As we use exercise to train our bodies, meditation is a way to train our minds by inducing a state of consciousness where we can observe our thoughts without losing ourselves in the story they present to us. We see meditation as mental hygiene, as it cleanses the mind and calms the nervous system. It gives a sense of relaxation, grounding and “floating” after moving on to our daily activities. It also has health benefits for people with high blood pressure, anxiety or depression. (from my written exam for YTT)
I was a non-believer for a long time, until I needed it. At the end of last year when I was jobless and stressed out, I felt borderline depressed. I hated everything, everyone and I needed something to help me cope. I had already started a 30 day Yoga challenge (and I was feeling great!) when I heard that my office will close – was exactly on day 25 of the challenge. Because I had to practice for at least 15 minutes every day, on some days I was experimenting with guided meditations to give my muscles a rest. I started to get it and after day 25, I practiced meditation more and more. The challenge was only 30 days, but when I reached day 120 I decided to stop counting. Yoga kept me sane, so I decided to share with you my favourite meditation techniques.
1. The 5 senses
This is a quick one that I use when I’m on the tube. I hate the tube and this helps me give my brain something to do other than playing Farm Heroes Saga on my phone :).
See. Start by looking around you, observe people (without staring), objects, actions.
Smell. Try to focus on any smells around you. I know they might not be pleasant on the tube, but maybe you’re somewhere else :).
Touch. Feel anything that your skin or body comes in contact with – how your clothes fit, the weight of your feet on the ground or the weight of your body on the chair if you’re sitting down, your toes in your shoes.
Taste. Coffee aftertaste? Or gum? Is there anything that you might notice?
Hear. Focus on sounds, from those closely around you to those far away. And if you’re in a very quiet place you might hear yourself breathing.
I don’t have a specific order in which I do these, but I try to do “See” either first or last to have my eyes closed for the rest. Having the eyes closed eliminates one of the senses so you can focus more on the others. But it’s up to you.
2. Breathing an a beat
To be able to focus on breathing I count, so it has a rhythm. I count to 6 when I breathe in, keep the air in for 2, exhale for 8, keep empty lungs for 2, repeat. So it looks like this:
Inhale – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Pause – 1, 2
Exhale – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Pause – 1, 2
Repeat for as long as it’s comfortable and use the counts that you feel appropriate – not everyone can exhale for 8 seconds, it takes practice! It shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, you shouldn’t feel that you’re suffocating. It should be relaxing. When it gets tiring, stop controlling your breath, breathe normally for a couple of minutes and then do it again. Or, as I do, do it a few times a day. Just 10 cycles at a time is enough for me. I sometimes do this when I walk, but if you’re not used to it, you need to learn to do it by sitting down. You can sit in any comfortable crossed-legged position or on a chair, but your spine should be upright and neck in line with the spine. If I’m sitting down, sometime I imagine a pendulum moving on the beat of my count. Visualisation helps when you’re a beginner in meditation.
An important thing is how to breathe. I think this deserves a blog post all by itself, but here’s my best tip to learn how abdominal breathing should feel like. I learned this on a public speaking course from an actor that can talk for hours without getting breathless.
Sit tall and put your hands on your belly. Start making the sound “zzzzzzzz”, like a bee, and you’ll start feeling your belly moving away from your hands towards your spine. When you just can’t get any sound out anymore that means you ran out of air, you exhaled fully – air helps us make sounds. Now just relax and inhale without trying to control anything – your body will just automatically do it and the breath will drop straight to the belly, your hands will be pushed forwards. Imagine a baby or a dog sleeping and how the belly rises on their inhales – that’s abdominal breathing and that’s how humans breathe until they grow up and start living their lives on fast-forward.
When meditating, you do the same but without sound, just with the breath. But this time you don’t exhale to the point where it feels uncomfortable and when you inhale you do it in a smooth and controlled way. In Yoga we inhale and exhale through the nose.
Sounds so positive, doesn’t it? This type of meditation is called metta and there are books and studies about it, so in my small paragraph I can’t even begin to explain it, but if I can sum it up somehow, it’s about being a good person – with everyone and everything – and just living a happy life. But if a whole life is too long, here’s how to be happy for 5 minutes!
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathe freely for a couple of minutes until you calm down and just prepare yourself for the meditation. Imagine a moment when you were extremely happy and try to feel that there and then. When you think you got it, keep it and then say to yourself a few mantras. You can have your own, but here are mine: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be loved. May I be safe.” Repeat them for a while, maybe using your breath as a rhythm. “May I be happy” on an inhale, “May I be healthy” on an exhale and so on. And if at any time you catch your mind wandering off, go back to the happy moment and start again. But I think anyone can do it for a few minutes. You should get out of the meditation with a smile on your face.
Once you get used to the technique, start including other people in your meditation to send loving-kindness towards them. You first visualise someone you love or that has done something good for you and say “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be loved. May you be safe”. Then you advance to people you have no strong feelings for, neither positive nor negative. Then you add a person that you have negative feelings for, but you should really do that after a while of practice. Trying to send loving-kindness to someone you hate is both hard and frustrating until you get the point.
I use this technique whenever I get the chance. My last occasion was a few days ago when I was alone in a sauna and I had nothing to do.
These are my top 3. Do you meditate? What do you use? If you want more info about any of them, please ask.