The benefits of meditation are well documented, but for many, mediation is considered a “quack science” with no measurable benefits. I have spent the last 10 years or so attempting to learn and practice various deep breathing and meditation techniques and have seen life-changing results. At first, meditation can be difficult and uncomfortable, but once one begins to slow the mind down, meditation becomes relaxing and euphoric. After hundreds of hours of meditation practice I still consider myself a novice. Meditation takes a lot of time and effort, but the benefits received are well worth the sacrifice.
Meditation and deep breathing techniques have been practiced around the world for thousands of years. Many cultures in the East swear by this ancient practice, while here in the West many are skeptical of the benefits. Today, society is dominated by the search for quick fix solutions, and few take the time to truly work on themselves on a daily basis. Learning to meditate takes practice and many hours of sitting and breathing. For many this process can be difficult and even painful. Living in modern society most of us are exposed to nearly constant stimulation, which can make slowing down to mediate difficult. Your subconscious mind mainly controls your breathing, so changing your natural rhythm can be a long and frustrating process. Overtime as your skills improve you will cherish your mediation time as a great way to relax and disconnect from the stress of modern living. The benefits of meditation and deep breathing are too numerous to name, but better brain function, less stress, and increased connection with the spiritual realm are just a few. The blog High Existence wrote a great beginners guide to mediation that is required reading for anyone getting started in this ancient practice.
The Basics of MeditationSit in a comfortable position with your back straight, the crown of your head ‘pulled upwards’ and your chin turned in a little towards your chest. If you feel any pain in the knees or in the back, sit a little bit higher on a cushion. It is of essential importance that you can relax deeper and deeper, and potentially even fall asleep while sitting. If this is not the case, choose to sit in a chair or to lie down on your back. I once read that your skeleton in meditation should be the like a coat rack and your limbs should just hang.
Breathe in deeply and pull your shoulders up to your ears. Then pull them backwards and downwards while breathing out. Do it slowly and with awareness. Push your shoulders out to the front and then upwards while inhaling. Do this circle progression 5 times with deep inhalations and exhalations. Reverse the movement and do it for another five times in the other direction.
During the meditation, try to concentrate on the physical, bare, sensations of the breath. This will be your object of your focus.
When you are new to meditation, focus on the area around the belly, sucking air in, pushing air out. Try to breathe into the belly, here are the most veins that take up oxygen and helps the parasympathetic nervous system to calm you down.
In time, when you have developed a somewhat better concentration you can move to the sensations around the nostrils. The sensations here are harder to detect and thus you need to pay more attention.
Keep in mind that everything else other than the bare sensations is a distraction. Feeling good? Go back to the sensation of the breath. Having a good thought? Go back. Making sounds on the rhythm of the breath? Then you are masking the true sensations of the moment, try to find how it actually feels so go back.
You might want explicitly note every time you get distracted. So if you notice you are not on the breath anymore, label the moment ‘distraction’ and move your attention back to the object of meditation. Keep in mind, every time you notice you lost the object, you are making progress!
Start with 5 minutes twice a day. Move up once you feel like you could and are really interested in wanting to discover more. This can already happen after the first session.
Move up to 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 minutes twice a day. Perhaps even take a whole day where you practice 30 minutes every two hours, and take mindful walks between them.
How To ProgressWhen you are around the 10 minute mark you probably noticed already the crazy habitual stream of thoughts. It is NOT the goal to get rid of these, just being aware of them and what their effect is on your state of mind is enough. Their pull will lessen over time.
However, every time you get distracted from the breath, it means you didn’t notice the pull of the first thought that started another whole train of thoughts.
You can ask yourself, why exactly that thought, that moment?
The more you meditate, the more you will notice that thoughts are just clouds passing by in the mind space. But some thoughts still attract your whole attention. These are the ones that you desire, or, in other words, the ones that distract you from what is really happening in your body, on the sensational level.
These are the fantasies or worries that pre-occupy your existence because you don’t want to see what lies beneath.
When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick. Every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.
The instruction here is to relax into your body on every outbreath, letting go, and focusing more intensely on the bare sensations on every inbreath. This creates a rhythm, a tendency, that actually resembles a kind of courage to face old neurosis and traumas.
With every breath you are more intimate with impermanence. Nothing is fixed, no stable ground to be found.
Thoughts will still be there, but they will become powerless. They will show their true face, not the commander of the human passions, but the slave that works for the passions.
The next step is to go deep into the sensations. At the start of an inbreath, the sensations are barely noticeable. At one point, where the speed of inhalation is the highest, the tingling around the nostrils will be the most intense. And at the end, when the lungs are quite full already the sensations slowly disappear.
When they are hard to distinguish from other stimuli around you, try to go deeper. Zoom in.
Can you feel a little more before they disappear? Is it really one sensation, or are there many small ones? Investigate and keep your eyes on the ball. Make it a game, try to catch the thought that pulls your awareness away from the object.
If you miss, just restart. Go back to the breath.
The more you meditate the more you find old layers of tension popping up in your awareness. Places where anxiety rests. These are the places that stress up when you are in a situation that seems hostile to you. This could be all the time (chronic tension).
The most common ones are the areas around the neck and shoulder, chest and groin. When you notice this, try to be mindful during the day. Just being aware of it and when possible, try to relax the tension.
If you do relax a bit, be extremely aware of the thoughts that arise while letting go. A certain psychosomatic phenomenon will always co-dependently arise with it.
(For example, the opening of the heart are for some individuals are paired with thoughts of self-judgment.)
When you go deeper into these areas, you might get distracted much quicker than when concentrating on the sensations of the breath. This is because your defense mechanisms house there.
You don’t like being aware of it, it feels like suffering.
You would rather be un-conscious of them. This is true every time you are completely into your thought stream and not in your body.
Thoughts can not feel suffering but your body can.
And if your body get’s too in-tense, we run into our own fabricated house of symbols. Remember that most people go through life, day in day out, without a fundamental trusting connection with their body.
To establish this, we need to be compassionate, be caring. Get massages, take sauna’s, eat well, exercise diligently and take enough rest. All these movements, if motivated by taking care of ones body, will greatly enhance your meditation practice.
Being scared and hurt can show itself in many ways, in anger, arrogance, pride, revenge, anxiety etc. These are the moments where true insight can arise. In moments of being vulnerable one can restore and heal parts of ourselves that we disowned a ling time ago.
The best way to do this is to include yourself into your circle of compassion.
If after a few months of being mindful of these problem areas you still can’t relax into them fully, then you could try to add yoga, tai chi, chi qong or dancing to your practice.
It opens up the tension, these are really powerful tool that are probably very uncomfortable for many. But, once the old knots disappear, you feel lifted, the world seems lighter and a more happy place. The different drives of your body start conversing with each other again.