Meditation Practices for Beginners
Below is a basic outline of meditation practices for beginners. It made of four parts that come from my own practice. All aspects work together to keep the momentum going. In the first part are tips to help you stay inspired and committed to the meditative path. The second part is a reminder to set up a quiet comfortable space. The third part is instruction for setting up good posture for meditation. In the last part are basic descriptions of the three meditation practices I recommend to people who are just starting with, or looking to rekindle, a meditation habit. They also happen to be my three favorite tools for getting to the space between my thoughts. I use them when meditating in silence, or with meditation music. I also find them helpful for gently guiding myself back to mindful listening when my mind wanders away from a guided meditation.
Set Yourself Up for "Success":
I use quotations around success because I hesitate to put such a loaded variable near meditation. In reality there is no such thing as "meditative success." Rather what I am talking about is that feeling you get from doing something you set out to do, regardless of the judgements about the quality of the end result. It doesn't matter if most days you have trouble letting go of the train of thought, or if you find it a walk in the park to step into that space. What matters is that you encourage and support yourself in healthy ways towards maintaing a practice. To that end, here is a list of things to think about and utilize to keep you moving deeper into your practice each day.
- Be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving, loving, and compassionate with what arises in you.
- The train of thought will always be there. So be ok with it being there, witness it's content and try not to get swept away in it. How much it interrupts your meditation will differ moment to moment, day to day, week to week, and month to month.
- Do seek a quieter mind, and in doing so just notice what kinds of thoughts come up. Just witness it and then let it go using one of the tools below or another that you find along your journey. The more time you spend as the witness the more easily you will be able to access that space during difficult moments.
- Being able to stay in the space of witnessing (in varying amounts) throughout the day is mindfulness, a practice that brings awareness to every part of your day. Meditation is the foundation of a mindful daily life.
- Practice as much as you can each day, there is still benefit in just 5 min. It is also somewhat cumulative, so if you need to do 5 min 3 times in a day, then do that, it will still have positive results. So start small, do 5 min/day total for the first week and then build adding 5 min each week until 30 min/day or more.
- Look at your weekly schedule before starting, set aside that 30+ minutes in a time that you can maintain every day so that you can focus on growing your practice to fill the time you've set aside. I do not recommend hours after dinner because there is a tendency to fall asleep at that time.
Forming a new habit is highly variable from one person to the next and can take a long time to form, anywhere from 18 to 254 days (the average being 66 days). However, missing one opportunity to perform the new habit does not materially affect the habit formation process.(1) So have the mind set of slow and steady, take it one day at a time. When you miss your regular meditation time try to fit it in later in the day. Or resolve to get back on the pattern the following day.
- If you have difficulty practicing in silence, or just want to switch it up a bit, feel free to try a guided meditation or soothing meditation music. I will soon be posting guided meditations and a page of links to my favorite resources for just such times.
Setting Up a Space:
If meditating while the family or spouse is active, talk with them about your boundaries around interruptions before you begin. Make sure that everyone understands you need this time and space for you. Let them know that they can show their love and support by waiting patiently and as quietly as possible until you move from your seat, or they can join you. With that ground work set, understand that if this time of day is the only one accessible to you, then you are asking your family to cultivate the habit of making space for your practice to happen. That means they will also need time to adjust and compassion from you on the days when space isn't so easy to give. The naming distractions practice can help with this.
Make sure to turn off or silence any distractions (phone ringers, tablets, computers, TV, etc.). The only sounds you should be hearing are those from the environment around you (i.e. someone in the next room, cars outside, hum of the furnace, etc.), or an audio prop you have selected (i.e. meditation music or guided meditation audio), and/or the final bell or alarm you set. Make sure you are dressed just warm or cool enough depending on the season. If seated on the floor in stacked logs, easy pose, bound angle pose, or cross-legged, you might want to have a cushion such as a folded blanket or two. If using a chair make sure that your feet lie flat on the floor and the backs of the thighs are well supported, resist the urge to lean back on the chair, rather use the guide below for holding the torso upright nearly effortlessly.
Getting the Body Ready:
Meditation can be completed in just about any posture. However for beginners and those needing to reinstate a daily practice it is highly recommended to get going from a seated position. You can be in a chair or on the floor, with or without a cushion. After selecting the seat make sure you are seated upright in a stable posture. To do so the important part is to setup your foundation. Ensure that you are seated upon the "sits-bones" (ischial tuberosities), it should feel like two little knuckles gently pressing into your cushion, chair, or floor. From there make sure the shoulder girdle is stacked above the hip girdle and the head is in neutral position resting atop the spine. You should feel as if there is no weight from the torso leaning forward or back by any degree, it should feel nearly effortless. The neck should feel no strain, no bending (or crick) back, and no stretch (or constriction) forward. To help with neutral position of the head, imagine you are carrying a book atop your head, then drop the chin a few degrees, neutral should be right around there. Your hands can rest gently in your lap either palm up (receiving from the sky) or palm down (grounding from the earth). Take a note of your breath, fast or slow, then take a deep breath and begin to release tension, just noticing where it is located as you go. Relax the jaw and tongue and allow that relaxation to inform the release of tension throughout the whole body. Now begin your practice from those below.
Key Practices for Meditation:
The following practices can be used in any way you choose. You can practice one for a time, maybe several days before moving on to the next, or you may choose to use them all in one practice depending on the fluctuations (vrittis) of the mind. For example, when meditating in silence or with meditation music, I often start by seeking the space between the thoughts, if I hear distracting noises I name them as indicated below. If I find that my train of thought keeps butting in, I simply set myself to counting the breath until the end of that day's practice. When I am meditating with a guided meditation and I loose track of mindfully listening to the audio, I will seek the space between the thoughts and then direct my awareness back to the guide.
1. Counting breath:
A complete inhale and exhale cycle counts as 1. Begin with the inhale and count 1 at the end of the exhale. If at any time you forget what number you are on or how you got there, begin again at 0. It doesn't matter what number you get to, some days it might be 2 others 12 or 112. What matters is the intent, the trying is where the shift happens. You can also do a variation in which you count down from an odd number like 27.
2. Naming distractions:
If the distraction is a noise like cars on the road, say mentally "cars, cars, cars" then let it go to become a part of the moment. If it's a thought or feeling state, name it, for example a thought of what you will make for dinner later could be named "planning, planning, planning" or "hunger, hunger, hunger." Each time you name the distraction then let it go, like a cloud drifting out of view. Seek that childlike awareness for the space around you, you know the one, from when you were so small you didn't need to label things because you either didn't have the words or didn't care to.
3. Space between the thoughts:
This is more difficult and more informative than the others as it illuminates more clearly what your mind is really working on. All you need to do is simply seek the space between the thoughts. Each time you find the space makes it easier to find the next time. Each moment you reside in the space the bigger the space gets (the easier it is to stay there).
Remember, some days will be more difficult than others. Do not let this discourage you from the practice. I find these difficulties ebb and flow along with how busy or stressed the period of life is.
Thank you for reading and jai bhagwan,
- Beginner Meditation Series Podcast Week 1
- How to Sit for Meditation
- Meditation Postures Part 2 - Reclined or Supine (video coming soon)
Blissful Meditation Postures video series.
(1) How Habits are Formed - Phillippa Lally http://centrespringmd.com/docs/How%20Habits%20are%20Formed.pdf