Re-wiring and deepening your meditation practice in 2020 (pt2)
I have been meditating for about two decades now. I keep going with the practice because it keeps me centered, calm, and helps me process everything I experience in life. I honestly don’t know what kind of a person I’d be without meditation in my life. I practice pretty much everyday. When I miss because life happens (like my sweet 5 year old daughter crawling in bed with me early in the morning or I just need more sleep), I am easy on myself. Then I sit down later that day or the next. I no longer let little hiccups derail my entire meditation practice.
You see, meditation and it’s enormous benefits, come through consistent repetition. That basically means practicing for a long time, without break and with your whole heart. If I fall short of any of those things, I acknowledge that I could have done it better, am gentle with my so called “shortcoming,” and do better the next time.
I’ve always known the power of my meditation. It honestly wasn’t until the last week that I knew just how great it was. You see, I almost lost three of my loved ones in one week: my father, brother and niece. As you can imagine it was a harrowing time for myself and my family. It is easy to let the mind wander with all the “what ifs” and “could have beens”. And for most people it is very difficult to reign the mind back in from diving off the deep end of tragedy and stress.
Because I have been training my mind through meditation to keep coming back to a point of focus, I have essentially been building the mind muscles necessary to “stay in the shallows.” I could observe when my mind went down a negative, fear-filled path. I’d acknowledge what it was doing and then bring it back to the present moment. Because in this moment, really, everyone is going to be fine. In this moment, I can breathe more fully. In this moment, I can allow my emotions to flow without getting stuck and repressed. In this moment, I too am fine.
My meditation practice, and yours, has the power to smooth out the highs and lows of life without numbing us to the experiences. We can be fully present. We can remain calm and steady through stressful times and can let the emotions flow at other times. We can embrace happiness and sorrow. Meditation allows us to love and embrace ourselves just as we are. There is great empowerment in knowing and loving yourself fully.
If you are reading this then you likely already meditate and if you are just getting started with your meditation practice below you’ll find helpful tips to get you moving in the right direction.
My go-to super simple and highly effective meditation practice.
Begin with a comfortable seat. For this, you can sit on the floor, a cushion, a chair or even lay down (no falling asleep though). Consciously feel the breath move in and move out. Watch the belly expand with the inhale and contract with the exhale.
Watching the breath is the simplest and is a highly effective way to meditate. We breathe all day every day and somehow never really pay attention to it. Yet, the breath holds magic and vitality. It is both familiar and foreign. When you bring conscious awareness to the simple act of breathing it transforms the experience into something etheric. The breath connects you to the most vital part of what makes you, You.
Focusing on the breath is simple and requires no special aids (that have to be purchased or found on your phone). There’s no barrier to entry to watch the breath. You are breathing right now. Now all you need is willingness to observe it.
Now, add another layer of awareness by observing the subtle turn or pause between the inhale and exhale and the turn or pause where the exhale becomes the inhale.
This observation invites awareness to the unity in the duality of the breath -- both the movement and the stillness. You can even start to gently elongate the pauses. When holding the breath in or out, it is done with zero tension. Let it feel natural and good. Like you are soaking up the inhale or relishing in the emptiness of the exhale. (instructional video link)
If the mind is still having a hard time focusing on the breath, try counting the length of each inhale, pause, exhale and pause. This gives the mind something more familiar to focus on while you train it to observe the breath.
The simple and profound ways meditation works for you.
The way meditation really offers you the most benefits in your life is for you to meditate when you are happy, content and feeling good already. Doing it daily whether you “need it” or not. Regularity with the practice then supports you when you really do “need it.”
Dabbling in meditation sporadically just doesn’t give the same effect as a consistent daily practice. So many people only meditate when they are highly stressed, anxiety has taken hold or something traumatic happens. And I’m so glad they do meditate then. However, when you decide to commit to yourself and a daily practice you will establish a strong foundation that helps you have less stress on a daily basis. Therefore, “needing” meditation less and getting so much more out of it!
I’d like to share with you some of the methods of meditation that have been so helpful for me in establishing such a long term and consistent meditation practice.
You need a comfortable and inviting place to meditate.
I know I wrote about this in my last post, stay with me. This one thing of having a sacred space has given me more consistency in my meditation practice than anything else.
From the very beginning days of my meditation practice I always knew I needed a special place in my home to meditate. It began as a corner in a spare bedroom and stayed there for many years. As my dedication continued I have been able to create my own sacred spaces, apart from the common areas of my home. But, even when I travel, I still make room for a sacred space. Just last weekend I was back in a guest bedroom and set up a candle, incense and had a cozy blanket to keep me warm while I meditated at my sister’s house.
Another thing that helps me stay consistent is to have the proper seat in front of my altar space. For me, this is a meditation cushion. When I sit flat on the floor my body tends to ache more than if I simply elevate my hips up onto a cushion. The more comfortable your body can be while keeping an elevated spine the better! Some of you may prefer to sit in a chair. I even sit on a sofa now and then--especially while traveling. The important thing is not to slump and slouch. Wherever you sit, let there be room in your spine and abdomen so energy and breath can flow easily.
