Effective Meditation Techniques – A Tutorial on How to Meditate
We all know the classic Buddha pose, straight back, legs crossed, hands resting in the lap. You might imagine the shuni mudra, in which the middle finger and thumb lightly touch at the tips. If you’re lucky the weather is warm enough to feel comfortable, there is a gently trickling waterfall beside you and the smell of the sweetly scented pink and orange flowers floating towards you on the gentle breeze.
Ack, let’s get real – whilst it sounds idyllic you do not need any of these things to meditate efficiently. And if you, like me, found school assembly left you unable to walk for a couple of minutes every day you might prefer a different position (though vipassana mediators would say otherwise)! As Jay Shetty says in his book ‘Think like a Monk’, meditation is giving yourself space to reflect and evaluate.
How to Meditate
Meditation has numerous health benefits, including reducing stress and improving mental health and wellbeing. Ancient Chinese books refer to people in prehistoric times using inner peace to maintain health, many living to over 100 with little signs of aging in old age. Whilst I don’t necessarily want to live to be the oldest person, I do want to be the healthiest and most peaceful version of myself I can be, always. You may or may not feel the same!
Today we hear of people practising Qigong as a meditation exercise or using craft, such as art therapy. Researchers claim that evidence continues to imply that inner peace prolongs human life by slowing down overall changes in neural excitation and maintaining the proper balance of neural network activity. Currently psychedelics are big news in the treatment of mental health disorders, including depression. One study has found that the brain displays similar activity during meditation as it does during a psychedelic experience. Whichever way you choose to meditate, your aim is to achieve inner peace to help yourself achieve positive mental and physical health in both the short and long term.
The nature of our society and a trend towards health being fixed and supressed through medication has resulted in warped expectations of self-help. Our fast-paced lifestyles lead to a pull towards quick fixes. Some people choose to use hypnotherapy because they think I can do something to them. Those that know the work needs to come from within sometimes wonder why little changes through intermittent, short bursts of practise. Regularly my client’s express disappointment at their own ability to focus their mind.
I like to use the example of meditators to demonstrate how commitment, patience and determination helps you to supports your mental and physical health naturally. Maintaining natural health without living a primal lifestyle is more challenging so the practise must be regular and sufficient. As an example, Buddhists in an ashram will meditate for upwards of eight hours per day, every day. Vipassana meditation ten-day courses have at least ten hours of meditation each day. Please do not let this put you off, rather use it to give yourself a bit of a break. Meditation does take practise. Even the most established meditators recognise the need to keep on meditating.
Breathing is something we do without thinking, unfortunately we also stop it periodically without thinking. Holding the breath is common during moments of concentration, fear, and discomfort for example – all times when focused breathing is beneficial! Your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems use your breathing to regulate your heartbeat. When you inhale you stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, and your heart rate increases. Your exhale stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, and your heart rate decreases.
When your breathing is regular and rhythmical you create a steady fluctuation. You can make your exhale longer than your inhale to slow your heart rate in moments of anxiety. Breathing down into your diaphragm so your belly rises rather than your chest is a more efficient way to breathe. If you take some time each day to focus on your breathing whilst closing your eyes and resting comfortably you will relax your body and mind, ground yourself and reenergise. Keep your thoughts on your breaths to help you remain in the present moment.
Meditation is challenging because we have continual distraction. Remaining inwardly focused is not what expect. Busy lives mean that we always need to think about the future and judgemental experiences leave many of us focused on the past and what we should have done differently. Mindful meditation will help you focus on yourself and learn how to live in the present.
It is nicer to sit somewhere comfortable without disruption. In time you will meditate in the most uncomfortable of spaces without concern and find it easy to slip back into a meditative state after a disturbance. If you have restricted time, set an alarm, otherwise take the amount of time that feels most comfortable to you.
Begin by closing your eyes and focus on the breath coming into and moving out of your body. Use your senses to notice how it feels, sounds, tastes. If you wish, take a journey around your body noticing all the different sensations and feel the surface beneath you. If you want to direct all your focus to your breath this is ok too. Whenever you notice that your mind has drifted away from the present moment, or away from you bring it back. In time this will become a less regular occurrence and you’ll notice it sooner.
Meditation is not something that reaches an end point. Being a meditator is a lifestyle change that becomes part of your daily routine and brings many benefits to life. Some benefits are obvious, others not so. When you become experienced at meditation you will use it at the most random of moments to calm yourself and feel in control of yourself. Meditation will help you become proactive rather than reactive. Take it one step at a time and do not expect too much from yourself initially.