When I think of the challenges to meditation, it seems silly. After all, we just have to sit down in a comfortable place and be still, quiet our random thoughts, and breathe. OMG! It may seem simple, but in truth it is the hardest thing for most of us to do. Why? Now that is a great question, and within that answer are my top three tips for folks who are new to meditation.
My stars have always been lucky, and when I went in search of the “DIY” meditation guide, I somehow found myself at The Himalayan Institute. I was not sure what to expect at a “yoga ashram,” but I wanted to learn to meditate and had read articles about starting meditation written by teachers at this school. I was drawn to a panel discussion of experts in the field of yoga, psychology, and spiritual tradition where they were discussing the history and merits of meditation and yoga. I was inspired!
I decided to try to sit with my eyes closed, focus on my breathing, and let my mind rest. The lectures had supported me to be able to get the first two actions down, but not the third. My mind did everything but rest! This is exactly what I hear from most people as their biggest obstacle to meditation. So, let’s attend to each of these three primary actions to get your meditation practice started; get seated, relax, and harness the energy of the mind.
You need to find a seated position that works for you. Sitting cross-legged on the floor on a meditation cushion might be perfect for you, or you might need to sit in a chair if your knees are higher than your hips. This will create a natural steadiness without pain in the knees or hips. Another great option is to use a chair and sit, without leaning back, on the forward edge of the seat with your feet flat on the ground. I often put a yoga mat behind the spine for folks who need a little extra reminder to not sink back, which may cause a backache after mediation. Once you find the seat that works for you, sit so that the skull, ribcage, and pelvis are in a column-like alignment, which allows the craniosacral pulse of prana and fluid to freely bathe your brain. This alignment will also feel good, and the natural curves of your spine will be balanced. Finally, what do you do with your hands? Easy! Put them on your knees or thighs and decide what is most comfortable; palms up for receptivity and energy, or palms down for calming and steadiness. You can even put a blanket across your lap if you feel any strain in your shoulders or neck.
Go with Your Flow
Folks often have the idea that they must hold themselves like a statue when first starting to meditate. There is some truth that being still is desirable, but you want to feel comfortable enough to make tiny movements that are necessary for breathing, adjusting a shoulder or foot if it starts to feel numb, or if there is tension in the neck. Simply make the adjustment and then go back to focusing on your breath and reclaiming the joy of being secure, still, and at ease.
Pick a Style that Works for You!
The idea of meditation varies from teacher to teacher. Each lineage (line of succession or from a tradition) has its own recipe for meditation. My teacher is from the lineage of the Himalayan Masters, so I practice what is called a mantra meditation. I recite a specific sound or word using a mala (meditation beads). This practice supports the thinking part of my mind to relax, as all the mental focus is on repetition of that mantra. Other forms of meditation include loving kindness, Vipassana (Buddhist) meditation, or walking meditation.
There are many other ways to meditate, and I feel it is important to find the one that works best for you. It is certainly helpful to have a teacher if possible, but if not, there are several excellent meditation apps and guided meditation programs available. I use an app called “Insight Timer” and a few of my students really enjoy an app called “Headspace.”
Let yourself explore and, if available, find a teacher or group to support you as you start. They will be a touchstone for when you fall away from your daily meditation practice (we all do). This is a practice to nourish your body and mind, not to feel like you need to perform to someone else’s standard. Enjoy this path of returning home to yourself, and develop a sense of loving kindness toward yourself in the process.