We’ve all heard about the numerous benefits of meditation. Less stress, lower blood pressure, being fully present, increasing patience, and boosting creativity. Sounds amazing, right? Sometimes starting a practice can be intimidating. We’ve all asked ourselves, “how do I meditate when I can’t empty my mind of thoughts or sit still? Where do I begin? Why can’t I shut my mind off!?” There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re awesome as you are. You just need to see and discover it! Meditation is like peeling an onion. As we uncover layers of ourselves, we discover that we’re not so bad after all! We begin to see ourselves and the world through a different lens. We realize this goodness has always been a part of us. The sun is always shining, we just need to move the clouds to see it!
That’s where our trusty guide to meditation can help. We use many of these techniques at the studio and over the years have seen people transformed and renewed. Below you’ll learn what to do when the mind seems to be going haywire and you can’t focus. Hopefully, you’ll see that meditation isn’t torture and you’re not forced to sit perfectly still. You can relax into your own meditation practice. And for goodness sake, if you have an itch during meditation, scratch it!
Know your why. Before starting meditation, think about your "why." What is your motivation for wanting to meditate? Knowing your "why" can be a helpful motivator for those times when you may not want to meditate. Some reasons you might choose to meditate could be so you to understand your pain, lower your stress, connect better, improve focus, or reduce brain chatter.
Set a goal. We usually recommend that new meditators set a goal. For your first few weeks, you might want to try meditating 3 days out of the week for 3 minutes each time. The next few weeks, practice 5 days out of the week for 5 minutes each time.
Be consistent. It helps to practice meditation in the same spot each time you meditate. To add to that, meditate the same time of day for the same amount of time.
Be gentle with yourself. For a practice that's meant to bring calm and peace, we sure do tend to get upset with ourselves when we think we're doing it wrong! There's no wrong way to meditate and there's no off switch on the body to stop our thoughts. We even think while we sleep!
Remember that wandering thoughts are normal. Whenever a thought arises in your practice, notice it and let it go. Some meditation teachers suggest thinking of your thoughts as clouds floating by in the sky or cars of a train passing by. Sharon Salzberg suggests envisioning your meditation as walking into a party and seeing an old friend across the room. You make your way over to your friend and along the way notice the other party guests. You see and hear them, but don't stop to talk to them. The goal is to reunite with your friend. In the case of meditation, that friend is the breath.
Be kind to your mind. Remember that some people spend their entire lives meditating. It's called a practice for a reason - because we are practicing! Drop any negative self-talk. Would you be upset that a 3-year-old can't sit still? Usually the answer is no. If you wouldn't say it to a 3-year-old, you probably shouldn't say it to yourself. Look, everyone's mind sometimes wanders during meditation. Meditation teachers even have a very technical term for it: MONKEY MIND! Picture an energetic monkey going bananas. Our minds can do that too! It's fine to have thoughts, just don't get carried away by them!
That’s how to practice! Focus your attention. When the mind wanders, reel it back in. And above all, be kind to yourself.
Shamatha (Calm Abiding)
How to Practice
- Begin by taking a comfortable seat. The key word here is "comfortable." Meditation isn't torture! So take a moment to find ease. Loosely cross your legs and allow your knees to fall slightly below your hip bones. Sit up straight and make yourself tall.
- Allow the hands to gently rest palms down on the thighs.
- Slightly tuck your chin.
- For this meditation you can keep your eyes open. Begin to gaze at a spot about two to four feet ahead of yourself on the floor. Make sure its a soft gaze and not an intense scowl!
- Are you breathing right now? (I hope the answer is yes!) This is your natural breath. There's no need to change it. Begin to notice the breath as it enters the nostrils and leaves as you exhale.
- When your mind wanders, come back to the breath using it as your anchor. Imagine a huge ship in the ocean tossing its anchor overboard so that it can float in the same place and stay on course. Each time the mind wanders, remind yourself that you're breathing and begin noticing the breath again.
- Invites us to be more present in our work
- Allows us to connect with friends and family in a genuine way
- Invites us to be present for both the pleasurable and painful moments in life
- Wakes us up to what is going on in this very moment
- Cultivates powerful mindfulness that optimizes the interaction between attention and awareness
- Develops stable attention
- Develops strong inner strength
- And it helps us to be a little nicer and more kind!
Yes, meditation just might make you more kind!
One of my meditation students shared a comical story in class. She started meditating and making it a regular part of her routine. One day her co-workers approached her and asked what she's been doing differently because she seemed calmer and a lot nicer. She responded that she's been meditating. Their response was, "GOOD, PLEASE DON'T STOP!"
