In my previous post ‘What Is Meditation?’ I hopefully debunked some of the myths about meditating that may stop you from engaging in something that has been scientifically proven to improve health, cognitive function, happiness levels and even lengthen life.
I may not know you, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the above list that you wouldn’t like more of.
Let me take things a stage further to show you how serious I am in my belief that everybody can benefit from a regular meditation practice.
If everybody on the planet was taught to meditate, and did so from an early age, I’m pretty sure I’d be out or work as a Life Coach because few people would have that sense of stuckness that I specialize in helping remove.
So it could be said that by encouraging you to meditate I may be losing a potential client. But I can live with that, because the sad reality is I know most people won’t bother, or will try it for a bit and then give up because it seems a bit like hard work.
I used to think that, but by pushing through the initial “this is ridiculous” phase I now look forward to my sessions and my goal for 2012 is not go a day without spending at least 20 minutes meditating, or sitting, as us cool kids call it.
I’m going to describe a few basic techniques but I encourage you to dig deeper. I also encourage you to play about with different techniques to find the one(s) that suit you best.
To Listen or Not To Listen That Is The Question
If you see pictures of Tibetan Monks meditating you don’t usually see them wearing headphones attached to an iPhone.
But you’re probably not a Tibetan Monk, so to begin within I’d suggest you enlist the help of meditation CD’s or downloads to make life easier.
Some people like to meditate to super chilled out music specifically written for the purpose. Whereas others prefer spoken guided meditations with voice only. And yet others like a combination of the two with a soothing voice backed by music.
My preference is dictated by my mood. Although voice only is probably the option I use most frequently I like all of them, as well as complete silence on the occasions I’m feeling brave.
When Should You Meditate?
Many people like to meditate first thing in the morning when they are most alert.
Quite honestly I’m not at my most alert first thing in the morning so I nearly always meditate in the afternoon or before going to bed.
Do what works for you because there is no hard and fast rule and there are no Meditation Police.
The Set Up
Setting up your session is important because you want to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible without the risk of nodding off.
Sitting cross legged and upright on the floor is the best option, but it’s ok to lie down or use a chair if you prefer.
Just try and keep your spine straight and don’t fidget.
The Breath Meditation
In my experience this is the meditation most people are familiar with and it’s also the one that has people qquitting most quickly because it’s just “too hard”
What happens is they sit down, focus on their breath, and then wonder where the hell all those thoughts just came from.
So they refocus on the breath and a load more thought appear as if by magic.
At this point they presume they’re mental and start to get agitated that they haven’t shut their mind off.
Short of a frontal lobotomy (not advisable), nobody shuts of their thoughts that quickly, it’s nigh on impossible.
As I said in the What Is Meditation?, I’ve been meditating for 5 years and if I go 10 seconds without a thought I’m metaphorically pumping the air with joy and often a conversation like this ensues in my head.
Me: Yesssss I just went at least 10 seconds without a single thought, woo-hoo!
Me: Wait a minute, that was a thought you bloody idiot. Damn.
Me: Ok, let’s reconnect
Me: Stop telling yourself to reconnect, that’s a thought, just do it.
Me: Ok, I will I’m doing it right this instant.
Me: Is that a birdie I can hear?
Me: Shut up, just shut up!
Me: No, you fucking shut up sunshine or I’ll give you a good hiding!
Me: Ok you make a good point
I’m not saying that’s normal per se, but it’s normal for me. As long as at some point I snap myself and reconnect with my breathing it’s ok and all part of the process. Remember it’s a PRACTICE.
Also, this is where guided meditations can be so useful because they remind you of what you’re doing and to keep reconnecting.
In essence, with a breath meditation you are literally shifting all your conscious awareness (or as much as you can) onto following your breathing and allowing your mind to calm down.
A very useful technique that Bodhipaksa uses on his brilliant CD called, amazingly enough, ‘Guided Meditations‘ to help ease you into the meditation is this:
Focus (not too intently) on an imaginary spot on a wall with your eyes open. Start to notice the whole expanse of your vision, especially the periphery. The more information you take in the more mental bandwidth you use up and the less there is for thinking.
