“A mind too active is no mind at all”
– Theodore Roethke
The positive effects of regular meditation are well-documented: heart and respiration rate slow down, blood pressure drops, and symptoms of stress decrease as your body relaxes. It has been said that in order to meditate, we need three things: great faith, great perseverance and great questions. There are some practical considerations as well. It is helpful to get ready—physically and mentally. Meditating without preparing your body and mind is like stopping a car with the engine racing.
How to prepare yourself for meditation
Hatha yoga began as a way for yogis to prepare themselves for the demands of meditation. Before you begin, take some slow, deep breaths, followed by a few simple yoga postures [asanas] or stretches. Some people like to meditate to the sounds of soft music, chimes or a table fountain; others prefer quiet. Try both ways to see what works best for you.
As for positions, you have options there, too. Most people sit during meditation. If you are seated on a blanket or mat on the floor, sitting on a cushion helps keep your spine extended. If you are seated in a chair, make sure your knees are in level with your hips [you may wish to try putting your feet on a cushion]. Shoulders are relaxed and down away from your ears. Eyes may be closed or cast downward. Rest the back of your hands on your knees or in your lap, fingers slightly curled. You may wish to gently touch the tips of the thumbs and index fingers in jnana mudra, or “knowledge gesture”. This hand gesticulation represents the union of human and divine consciousness, a classic gesture that completes an energy circuit in the body and can enhance concentration. If you lie down, use a folded blanket or bolster under your knees and under your neck. Arms are by your sides, palms turned up, fingers slightly curled or in jnana mudra.
Begin with the basics
A basic meditation [dhyana] practice is to simply follow your breath. Repeat silently, “Breathing in, breathing out.” When thoughts arise—and they will, again and again—return to the breath or word. Shift position if you feel uncomfortable; don’t “tough it out”. You want your practice to be pleasant, not punishing. If you move, do so slowly and with awareness. Or instead, try focussing on an object [a rock or shell], a sound [bell or chime], counting [“one, two, three…”], a mantra [such as “peace,” “amen”] or an image [lotus flower, sunset, gemstone].
If you are new to meditation, practise for a few minutes at first; gradually, increase the time by five-minute increments.
1. Heart meditation
- Bring thumbs and forefingers together to form a triangle over your heart centre. [Hands can rest in your lap if that is more comfortable.]
- Exhale. Inhale through the nose. Exhale fully through the mouth.
- Repeat this breath for several rounds and allow your breath to return to normal.
- Lower your hands to your sides and ask yourself the question: If my heart were planted, what would it grow?”
- Let the question sit for a while. Then, breathe deeply as you envision an answer or an image.
- Keep your focus on the visualisation.
2. Meditation of intent
This meditation focusses on combining three intentions: to nurture a strong and supple body; to develop a clear mind; and to cultivate a spirit filled equally with power, love, and wisdom.
- Inhale and repeat silently: “My body is strong and supple.”
- Exhale and repeat silently: “My mind is clear.”
- Inhale and repeat silently: “My spirit is filled with power, love and wisdom.”
- Exhale and repeat silently: “All in equal measure.”
- Breathe and feel the intention fill your entire being.
3. Lotus flower meditation
The lotus flower has long been a symbol of perfection, purity and simplicity. While the lotus blossom represents perfection and purity, its roots remain firmly grounded in the mud. The lotus flower reminds us that while we may strive for higher awareness from above, we can’t forget our vital physical connection to the earth below.
- Breathe deeply as you envision the glorious thousand-petal lotus blossom.
- Inhale and imagine the lotus blossom growing in your heart centre, the bridge between the three lower physical energy chakras and the three higher spiritual chakras.
- Exhale and acknowledge the connection between your physical body and cosmic consciousness.
- Breathe deeply and with each exhalation allow the lotus flower to continue unfolding.
- Go deeply within and gaze at the beautiful open flower. Note that a gift—an image, an insight, a message or a vision—awaits you.
- Ask yourself: “What gift does the lotus flower hold for me?”
- Continue breathing, focusing on the precious gift that the lotus flower of your heart has brought you. What use will you make of this gift?
- Put the gift in a safe place within, aware that it will remain there for whenever you need its special qualities.
4. Om meditation
If you have never chanted before and feel self-conscious, start by repeating “Om” silently at first; as you feel more comfortable, begin chanting aloud, gradually increasing the volume. The sound of Om is composed of four parts: ah [corresponds to the waking state]; oh [corresponds to the dreaming state]; mmm [corresponds to the deep sleeping state]; and silence [represents ultimate reality].
- Inhale deeply. On an exhalation begin chanting the sound of Om. Remember the four parts: ah/oh/mmm/silence
- Pause. Inhale deeply.
- Chant for two more rounds. Increase the volume with each round.
- When you have completed chanting, return your breath to normal and repeat silently: “My spirit overflows with luminous energy.”
5. Resting meditation
- Breathe deeply a few times.
- Allow who you truly are to be revealed by silently saying: “I am.”
- Allow these words to help you focus your awareness.
- Repeat as often as you wish.
6. Walking meditation
You may wish to do this meditation outdoors or in a spacious room. Stand with your spine comfortably extended. Your gaze is focussed on a spot in front of you. Arms may be by your sides or in front of the heart centre in prayer position. In addition to all the other benefits of meditation, walking meditation also increases circulation in the legs and feet and counteracts the effects of too much sitting.
- Breathe deeply.
- Begin walking by raising your right foot as you inhale. Exhale as you place the foot down in front of you.
- Inhale and raise your left foot. Exhale and place it down in front of you.
- Take each step slowly and deliberately. Be aware of how you raise your leg. Pay attention to any sensations as you lift and lower each leg.
- Maintain your focus and awareness. Nothing else matters, only lifting your foot and placing it back onto the ground.
- Concentrate on each step and the rhythm of your breath.
- Take a step and repeat silently: “I have no destination.”
- Take the next step and repeat silently: “This is all about the journey.”
- Continue until your journey feels complete.
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