Why meditate? Everyone spouts the great benefits of meditation these days. Meditation is often marketed as the answer to all your troubles. It will increase your concentration, relieve stress and have a myriad of other health benefits.
I would like to look at the pragmatic uses of meditation and how to craft a meditation practice that works for you.
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Briefly, meditation is where you sit quietly with yourself and observe your breath.
If you’ve never meditated before, you should start with a 5 minute practice a few times a week. Everyone has 5 minutes they can slip in, even if you’re always telling yourself you’re too busy and have no time.
If you believe you are too busy regularly and have no time, meditation may be perfect for you. Busyness feels good but likely does not mean maximum productivity. Stepping back with a regular 5 minute meditation may also prove to yourself that you do have more time than you previously thought.
Most people struggle with meditation at first. They’ve heard advice like “have no thoughts”, or “be without thoughts.” This builds up a lot of expectations and may make you feel like you’re doing it wrong no matter what you do. This can prevent the successful addition of a meditation habit.
Where does the idea of no thoughts come from? Gurus, Yogis, Buddha. Perhaps that is the secret sauce to experiencing nirvana, I have no idea. But this idea is too narrowing and weakens the wide applications of meditation.
I would approach meditation with the goal of becoming more self aware. It’s not about whether you’re meditating with the right or wrong technique. It’s simply a tool that helps build self awareness.
Thoughts are thoughts. Not inherently good or bad.
We can choose which thoughts we identify with. Thoughts will arise that you do not agree with. You can get locked into some mode of thinking just because one thought about “pools” side tracked you, then other thoughts attached themselves like “equipment needed to build an indoor pool” or “how much it will cost.”
For some reason you just spent the last 10 minutes thinking about making a pool in your backyard, but you don’t even have a backyard.
Thoughts are weird. Your unconscious mind offers up strings of thoughts and phrases continuously throughout the day. Some thoughts are bound to be poor, others good, and some in between. Depending on your mood, certain words and thoughts can also come with a heap of feelings.
Just because you think “it” doesn’t mean its true or that you believe that thought. You get to choose the weight of thoughts and whether they should be a part of your self identity.
When a thought arises during meditation, let it appear and fade away. You are not wrong or doing it wrong just because you get caught up in a series of thoughts before returning to your breath. Over time, it will be easier to bring your mind back to your breath.
Sometimes it’s good to explore thoughts you have not had time for in your regular day. Eyes closed and a calmer mind can give a more rational analysis of a problem or help you realize that something bothering you was not that big of a deal. Meditation is about you and for you. You can solve whichever problems you want during it.
Meditation is a practice very dependent on the individual. It’s hard to give a 1-size fits all way to meditate. I suggest you explore different ways to meditate and develop a practice that works for you. Figure out whether sitting, standing, or lying down is more comfortable for you.
Typical advice is to focus on your breath. Breathe deeply in and breathe out. Continue to do this for the rest of your meditation. Observe uncomfortable spots in your body as they arise. That’s the basics, but it does not explain how to focus on your breath and what that really means.
Awareness of Attention
One trouble I experienced when focusing on breath only, was that it did not take up enough processing power in my mind. I suggest you try, at different times, all three of the following ways to focus on your breath. This first way I would describe as “Point” meditation.
If you breathe in and out but keep your attention at the entry/exit point of your nose. Your focus remains there, un-moving and always coming back to that point. The trouble with this is that it’s very tough to keep your attention at a static, un-moving point.
Path meditation is a bit more fluid. The entry point of your nose is still the start. Follow the inhale of each breath in through the nose, down into your stomach. This is the halfway point. Exhale and follow the path in reverse. From stomach up through your nasal cavity and out. This is more dynamic and I find that my mind has more success staying with the breath this way.
The next level beyond “Path” is to add a visualization of the occupied space for each breath. Still follow the breath but imagine a 3D space of air as it flows along that path. The visual component requires more parts of the brain and helps keep focus on the breath. I usually do Path or Visual Path when focusing on my breath.
Once you’ve landed on a breath practice that works for you, you can add on the next step. These steps can vary depending on the day or desired goal. You can do one, all or none of them. It’s up to you and what you find helpful during your own meditation.
Observe your body. Focus on the sensations felt in your current posture. This could be your feet on the floor or head against a pillow. You can observe uncomfortable spots in your body as they arise, whether they are tight or pain. Accept the sensation and let it fade on its own time.
Reflect on goals for day/tomorrow. Planning your day, tomorrow, or goals for the next 6 months can be done during meditation. If you plan your day the night before or first thing when you wake up, it can give clear expectations for the day and mark high priority items.
Gratitude. Gratitude is about feeling appreciative and thankful for specific things in your life. This could be a parent, a sibling, a friend or someone who has added value to you. It’s easy to get caught up in further and future achievement without appreciating what you’ve already accomplished.
If you live in a developed country, there is plenty to be grateful for. If nothing still comes to mind, be thankful you have a mind able to comprehend language or that you have access to clean drinking water.
Guided Practice. If you are just starting out or haven’t tried it before, guided practice can be worthwhile. I frequently use 6 Phase Guided Meditation by Vishen Lakhiani and a mediation called Priming by Tony Robbins. A repeated guided practice can be easy to stick to.
Once you’ve become accustomed to a meditation practice, you may notice increased awareness of yourself and others day-to-day. Awareness can help you clear out clutter in your life and focus on what really matters to you.
Eventually, self awareness may become an everyday piece of your life where meditation is no longer required consistently.
These days, I typically use meditation to change my state of mind when I have low energy or am in a mood that does not mesh well with the task at hand. Meditation lets me return to baseline energy and focus or re-energizes me.
Sometimes I do guided practice. Other times I just lay down with my eyes closed for 20 minutes, letting my mind wander completely. Goals, gratitude, and observation of the body all weave in and out of my practice from time to time but are not staples every time.
Whether you implement meditation to increase regular self awareness or as a tool to alter your moods, the benefits are well worth the effort. You are missing out if meditation is not a part of your life. #treatyoself