditation. We as humans have the capacity to experience a vast range of emotions. Some of these emotions can get repressed and be just under the surface of our awareness.
In meditation, we drop the story surrounding the emotions and allow them to arise and be felt fully. Meditation doesn’t cause our emotions but rather, allows those beneath the surface of our awareness space to arise. The open and receptive space of meditation helps to let the emotions resolve in the welcoming presence.
Come to your comfortable seated or lying position, close your eyes and start 3-4 rounds of the deep slow inhales and exhales that reach down to your abdominal regions. Even let out a few sighs on the exhales and see if that feels good. Let your body soften, releasing your jaw, throat, shoulders and hips. Use your breath or body sensing to anchor you to the present moment if at any time your mind wanders off. Without trying to change your experience or make anything happen, notice if an emotion arises. It could be sadness, a yearning or one that you recognize but cannot put a name on it. Nothing needs to change, just bring your awareness to the feeling. Explore with your awareness where it lives in your body. Do you feel more in your stomach, heart or gut? Just notice it there. Often when we give it our full attention, it shifts and moves. Another emotion may arise and do the same, notice it, feel it, inquire where you feel it in your physical body? Remembering to anchor with your breath or body sensing if your thoughts start to attach to the story behind the emotion. This time in meditation is to notice your emotions, feel them with awareness and notice how they dissolve.
Challenges commonly arise in meditation, for everyone. Often referred to as ‘resistance’, it refers to our discomforts and distractions that arise when meditating. Common challenges range from struggling to stay awake, a physical pain in the body, noise in the room, frustration, boredom, an unpleasant emotion crops up, a thought that you would rather be doing something else or a variety of other reasons. The most common form of resistance that comes about in meditation is the ‘monkey mind’ when your mind can barely finish one thought before another one emerges. You might be re-running a story of what’s going on or worried about the future in some way but your thoughts are taking off and running the show.
If resistance or should I say, most likely, when resistance arises, you can feel assured that you are not doing your meditation wrong or that it isn’t working. Every time you notice that your thoughts have taken off again, come back and anchor yourself to your breath or body sensing to bring you into the present moment. Give yourself permission to feel the discomfort or be annoyed by the distraction. Let go of the expectation that your meditation experience has to be a certain way, trying to re-create a past experience, accomplish a goal or perfect a technique. How would it feel to just let all that go and experience your time in meditation exactly as it shows up? Release yourself from burden of having to achieve something here.
Drop into your meditation by using the slow deep inhale and exhale breaths and allow the body to soften and sense your body as it does this. Release any control of your breathing and relax into your space. Notice how you react to what shows up. How do you meet the discomfort? Stay open to the answer and if you get lost in the thinking mind, unhook and anchor back into your breath or body sensing. You will do it again and again and it’s all normal to feel what you feel, discomforts and all. Resistance can arise and the meditation is still doing you good.
Meditation can bring clarity and insight to important questions you in life. It could be an area you feel stuck or confused about, an important decision, the truth about a situation, a direction to take in life or the true meaning of a quality you hold important such as inner peace, compassion or harmony. The difference of asking these questions during a meditation is we are not asking our minds for the answers but rather our inner knowing. We get really quiet and let go of our personal world and allow ourselves to be guided.
When a question is sincerely and directly asked in this space and we remain open and accepting of the answers, it starts a healing and transformative process in our lives. The quieter we become, the more we are able to hear.
Start your meditation by getting comfortable and taking 3-4 rounds of slow deep inhales and exhales, then let your breath be natural. Soften your body by releasing your face, jaw, throat, shoulders and hips. Feel where your body touches the surface you are on and release a little more. Quietly confirm your commitment to staying aware and present. Then ask your question you are seeking clarity with and then let it go. Be receptive and available to what naturally arises.
If you find yourself grasping for the response, that’s your mind. Gently bring your attention away from your head to your heart. Feel the sensations of your heart. Move your awareness to your stomach and then to the sensations of your gut. Be open to whatever wants to be seen, heard or felt.
Your answer may come during the meditation or it may come later at any time. The more often that you get quiet, the more you get a deep sense of your truth as to who you are. Trust that your answers are within you and that life will be your guide.
As we begin our meditation practice, we learn techniques to calm the mind and body and how to access our inner knowing, but how do we take the calm experienced during a meditation into our daily lives? Even when the going gets tough?
Often, we start to meditate because we are seeking a solution to feel better but what we really want is true change in our daily lives and a peace that last.
With a regular meditation practice, we start to become aware of a deeper sense of ourselves. A sense that goes beyond our gender, sex, relationship status or job title.
We use meditation techniques to help us come to an inner space where our attention relaxes and we simply rest in our natural state of being. We are not the doer. This space feels effortless and something awakens that we recognize, a true peace and an awareness that is at the heart of all experience. The more we can practice on a regular basis, even for a few minutes a day, the deeper our meditation evolves.
Find your comfortable seat or lying down and engage your 3-4 rounds of slow deep inhales and exhales. Letting go of the day on the exhales. Return to your natural breathing and become aware of your body and allow it start to soften. Your jaw, throat, face then shoulders, belly and hips. You can try using a mantra, or a repeated word or phrase, in this meditation. Slowly repeat out loud or internally “I am” slowly, gently with no rush or pushing. After a couple minutes of repeating this mantra, let the words melt away and let all effort go in a silent space. Just be here as you naturally are. Stay wide open to everything just as it is, even if it is discomfort, resistance or frustration. Just rest in this space of presence.
At Rest & Be we love to support and guide beginner meditators. We offer a course for Beginners along with a collection of meditations to guide you on your way.
With gratitude, Theresa