There are more reasons than we could list, but here are a few: it boosts immune function, increases stress resistance, focus, self-control and the ability to concentrate; reduces anxiety, inflammatory processes and perception of pain.
PART I – Get started
Right here, right now!
You can study all the books in the world about meditation, but if you don’t practice, you will never KNOW what meditation is…meditation can only be KNOWN through experience. Start your practice today – no preparation is needed. Over time, you’ll learn to quiet your mind, relax your hips and strengthen your spine to sit upright, and sit for longer periods of time. Have patience and let go of all expectations of what it should look and feel like. Follow our step by step process below.
HOW TO START A MEDITATION PRACTICE
1) This is actually a precursor to meditation for the purists, but it is all on the meditation practice continuum. Set a timer for 5 minutes for your first day. If it is excruciating to sit through, set the timer for 3 minutes the next day and stay at 3 minutes/day until that amount of time feels manageable. If 5 minutes was easy to sit through, try 10 minutes the next day. Practice daily –no excuses. Try not to watch the timer. With every week, increase the amount of time of each sitting by a few minutes (2-5). Don’t increase the time too quickly – there is no contest, no awards given for longest meditation practice of the day. If you constantly watch the timer, waiting for the alarm rather than observing the breath and body, go back to a shorter period of time. The point is to try to hold your attention for increasingly longer periods of time. The ability to withdraw the senses and hold your attention internally are the first two milestones of a meditation practice. It takes time – be patient!
2) Sit in a comfortable position, in a comfortable room – contrary to popular belief, you are allowed to be comfortable when you meditate. It is especially important to be comfortable when you are beginning a meditation practice so that you are not deterred from a daily practice. I recommend leaning against the back of a chair, a wall or a bolster. Tackle quieting the mind first, then we’ll work on strengthening the spine, opening the hips and sitting upright for longer periods of time. If you cannot sit comfortably at all, start your meditation lying down. As the month progresses, try a few minutes sitting upright, as long as it feels comfortable. If you become uncomfortable, recline to finish the set amount of time rather than abandoning the day’s practice.
3) Close your eyes if that is comfortable for you; if not, just lower your gaze and eyelids. If you are lying down, and have trouble staying awake, you may want to try to keep your eyes open, or find a more comfortable way to sit upright.
4) FOCUS ON THE BREATH AND BODY. Relax all of your muscles except the muscles required to hold your seated position. Always “scan” (draw your attention to) the most common body parts that hold tension:
Jaw — To relax your jaw, open and close it a couple of times, then leave it relaxed with teeth apart, but lips touching.
Abdomen – many of us were trained to draw in the abdominal muscles; it is also a stress response reflex. Release the belly if you sense gripping.
Pelvis – gripping the muscles of the pelvic floor, buttocks or hips is a common way to hold excess tension. Release the pelvic and hip muscles if you sense gripping.
Unfortunately, most people who grip don’t know they are gripping. One way to tell if you grip in the abdomen or pelvis is to tense up all the abdominal muscles, then release. Do the same with the pelvic and buttock muscles.
5) Draw your attention to your breath. Just notice. Ask yourself where you feel the most expansion when you inhale (throat, chest, stomach) Do you take deep breaths or shallow sips of air? When you draw your attention to the breath, do you find it hard to keep it steady? Do you feel the need to take deep breaths? Does your abdomen expand when you breathe in? Or does it draw inward and your chest expands? This is called reverse breathing – if so, practice diaphragmatic breathing on a regular basis until you undo this stressed breathing pattern. This type of inquiry helps keep your attention on your breathing.
6) Make an effort to deepen your breath — deep inhalations, complete exhalations; keep it smooth and steady. When you calm the breath, you calm the mind; the two cannot be separated. If you are having a hard time feeling the breath, lift the tongue to the roof of the mouth on every inhalation, and let it drop for every exhalation.
7) Begin to count your inhalation and exhalation. Make the exhalation longer than the inhalation. This is the beginning of a meditation practice. Every time your mind wanders to a thought, a “to do” list or some other distraction, bring it back to feeling the breath and counting.
That’s it…all that is required for Part I.
Do this for a month – work up to sitting for 10 minutes observing the breath. In the next newsletter, we’ll move on to lesson 2.