Since I began a daily meditation routine back in February, I’ve had a number of friends ask me how they could get started in a mediation practice. So I thought I would share some of my tips and recommendations.
If you’re interested in starting a meditation routine and are new to meditation, you’d probably find guided meditations most beneficial at first. I like the meditations at Meditation Oasis. They have over 30 free podcast meditations ranging from 7-30 minutes on their website. Meditation Oasis. They also have an iPhone app but I believe they have less podcasts available there so I just go through the website on my iPhone. Warning, her voice might sound a tad annoying when she first starts speaking but once you get into the actual meditation I find it quite soothing and calm. One of my favorites is the Gratitude Meditation. You can’t help but feel good when you think of all of the people and things in your life you are grateful for.
I bounce around between many meditation styles. I do guided when I’m feeling particularly restless in my mind. I love doing a long charka meditation on the weekends to a CD of singing bowls. As it moves through each charka (with the sounds of the bowls only) I concentrate on the physical area of where the charka is located and sometimes even see the associated color. Once I get to the crown charka I feel like I get plugged into the Universe (think the Matrix in reverse).
About a month ago I started adding in Metta meditations, or loving-kindness meditations. Mettas usually contain four phrases that you repeat over and over, thus giving your mind something to concentrate on. It also helps me to stay focused on the breath because I repeat (silently) each phrase for each breath. Sample:
May I be filled with compassion (breath in)
May I be free from pain and suffering (breath out)
May I be at peace (breath in)
May I be happy and fulfilled (breath out)
These phrases can be changed to anything you want to focus on. It can also eventually be changed to somebody other than yourself, like – May he be happy. You could also direct this to a group of people, for example to those that have suffered from recent natural disasters around the world
Mostly I tend to practice Vipassana meditation, or insight meditation. Vipassana is the act of being the observer. The intent is not to clear the mind of any thoughts, but to just observe thoughts as they pass through and not get attached to them. I am constantly telling stories in my head, repeating events, etc. In vipassana, I observe the thoughts like a stream. They come up, but then instead of getting sucked into their “story”, I simply try to let them pass on by as easily as they came up. Vipassana is Insight Meditation because as the observer you start to see patterns in your thoughts and can then come to great insights about yourself or an issue you’re facing.
Another form of meditation that I use all of the time is visualization. I started visualizations about 6 months ago, primarily when I headed to therapy over an impending depression that was setting in over our trials with getting pregnant. I realized in therapy that my thoughts surrounding a baby were all pretty negative. I was consumed with sadness, fear, and loss. Following the thought of intentional living or law of attraction (you beckon to you what you put out in thoughts & feelings), I knew I had to start to re-work my feelings and thoughts around having a baby. So I started with visualizations about getting a positive pregnancy test. I would see the scene like a movie but experience the emotions of it fully in the present. I’ve continued these visualizations (picked them up again strongly recently after letting them go and falling back into negativity) and have “seen” my big belly, giving birth, cuddling with our 2yo in bed with us, etc. Being able to “see” these events helps me believe they can really happen.
Visualizations are extremely powerful and very much recommended. For both visualizations and vipassana I usually meditate with mellow music through my iPod. My favorite music to mediate to is Anugama, particularly his CD’s Shamanic Dream and Shamanic Dream II.
A great book I recommend is A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield. Jack is a leading Buddhist teacher in the West and the book does talk about the Buddha and Buddhist philosophy, so not sure how that sits with you. But in the book he also talks about prayer, questioning and visualizations also being forms of meditation. And vipassana, although rooted in Buddhist thought, is really very non-religious. In A Path With Heart, Jack talks about frustrations with an early meditation practice and also gives many examples on how to meditate. I’m only a ¼ through the book but just love it. I have other books I just got that hope to recommend as well.
Nothing is more powerful in meditation than your breath. Concentrating on the in and out of the most important thing we all kinda take for granted. Our minds are used to running amok so it takes years of practice to learn to quiet it. I’ve had a daily practice now for 3 months and although I see improvements for sure, there probably is still only 30 seconds at a time that I feel I really concentrate. The mind is ALWAYS wandering! The key is not to judge or berate yourself for the minds meandering, and don’t give up or think it’s pointless and you’ll never be able to do it. Just simply bring your attention back to your breath. You’ll start to see that when your mind wanders, it’s always when you stop focusing on your breath. In a Path With Heart Jack talks about training the mind like training a puppy. You tell the puppy to stay but does it listen? Does it do any good to be mean or beat the puppy for not obeying? It doesn’t know how. But eventually, with concerted effort, it will learn. And so will your mind learn to become quieter and calmer. The ebb and flow of your breath is the way to achieve that.
Meditation is very closely tied to the type of yoga I love to practice, which is restorative. Or sometimes it’s called restful, deep relaxation, or deep stretch yoga. Restorative focuses on restful, supportive poses that help the body renew itself and heal. In Restorative I’m not straining one bit to hold a pose. Rather I’m able to let my entire body relax fully. You also let your mind come to a restful state. I use this time to meditate as well. Check out these pictures of some restorative poses:
Sorry this post is so long but I hope it’s been helpful. It’s obviously something I’ve come to love. I try to meditate twice a day for 10-30 minutes each time. This usually doesn’t happen on the weekends but I try to get at least one longer 45-75 minute session done one morning on the weekend. What benefits I have seen in the past 3 months? I have felt calmer for sure, which is a feet with my overactive, planning mind. I feel more open to things, ideas, & people. I had one crazy “high” meditation experience that I’m of course chasing to have again. You’re welcome to read about it on my personal blog.
I know in time as I continue in my practice, those great insights and revelations will come as well. I’m attending a half day Metta meditation retreat on May 8th and a full day Intro to Insight (Vipassana) Meditation on May 15th at Spirit Rock Meditation Center just north of San Francisco. I do very much enjoy the time to myself in my own head. I’m a very internal personal anyway and find relief and restoration within myself. But it’s a double edged sword since my thoughts are pretty all over the place. They still are, but I’m learning to quiet them or at least not get so attached. Learning that we are not the thought is freeing and brings great peace.
Let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to continue to share as I learn.