Let me start by saying that I am nothing even close to a meditation expert; I’m just a huge proponent of it. The practice of meditation has made a deeply profound difference in my own life. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the state of the mind plays an integral part in a person’s health. Not only does emotional imbalance cause physical ailments, but they also manifest themselves as a physical symptom.
So when I recommend to my patients a daily dose of meditation, I am often greeted with a look of confusion and exacerbation. The mere suggestion of meditation stresses some people out. Why? Because “I don’t know how.”
It is a little ironic that people become stressed out by the prospect of performing an activity that is supposed to help relieve that stress. The people that are most in need of meditation, are also the types that would agonize details about what position to hold, the number of breaths to take, which mantra to chant, etc.
Now, I’m not saying that meditation styles that have such specific rules are silly. I just don’t think that they are necessary for a person to benefit from meditation. Developing your own meditative routines and poses is a rewarding and fun personal journey.
If you do any internet search on meditation, I’m sure you will find links to numerous studies that show meditation is good for a wide variety of physical and mental ailments. I don’t want to necessarily talk about that, but I do suggest you look into it. You may find that it helps with your particular ailment.
It gets much deeper than that. Meditation taps not just into your mental/conscious, but it also opens you up to your spiritual/sub-conscious self. It can clarify, purify, and sanctify things you may not have even known to need such actions. The result can be life changing, as it has been for me. This quote by Diana Robinson sums it up for me. “Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God.”
Don’t be shocked if at first it is a little hard to quiet your mind. If you sat on your couch and tried to think about nothing for ten minutes, you might be surprised how much stuff goes through your mind. Just remember that this is normal, and don’t get down on yourself for having such a busy mind. You will start to learn how to quiet it down and focus as time goes on.
So here are a few basic tips that have worked for me. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing what works and feels right for you. Remember, this is your own personal journey.
Find one. It’s as simple as that. It should be somewhere you won’t be disturbed or distracted. It doesn’t necessarily have to be completely quiet, as long as it is not distracting. You can meditate outdoors at a park, in your room, or even in your car or office. You can pick a space and decorate it, making it your own little sanctuary. If you do choose indoors, try to keep it well ventilated.
One rule here: keep your spine straight. You may have to tuck your chin in to help you. Imagine that there is a string that connects the back of your head to the ceiling. This rule applies to whatever position you choose: kneeling, sitting with your legs crossed, sitting on a chair, or standing in the Qi Gong Horse stance (more about this later).
- Kneeling – kneel with your knees about 2 fist-widths apart, and the tops of your feet flat on the ground. Relax your ankles and your shoulders.
- Sitting on a chair – sit firmly close to the edge of a chair. Your hips and your knees should be at about a 90˚ angle.
- Hands – rest your hands gently on your knees. If you prefer, you can cross your two thumbs with your palms facing you, and gently rest them two to three inches below your belly button.
- Shoulders and elbows – try to keep them nice and relaxed.
- Smile – put on a slight smile in such a way that you don’t have to try hard to maintain it.
Some people say to lower your eyelids to about halfway from closing. This is to prevent your mind from drifting. I personally find that I am able to focus better with my eyes closed because I am easily susceptible to visual stimulation. You can just do what feels right for you, and you can always try the other way if it doesn’t work out.
Music or Silence
Ideally, you should meditate in silence, so I’ve been told. I actually like to turn on Pandora and tune into channels such as Zen Garden, Meditation By the Sea, New Age Ambient, and the likes. Soothing music puts my mind at ease, and allows me to “get in my zone” faster. When I don’t have music, I tend to get distracted by every little sound my environment makes.
If there is one thing you should remember about breathing, it is to expand your stomach (not your chest) when you inhale. A lot of times, there is what I like to call “a blockage of stress” right at your diaphragm. In these cases, oxygen (as well as other energies) does not easily reach other parts of your body. Expanding your stomach while inhaling will open up your diaphragm and allow for the free flow of oxygen.
Breathe naturally. Although a rapid breath usually does indicate a busy mind, you don’t have to worry about breathing at a certain rate. I would like to add, however, that a slow, steady breath is ideal. You should instead focus on your breath flowing in and out of your body.
So you have your space, your pose, your music, and you’re all ready to start. Now what? Meditate, of course! There are several things you can do to help direct your focus:
- Count your breaths – Simply count your breaths. Count your breath on each exhale, from one to ten. Then count backwards from ten to one. If you ever lose count due to emotions or thoughts, don’t let that bother you. Simply start over. When your focus strays during your meditation session, and they most certainly will, just go back to counting breaths.
- Focus on an object – It can be any object you want, whether or not the object is significant is totally up to you., It can be of religious nature (like a cross), or it can be something (seemingly) meaningless like a blank piece of paper or a rock.
- Focus on a place – You can visualize that you are present in your special place. For example, it can be at a secluded beach, a mountain top, or forest. It can be virtually anywhere!
- Hugs – You can send hugs to each of your organs or body parts, especially to areas that might be ailing. This can help to send more blood, energy, and healing properties to those ailing parts.
- More hugs – You can visualize hugging people. I have found this practice especially powerful. I mentally hug my patients, my family, and other loved ones. More importantly, however, I mentally hug people who might frustrate, annoy, anger, or scare me. This has made me deal with certain situations with much more calm and understanding. And if I find myself dealing with a difficult person, guess what I do? I give them a mental hug!
It is important to try to maintain focus on something at all times. I would recommend against aimless meditation. Aimless meditation raises the potential of allowing too many thoughts to come into your mind, and may produce effects that are opposite of what we are trying to obtain. It can stress you out!
Like I mentioned above, you will most certainly be faced with many thoughts entering your mind. Remember that this is completely normal and expected. Do not allow these thoughts to bother you. You don’t have to try to ignore them either, however. Trying to fight or ignore your thoughts can actually add stress. Instead, just acknowledge the thoughts that enter your mind, and let them flow right back out. To help you with this, just refocus on your posture and the method of focus you chose (breathing, visualizing, etc.).
However long you meditate, you should time yourself. If you use the timer on your cell phone, make sure to select a soft ring tone for the alarm. A loud ring tone can be quite jarring when you’re in a meditative state.
You can start by meditating for 10 minutes, or even less. You can also start just by counting to ten, and back down to one, and count that as your meditation session without any time requirements to bog you down. I usually start with a minimum of 12 minutes, but my average time of meditation is 18. It would be great if you can work yourself up to 20 or 30 minute sessions. Again, just meditate for the amount of time that best suits you.
During some meditation sessions, you may find that you are done meditating before your alarm goes off. When you feel that way, it is best to just stop. When you force yourself to go longer than you are mentally willing or able, you will start to feel agitated. Once you get accustomed to meditating for longer periods of time, you will actually find yourself asking “Was that 30 minutes already?”
Lastly and most importantly, have fun and enjoy your journey!