January 23, 2017
18 Simple Meditation Tips
Make it easier:
Try a mantra
Using a mantra or a set of repeated phrases can help to ground the mind and free it from its natural wanderings. You might try lovingkindness meditation, which is a repetition of loving phrases or well-wishes for yourself or others. So hum meditation is another popular version. Meaning, “I am that” (so means “I am” and hum means “that”). In this context, “that” means all of everything.
This form of concentration practice offers the mind words to chew over and repeat, giving it a focal point. This can help to curb distraction or runaway thoughts.
Gaze at a candle
Similarly, gazing at a candle can offer the eyes something to observe and therefore a place to fix their focus. Keeping the eyes open may help if sleepiness is a problem during your meditation.
Simply choose a comfortable seated position for meditation and set a small candle on a table in front of you, just below your line of sight. Then gently place your gaze on the flickering flame of the candle, observing it and allowing your concentration to rest on the candle itself.
Name thoughts instead of judging them
When thoughts or emotions arise during meditation (as they surely will), try this: name the thought or emotion as, “thought” or “feeling”. You might get more specific with, “judging thought” or, “thought about the future”. You might name your emotions, “sadness,” “frustration,” or “fear.”
Once you’ve done this, you can release them instead of needing to chase them down to their logical conclusion. This helps to free the mind from judgment. These thoughts or emotions aren’t good or bad, they simply are. They’re a natural expression of the mind, and once we’ve captured them in this way, we can let them go.
Practice in community
Having a few friends (or a regular meditation sit) with whom to meditate can be deeply beneficial. Sangha, or community, is known as one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism. And community is often considered a place of refuge in Buddhist teachings, in particular.
Practicing in community can have a lot of other benefits as well, including accountability, mutual support, free exchange of knowledge about practice, and a shared experience. More than anything, practicing alone can feel lonely and difficult to sustain. Having a community, even a virtual one, can feel deeply supportive.
Let it feel comfortable – instead of fussy
Need to scratch your nose, shift your seat or stretch out a foot that’s fallen asleep? No problem.
You don’t “lose” at meditation – there’s no such thing. Find ways to shift yourself or bring yourself comfort. Just remember to do it mindfully, with intentional movement. And then return your focus to your meditation. The point of meditation is not to suffer. And you’re a human being with a body – not a robot.
Act with compassion and mindfulness. There’s no need to aim for perfection, especially right away.
Let it be enough
Don’t try to meditate all at once. Only have five minutes? Or one? Let that be enough. Again, there’s no “losing” at meditation, so you’re not falling behind if you don’t get a full 45-minute sit in. Do what you can, a little bit at a time. Remember that, and let the judgments about how much you’re doing drop away.
Put another way: a little bit carries *way* more benefit than none at all. And berating yourself for how little you’re doing won’t do anything to build mindfulness or compassion.
Make it more comfortable:
Support your seat
Take good care of your lower back and hips, if you’re seated on the floor. A cushion, bolster or meditation bench can help. Therapeutically-speaking, you’ll want your hips to be supported enough that your knees drape downward and rest below the rim of your pelvis.
If the knees are pointed toward the sky, you’ll want even more support under your seat. This helps to prevent low back, hip and knee pain that’s common among meditators.
Support your knees
If your knees aren’t resting on the floor, or they begin to ache, place a blanket or cushion underneath them. This takes the strain out of the connective tissue in the knees, meaning that you won’t strain the joints or develop muscle pain around the knees.
Sit in a chair
As one of my meditation teachers says, “I’ve never heard of someone getting enlightened faster by sitting on the floor.”
While some traditions insist on sitting on the floor, I take a more flexible approach. When I instruct students to, “Find a comfortable seat,” this seat might be on the floor or in a chair. It makes no difference.
If you are sitting in a chair, try to ensure that your feet are flat on the floor (or there’s a cushion underneath them). Sit on the edge of the chair, if possible, with the spine upright.
Or just lie down. Perhaps in Savasana, corpse pose in yoga, or with your feet flat on the floor, knees in the air. Maybe place a hand on your heart and a hand on your belly for comfort and support.
(Do try not to fall asleep!)
Try walking meditation
If you find yourself fidgeting during meditation, maybe you simply need to move. Walking meditation, the practice of walking slowly and mindfully while repeating a mantra or observing one’s breath, can be a nice addition to seated meditation.
If you’re engaging in consistent practice, perhaps try integrating walking practice into your weekly routine. Or if you’re doing multiple practices in a day, make one of them a walking practice.
It’s a nice way to maintain some variety, which may help to keep the mind and body more engaged and energized by mediation practice.
Change up your position
If you begin to develop back pain, knee pain or headaches – or if you’re bored, choose a new meditation position or practice for a few days. Ultimately, we’re aiming for longevity of practice, not engaging in a competition for how much we can suffer. Changing up your position might offer new perspective or insight – or even the feeling of a “do-over.”
There’s no need for your practice to become stale and stuffy. Meditation is alive, and so are you.
Make it a habit (for good):
Take baby steps
The temptation can be to dive in all at once.
Instead, I recommend taking baby steps. Choose shorter practices and make them as easeful as you can. Perhaps, commit to a single week of brief daily practices, while you build up the habit. Committing to daily 45-minute practices for a full year can lead to disappointment and self-judgment. Begin with a commitment that feels very doable (almost too small!) and allow yourself to build up the self-trust that comes with regular sitting.
Make it a ritual
Perhaps you’ll light incense, ring a bell, or wear a particular shawl. Perhaps you’ll begin with a simple prayer, chant, or maybe you’ll simply sit at the same time and in the same place each day.
No matter how you choose to mark the occasion, it can feel supportive to turn your meditation time into a ritual. Put your phone on airplane mode, gather a sacred object, or simply take your time setting up your seat to feel as comfortable as possible.
This creates a container for practice that helps it to feel sacred and special – and for you to transition between everyday life and meditation space.
Practice while you’re doing something else
The flip side, of course, is that you can meditate while going about your daily life, infusing your meditation practice into mundane tasks.
I enjoy practicing mindfulness while washing dishes and loading them into the dishwasher. I notice all the sensations, from the feel of the water, to the sensation of the plate in my hand, to the sound of the faucet. I place each dish, lovingly, into the dishwasher as gently as possible. This allows me to feel the power of my practice infused into ordinary moments.
Lately, I’ve been practicing my lovingkindness phrases while walking downstairs in the morning. Each step marks a phrase, and every four stairs, I begin the phrases over again. It’s lovely.
Meditate in public
I love to practice in public spaces. With my eyes open, I offer lovingkindness phrases to strangers or I simply observe my breath as I move through public space. This kind of perspective allows me to be much more present than refreshing my phone or otherwise distracting myself.
Set aside silent periods
During meditation retreats, participants are asked to observe noble silence, aside from designated conversation periods with teacher or question and answer sessions.
If you’re looking to cultivate more space for practice, try setting aside one silent day per week or month (depending on your life and the kind of work you do). If this isn’t possible, I enjoy silent mornings as well. Take whatever time you can to be quiet, preferably also without computer or phone screens, to abide in this noble silence and the quietude, inside and out, that comes with it.
Know what to do when you don’t know what to do
Over time, you’ll gather up a set of tools and practices that you know serve you well. Eventually, in difficult moments, you’ll have phrases, rituals or other tools that will serve you when you otherwise don’t know what to do. By building meditation not just as a practice, but as a habit, you’ll be able to comfort yourself in moments when you otherwise would have been at loose ends.
Keep note of what some of these practices are for hard times. You’ll be so grateful you did.