Have you been wanting to begin a practice of meditation but don’t know where to start? This is a very simply How To, which I hope will highlight for you how a meditation practice can be as simple as you want it to be.
I always like to begin with a working definition:
med·i·ta·tion [ mèddi táysh'n ]
1.emptying or concentration of mind: the emptying of the mind of thoughts, or the concentration of the mind on one thing, in order to aid mental or spiritual development, contemplation, or relaxation
2.pondering of something: the act of thinking about something carefully, calmly, seriously, and for some time, or an instance of such thinking
3.serious study of topic: an extended and serious study of a topic
For our purposes, we will work with definition #1 – an emptying or concentration of the mind.
Why would we want to empty the mind? Basically, to quiet the chatter. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 says yogash-chitra-vritti –nirodhah, or “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” (More about the Sutras in another post!)
We live in a busy world, and within the business of the world, we have much to do each day. Beyond to-do’s, we also have our inner dialogue, or discourse with our selves, and constantly chatters to us… chitra vritti can also be loosely translated as “mind chatter”. This is often a conversation like, “I need to go to the store and pick up dry-cleaning so maybe I should do the dry-cleaning first but oh wait my favorite café is around the corner, maybe it’s time for a latte oh shoot I already had a latte and I’m trying to cut back so back to dry-cleaning…” ever had that conversation with your Self?
Through the practice of meditation, we hope to quiet the chitra vritti of the mind, enabling us to see and think more clearly. To focus, to find calm. To remove the hectic. Through mediation we are able to calm the Central Nervous System, bring us out of “Fight or Flight” mode (lower brain) and into the higher, thinking brain, thereby creating the space to choose how to move forward rather than remaining in a state of reaction.
More on that another time!
Here are my almost 10 Tips!
1. Pick a time that works well for you consistently.
For me, this is 6am, right when I wake up. For others this might be a welcome lunch break. And others, evening right before bed might be a great time to let go of the day for a restful sleep.
2. Find a place where you can sit without being interrupted.
This I think is the most challenging part! But, every home has a place, inside or outside. Seek it out, and place the items you will need for meditation in it. Maybe that is a pillow, a candle, a comfy sweater or blanket. I sit in front of the fireplace, on a pillow, with a candle and my yogatimer app on my phone, with a fuzzy blanket when it’s cold.
3. In preparation for meditation, take a moment to write down your To Do List.
If you are like me, your To Do List will BE your meditation if you don’t get it out first (!) and that gets you nowhere but Anxiousville. It might help to get it out!
4. Take a comfortable seat.
“What do you mean, ‘take a comfortable seat?’” you might ask… If you aren’t asking, you’re good, skip to step 5.
I like to perch at the edge of a pillow – a throw pillow like one that decorates your couch, not über-squishy one you use for sleeping. Sit cross-legged. Let your pelvis tilt slightly forward, so you can feel the two bones on your bottom pressing into the cushion… these are technically called the ischium, but “sits bones” is the most common term. Feel them. They support your weight while you sit. The very slight forward tilt of the pelvis is important, as it creates and protects the integrity of the lumbar curve of the spine (low back) that gets compromised as we sit tucked under and unsupported. (more on that topic another time too!)
If your knees or hips are not comfortable here, try building your seat – you can stack cushions as high as you need to, and get your hips higher than your knees. That might help. Still not comfy? At least not comfy enough to sit for 5+ minutes without squirming? Try a chair, sit on the edge so the sits bones are pressing into the chair.
5. Take a deep breath in, sigh it out.
6. Enjoy a deeper breath into the belly, and a fuller breath out.
7. Inhale and Exhale through the nose only. Then begin to set bring your breath to a 1:1 ratio, so the length of the inhale equals the length of the exhale. Start with a count of 4. If that feels comfortable, shift to a 5, a 6, a 7. When you’ve reached your longest number still inhaling and exhaling with ease, stay there. This breath not only calms the Central Nervous System, but also calms specifically the emotional state.
8. Recite your mantra, either silently or aloud. You may either breathe in the entire word or phrase, then breathe out the word or phrase, or split the phrase into an inhalation and exhalation, depending on the phrase length.
If you have not yet decided on a mantra, begin with “Let Go”. Inhale the word “Let”, exhale the word “Go”. (More on mantras in a future post as well!)
9. Stay there. If at some point you notice you have dropped your mantra and your mind is clear, that is OK. Stay with it, return to your mantra.
Begin with a goal of 5 minutes for your meditation practice. Do this every day. After a week, add a minute. Add another minute the next week. Slowly and steadily your meditation practice will grow.
You can set a timer if that helps you to free your mind to know you won’t sit so long you miss a meeting. There are also a lot of apps these days with various names such as “yoga timer” that are a beautiful asset to a meditation practice.
If you are still having trouble clearing your mind, I have one more suggestion. Sometimes subtle music, such as Tibetan bowls, is helpful. You can find individual songs or entire albums on itunes, Spotify or youtube.
I am interested in hearing how it goes for you, so please leave a comment or join the conversation on facebook, at Indieflow Yoga or Denver Yoga Mamas.
Kristen is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and Life Mentor. She offers online and in-person healing sessions. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado