Hello, dear. This is the third installment of my series on meditation. Previously, I wrote about the benefits of meditation and how to prepare the body for meditation. Hopefully, you’re now prepared to get serious about meditating.
First, sit up straight in a comfortable position. If you sit for a long time, you may have a leg fall asleep on you or something, so it’s best to sit on a cushion or folded blanket, and even put something under your knees and ankles if it helps the body to settle.
Let the spine be nice and tall, but allow it to maintain its natural curve. It goes in at the low back, and out slightly at the upper back, then in again at the neck. This may seem obvious to some people, but if you’re not aware of the natural curve of the spine, you’ll waste a lot of energy trying to sit “perfectly straight.” Your posture should be well aligned so that your muscles can relax and you won’t slump over. Imagine the crown of the head is extending toward the sky. Tuck the chin ever-so-slightly so that the back of your neck is subtly elongated.
Rest the hands on the knees — they can be open, or you can make a little circle with your thumb and forefinger on each hand. This is gyhan mudra, and it symbolizes wisdom. Palms up toward the sky is an open and receptive posture, inviting energy, wisdom, or whatever is in line with your intentions into your life. Palms down on the knees is a grounding gesture, which I can testify is very soothing when you’re dealing with anxiety or too many racing thoughts.
Now that you’ve established your posture, close your eyes, and begin the process of taking your awareness within. Become aware of being in your body. The sensation of air on your skin, the pace of your breath, the tension in your muscles. Invite the body to relax. Try to smooth the point between the eyebrows. Relax the jaw. The throat. The shoulders. Soften the belly so the breath can flow freely.
This is where it starts to get tricky. You feel relaxed, so your brain jumps in and says, “Ok, I’m doing great. What next? Is that all there is? This is silly. I’m done here.” Give the brain something to work on. Although we are trying to quiet the mind, simply ignoring it is about as effective as ignoring a toddler. Using a mantra, breathing technique, or visualization keeps the mind occupied and focused until it can settle down. Focus the awareness on the point between the eyebrows, and make it your intention to observe the breath, even if the mind wanders.
Breathe in and say silently to yourself: I am here.
Breathe out: I am here.
Breathe in: I am here.
Breathe out: I am here.
Continue for several minutes.This simple practice of training the awareness on the breath allows us to occupy the mind long enough to calm down and enter a meditative state. Eventually, your awareness may become absorbed in the breath and the experience of simply being. At that point, you will not need to adhere strictly to the technique. If you notice your mind wandering, do not chase down the thoughts or try to control them. Simply bring the awareness back to the breath.
How long should your meditation be? Start with five minutes. Then ten. Then fifteen. Keep increasing until you can sit for 30 minutes or more. In a pinch, just sit still for as long as you can stand it. You may surprise yourself sometimes and meditate longer than you thought you could.
When you’re ready to end your meditation, take a moment while your eyes are still closed, and acknowledge yourself for your effort. Give a nod of thanks to your mind and body for all that they do for you. Take your hands to your heart in anjali mudra (often called prayer pose), and bow to the wisdom and the divine spark that resides within you.
Have other questions? Leave me a note in the comments, and I’ll do my best to address them. Next week, I’ll write about how to deal with the fear and anxiety that can come up during meditation.