Then using your sense of space and sound, start to imagine that you can see 360 degrees and see how your thinking quietens down. As it does so slowly close your eyes and allow that concentration to move to your breathing
Another technique is this:
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
- Start to feel the rising and falling of your belly.
- Listen intently to any sounds without judging them or trying to make sense of them
- Feel your weight pushing down into the earth
At the point you have hit your ceiling for the amount of data you can deal with at a conscious level at any one time and your mind shuts up.
Of course once your attention drifts away from one or more of those things you can start to think again, but that’s no problem you just start all over again
The Metta Bhavana or Lovingkindness Meditation
The point of this meditation is to cultivate loving kindness which in turn will make you a a happier person guaranteed or your money back!
There are 5 stage to the Metta Bhavana or Lovingkindness Meditation and they are as follows:
- Lovingkindness to yourself
- Lovingkindness to a close friend
- Lovingkindness to somebody you know but have no opinion on
- Lovingkindness to somebody that you feel ill will toward
- Lovingkindness to all four people together
Once you are set up you visualize yourself looking well and happy and say something similar to the following
- May I be well
- May I be happy
- May I be free from suffering
You repeat that over and over and create a mantra like effect which quiets your mind and allows you to focus on giving lurve to your beautiful self because we both know you deserve it.
And if it makes you feel uncomfortable giving yourself love, tough.
That just means you need to do it even more. Suck it up!
You then spend a similar amount of time on the other stages seeing the people involved looking well and happy as you did yourself and saying may you be well etc
You may find that you struggle or resist giving love to somebody you actively dislike, but guess what?
Tough. That just means you need to do it even more. Suck it up!
The Walking Meditation
As far as I’m concerned we could have called this the shower meditation, the emptying the dishwasher meditation or the hoping round the house naked on one foot covered in syrup meditation because it’s all about being mindful.
- Go for a walk
- Don’t think about work
- Don’t think about home
- Don’t think about hiring a Life Coach (do really)
- Don’t think about why your colleague is an asshole
- Think about the walk
- Rinse and repeat
Be mindful with every step you take. Be in the moment, leave the past where it belongs in the past, and the future is none of your damn business so leave that alone too.
Easy enough? yeh right.
Note: The Bodhipaksa CD, Guided Meditations: For Calmness, Awareness, and Love covers all 3 of the above meditations (al)
The Chakra Meditation
According to Hindu tradition there are 7 main Chakras, or energy centers that run up the core of your body. They are from the bottom up:
- Base Chakra (Red)
- Pelvic or Sacral Chakra (Orange)
- Solar Plexus Chakra (Yellow)
- Heart Chakra (Green)
- Throat Chakra (Pale Blue)
- Third Eye Chakra (indigo)
- Crown Chakra (Gold)
I have an awesome Deepak Chopra CD called Chakra Balancing that I use for this meditation.
It’s awesome because I love the backing music because it’s really trancey and Chopra does a brilliant job of explaining each stage.
This is a mantra meditation because you are repeating the Hindu name for each Chakra over and over whilst imagining the given color and focusing your attention on the particular part of the body related to the Chakra.
Which is a cunning way yet again to shut off Mr or Mrs Mind.
Got that? No I thought not, so maybe buy the CD and line my pockets with 50 cents worth of commission gold.
This is by some way the most difficult for me and it would seem other people.
A sitting meditation is just that, you merely sit, close your eyes and observe what happens in your environment without judgement for about 50 years or so.
I still struggle with this and that’s the reason why I don’t suggest anybody pitch headlong into this approach to begin with. However, you may love it, so check it out.
I had planned on also covering the Body Scan Meditation, but my guess is you probably can guess what that is without me blathering on any more.
There are lots of other types of meditation including Transcendental Meditation, Insight Meditation, Vipassana Meditation (which is mindfulness and very similar to some of the ones we have talked about) etc and I’m very confident there will be one that suits you.
If you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer in the comments and please feel free to offer any advice or tips of your own.