Metta (Loving Kindness)
You can do this meditation seated or lying down. Recite the phrases aloud or silently in your mind, Each phrase plants a seed of loving wishes in our hearts. Once that seed is planted, it has no choice but to grow! As you contemplate the phrases, it helps to envision the person your sending loving kindness towards.
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.
There's several steps to this meditation. First, begin with yourself and then extend it to others. Each time you swith to a different person, replace I, with they, we, all beings, or even a person's name. Allow yourself time to genuinely reflect on the phrases and their meanings.
Self — Begin the practice by cultivating love for yourself. When you love yourself, it's much easier to extend that love to others. As RuPaul says, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" She's got a point! One who truly loves themselves won't harm others. One who loves themselves will tune into the energy of loving-kindness and understand how awesome it would be if every person in the world felt this feeling in their heart and readily shared it.
"If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" -RuPaul
Now let's send Loving Kindness to others:
Respected Person — Such as a spiritual teacher, pastor, mentor, and/or counselor. It may even help to visualize them sitting in front of you and doing the meditation with and for you.
Dearly Beloved — Close family member or friend. These people might include parents, relatives, spouses, partners, children, and friends.
Neutral Person — Someone you know, but have no special feelings towards. These are people you don't usually think about at all. You may not even know their name! They could be the barrista who made your drink at Starbuck's this morning, the UPS delivery driver, or even someone you glanced towards when stopped at a traffic light.
Difficult Person — Up until this point, the meditation has been fairly easy. Here's where we really start planting those seeds of loving kindness - and watering them - a lot! Think of someone you are currently having difficulty with. This could be your nemisis, mortal enemy or family member you have conflict with. Why send loving-kindness to your enemies? The reason is simple. If your enemies are well, happy, and peaceful, they won't be your enemies! Plus it kind of softens your heart towards them and makes you not dislike them as much!
All Beings — Envision the whole Universe—the Earth, the stars, plants, animals, reptiles, amphibians - you get the point! Think of everything you've ever experienced or thought, every being you've ever met, and all those you will ever meet. Send them loving kindness too.
These are a few of the mindfulness techniques we've encountered and appreciated. We've gathered them from various sources and hope they help you live in the present moment. Why do you want to live in the present? So you don't miss anything!
Class and Meeting Breathing
When you go to classes or meetings, make a card that says BREATHE and put it somewhere where you can see it. Whenever you feel agitated, bored, antsy, anxious, or feel your mind wandering, look at the card. The reminder to breathe will help you to stay in the present moment. Take silent deep breaths, in through your nose and out your mouth. The point is to concentrate on your breathing.
Breathe in for a count of seven.
Breathe out for a count of eleven.
3 - 2 - 1 Contact
Notice the three places where your body makes contact with the world. Your feet, legs, and arms are obvious ones, but also notice your skin meeting the air or touching the fabric of your clothes.
Breathe x 3
Expand your body.
Expand your mind.
Expand your view.
Breathe in for a count of eight.
Breathe out for a count of twelve.
4 - 7 - 8 Breath
Breathe in for a count of four.
Hold for a count of seven.
Breathe out for a count of eight.
When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.
Box breathing, also known as Four Square breathing, is a powerful, yet simple, relaxation technique that aims to clear the mind, relax the body, and improve focus. It's used by Navy Seals because it improves mental well-being, boosts brain performance, changes the body's response to stress in the future, and helps deactivate the fight, flight, or freeze response.
- Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.
- Hold your breath inside while counting slowly to four. Try not to clamp your mouth or nose shut. Simply avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds.
- Begin to slowly exhale for 4 seconds.
- Repeat steps 1 to 3 at least three times. Ideally, repeat the three steps for 4 minutes, or until calm returns.
Whatever you do, keep meditating!
You'll notice some of the benefits of meditation pretty quickly. This is a practice that takes time though. The longterm effects of meditation are worth sitting for. The more you sit, the better you get! Try not to be tempted to label some of your sitting times as either "good" or" bad." This chill vibe is called equanimity. It's maintaining your composure and calmness - even in the face of danger!
This reminds me of one of my favorite Zen proverbs. There was a meditation student who ran to their teacher and exclaimed, "Teacher, I just had the most amazing meditation session!" The teacher responded and said, "It will pass." The next day, the student ran to their teacher and with a sense of disappointment in their voice said, "Teacher, I just had the worst meditation ever!" The teacher responded and said, "It will pass."
The whole point of the story is you'll have what you consider your "good" sessions and "bad" sessions. Drop that thought right now, got it? Even what you'd consider the worst meditation session ever will have its benefits. Meditation isn't about tuning everything out. It's about tuning in to your life, friends, family, partner - and being fully present with everything going on around you.