While there’s a lot to be said about making meditation as simple as possible, there are a few things you can do to get yourself started and make the best use of your time when you do. Think of it as a warm up before you get into the nitty-gritty of your workout. These 5 things will help you focus your mind and relax your body. Spending time on them will help you clarify your intentions, avoid inner battles with sleepiness or distraction, and get your energy moving in the right direction. Give them a try the next time you meditate!
So get comfortable on your cushion or chair (avoid armchairs where you may slouch or sleep), straighten your back and upper body, breathe normally and freely, and let’s go.
Whip up a little gratitude
Like so many things in our lives, we are here because someone was kind enough to show us how to meditate. Allowing feelings of gratitude for our teachers to come up is a helpful way to relax the mind and feel joy and appreciation. I often imagine the faces of my teachers, their smiles or their kindness toward me and it brings up pleasurable feelings of having been cared for and encouraged. There are two or three images that often come to mind when I am practicing in this way, specific moments when a teacher took the time to get to know me or said something encouraging.
Bring the face of your teachers to mind.
Remember their smile or any simple moment when you felt their positive impact on you. Be thankful for having learned about meditation from them and others you have met along the way. Imagine the millions of men and women throughout history who have had a hand in supporting, preserving and passing along meditation teachings.
And this act of generating gratitude is something you can cultivate thinking about a number of people or situations.
Think about some of the people who have helped you, right now or in the past, to put aside time to practice. Family members or a friends, someone who is taking care of something now that allows you to practice. Any current situation that you are grateful for will do: that the house or the place you are in now is quiet, that there are favorable conditions to meditate, that you or your loved ones are in good health.
Recall people and conditions in your life that give you a sense of gratitude. You can hold your mind on an event or person for a moment or let it wander freely. Be easy but focused on gratitude and let it arise in the mind.
Have a little talk with yourself
You’ve heard about inner dialogues. Well ask yourself, “Why do I practice?” There are many things that motivate us and keep us going. Now is the time to think about them. Have an easy, calm and honest talk with yourself.
The things that motivate us change. They certainly have for me over my lifetime. Sometimes they are specific to our health or our overall well-being. Sometimes it’s the need to gracefully navigate challenges we may be facing in life. Often it’s the renewed desire to build on habits that lead to being happier, healthier and more resilient in our personal and prefessional lives.
Whatever it is, bring it to mind. Clarifying will help you feel enthusiasm and inspiration.
A sense of purpose
Be determined. It’s a little counter-intuitive, but important to remember: we’re not trying to get anything. Meditation brings many benefits, to all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations. But the determination I’m talking about here is something else.
Some people already find the idea of meditation difficult. They understand that it may be a good thing to do, but the thought that it will take time away from the things we normally do puts them off. And meditation is a little surprising the first few times as well. If you meditate, you probably know what I mean. When we stop to observe ourselves, we see that there are some default mechanisms that tug away at us, and the impulses to think and act can be powerful. It’s easy to be pulled off course by the strong winds of our inner world.
So the determination we’d like to emphasize is simple: use this time as wisely as possible.
Spend a few moments working up some determination – then let it go. Trust yourself. Let the energy of determination carry over and relax into your meditation. You’ll get the hang of this over time.
Don’t contract. Just stay on track.
With kindness in your heart
At the beginning of every meditation session, it’s good to do a little kindness meditation. It helps enhance and strengthen the postive mind states we generated with gratitude for our teachers. It also helps because we are pointing our minds in one direction, continuing to develop concentration.
Start by wishing yourself well.
Remind yourself that it really is okay to be happy – and that it would be really nice if others were happy too. Think about people you know who you care about. Wish them well too. Send them your simple, straightforward best wishes. Let it be easy and uncomplicated.
You don’t have to feel anything special and it doesn’t have to be for very long. Just try it for 30 seconds to a minute. Wish yourself well and the few people you like or really care about. Of course, if you have a laundry list of folks, that’s good too. You can bring to mind individuals, or groups. You can even use the classic Eastern meditation mantra “may all living beings be well.”
Keep the breath in mind
Now that you have prepared the ground, and planted some seeds, it’s time to focus the mind on our breath. Breath meditation is one of the most common ways to practice and a very useful tool for concentration and energy. Just like listening to waves at the sea, we’re not trying to control anything, just letting air come in and out of our body whatever way it happens for us naturally.
Start by counting your breath and continue building your concentration. “One” when you breathe in, “two” when you breathe out, til you get to “ten.” Simply count and pay attention to each time you inhale and exhale. If you lose track, don’t worry. Start over. “1, 2, 3….10.” Then stop counting and continue paying attention to each in-breath and each out-breath. Do it for as long as you want or had planned for this session.
There is another way to focus on your breath too. This is the Zen meditation technique called gatha. It’s like some of the things we did earlier and it’ll continue to boost feelings of well-being and joy. Try saying one of these short phrases or affirmations to yourself:
- while you’re breathing in: “I relax my mind and body”
- while you’re breathing out: “I smile and share it with the world”
- while you’re breathing in: “I’m taking care of myself”
- while you’re breathing out: “I’m taking care of others”
After you get a feel for these, you can also try and create one for yourself.
So the next time you meditate, try these 5 things as you start off and through the first few minutes of your practice. Use them regularly and consistently for awhile and see what happens. They are 5 simple tips to help you enjoy your meditations more. They’ll help you relax and pay attention more easily, and give the thoughts that come and go a peaceful, happy resting place in your mind.
Please write me with your comments. Tell me about your experience with this or other kinds of meditation. Get one the free starter kits (in English or Italian) in the menu bar above. You can also find me on Insight Timer. Be well and thanks for reading.