Wherever you are you can find comfort and inspiration right there in your sacred space. Let it be a place you want to visit daily. I know that when I sit down on my cushion in my regular spot in my home, my body and mind knows where it is and what it is about to do. It’s like the space invites the mind and body to settle in as you connect with your Self.
Keeping the mind focused with a mantra.
When I was new to meditation I found it challenging to work with my mind and to just sit with it. I felt like somehow sitting still made my mind more active--not less! In order for me to focus my mind I started using a japa mala mantra practice. That’s a fancy way of saying I repeated a sacred phrase at least 108 times using a string of prayer beads. In fact, I still use mantra to this day in my meditations. It gives both my mind something to focus on and my hands something tangible to do.
There are so many mantas available for you to use. It all depends upon what you want to clear or develop in your life. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Om Gum Ganapataye Namaha
- This mantra is extraordinarily powerful to make positive changes in your life, career, and physical health. It is the quintessential practice for removing obstacles, seen and unseen.
- Om Sharavana Bhavaya Namaha
- Chant this mantra to cultivate positive energy and for good luck. It begins to focus your subconscious along optimistic lines, and clears out emotional debris so you can function more effectively.
- Aham Prema
- The light of love lives in our hearts and is our true nature. This mantra helps us connect to that inner knowing of love, embody it, embrace it, and live it.
Developing a goal for your meditation and having a positive relationship with it.
Having an objective or goal in mind for your meditation helps you establish and commit to a new routine. It also sets you up for success so you can have a happy, healthy and positive relationship with your practice. You don’t get in your car to drive just anywhere. You have a location or goal in mind of where you want to go. The same with meditation. Have a sort of destination in mind so you know when you’ve gotten there. Any easy place to start with a goal is setting a specific amount of time you’d like to sit or a specific number of repetitions if using a mantra.
When I chant, using a mala helps me have a specific goal in mind for my meditation. Everyday I complete one round (or more) of a mala. That usually takes me anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending upon the mantra and my pace.
Another great way to develop a goal and make your meditation a success is to determine the minimum amount of time you can easily commit to practicing every day. I like to ask students, “what is your ‘I can’t say no to number’?” when it comes to how long you can meditate. What amount of time can you commit to every day and you won’t let your mind worm it’s way out of sitting still? Is it 3 minutes, 5, 7, 15? Whatever your minimum amount of time is, commit to that. Then if you feel really into your meditation on certain days sit for a minute or two or five longer. You’ll feel super good about it when you do it this way.
On the other hand, if you over commit and say 15 minutes is your minimum (but really it is too much to ask of yourself), and you sit only for 5 minutes, you will feel like a failure. That you didn’t do enough and will soon find yourself not meditating at all. Honestly, you still sat for 5 minutes! Yay! Congratulate yourself on that win and make 5 minutes your new “I can’t say no to number.”
My last quick tip for how long to meditate is to use a timer if it will help you relax. Setting a timer gives your mind permission to unwind without having to worry about being late for whatever comes next in your day. I like to use the free app called Insight Timer. It has nice tones that are more soothing to your system than your typical phone timers.
Meditation will last longer in your life as a supportive practice when you have a healthy, positive relationship with the practice. There’s no need to be hard on yourself. Any amount of meditation is better than none. Don’t let your mind convince you that 3 minutes a day isn’t enough. Three minutes every day consistently will get you into a healthy, positive flow with your practice and it will evolve naturally from there.
Follow your heart and intuition for the most effective meditation practice.
Once you are comfortable in your space and fully connected with the breath, your meditation can move in many directions. The primary goal of meditation is to focus the mind. All you really need is a point to keep bringing the mind back to when it wanders. Let go of the notion that your mind has to be perfectly calm while meditating. Enjoy the meanderings and then bring it back to what You want it to focus on.
Here’s a few more options to get your meditation juices flowing:
- focus on the heart center or any of the chakras,
- set an intention or sankalpa for your meditation and then hold in your awareness,
- invite the mind to melt into the heart, drip by drip, thought by thought,
- chant a mantra 108 times,
- embody a quality you want to enhance like love, patience, abundance, etc.,
- feel into your emotions, learn from them and clear them,
- count until your mind wanders, bring the mind back and start counting again.
Is Guided Meditation Cheating?
I’ve been asked if using a guided meditation is cheating. Simple answer is “No.” Guided meditations can be super helpful and effective. If you resonate with a teacher that has recorded meditations, practice them. It is way better to practice a guided meditation than to not meditate at all because you find it too difficult. Use the tools available to you. One day you may just find yourself sitting quietly at home, on an airplane or somewhere in nature meditating with ease all on your own.
When it comes to your meditation, follow your heart and listen to your inner guidance. It will not fail you. If you are feeling lost, reach out to a meditation teacher for guidance. Leave a question below and I’ll be happy to respond.
Love, strength, courage, willingness are already a part of you. Enjoy using your meditation practice to bring them to the surface so you can live more fully in what this wild world of ours brings you!
So much love,
See you on the inside,