Meditation teacher and life-coach Srimati offers a ten-stage guide to getting the most out of your meditation practice.
1. Decide what you are doing
Before you start meditating, be clear how long you will sit for and what kind of meditation practice you will do. Have a silent watch or clock within sight so you can open your eyes and peek at the time if you need to. You may notice that you soon don’t need a clock. Before long you will instinctively ‘feel’ that the time you’ve allocated is up and it’s time to come out of meditation.
2. Choose your time
It makes a big difference if you can stick to the same time to meditate every day (or every other day or every week – whatever routine you establish). If you pick your time and stick to it you don’t have to keep re-making the decision to meditate and figuring out when. It just becomes part of your day or week.
First thing in the morning is great. It’s well worth getting up half an hour earlier to give yourself this start to the day. Some people prefer last thing at night when everything is over. Or perhaps your best time is when you get home from taking the kids to school. Or maybe after getting home from work and just before dinner.
Whatever time you pick, have a satisfied tummy – neither hungry nor overfull. Choose your time and make it part of your daily or weekly routine.
3. Find your quiet spot
Find a place where you can be quiet and undisturbed. Be in a room on your own (unless others are meditating with you). Unplug your phone and switch off your mobile. Be out of earshot of TV or radio. Let others know to leave you in peace.
It’s nice to set the scene for yourself. Perhaps face a garden window or a vase of flowers or an inspiring picture. Burn some incense or essential oils. Make this your special meditation spot. You will find that this place will start to have a peaceful atmosphere, a meditation ‘vibe’.
4. Be comfortable
Find a chair where you can sit comfortably in an alert, upright position. A dining room chair is good, or an easy chair. You can also prop yourself up at the head of a bed. Undo any tight clothing, buttons or zips.
Wherever you are sitting, support your back with cushions so that your spine is reasonably straight and your head and neck is free. If you are on a dining room chair you can put a cushion under your feet. If you are in an easy chair you can see if you prefer having your legs folded up cross-legged. If so, make sure your knees are supported with cushions if needed.
Some people like to sit on a pile of cushions on the floor, or a meditation stool. If so, put a blanket down first as a mat, then your cushions or stool on top. Two or three firm cushions are about right. At the right height your back is not bowing or arching but relatively straight.
You can straddle the cushions like a horse, or sit with your legs folded in front of you cross-legged. Support your knees by tucking extra cushions under them if they don’t reach the ground so you can relax at the hips.
However you sit, you should have a strong base – a tripod of your backside and your two knees. Have your hands resting in your lap. Tying a shawl or scarf at your tummy gives a little shelf to rest your hands on if you like.
There’s always the option to lie down on a bed or the floor if you think you’d be most comfortable like this. The only draw back is that you may find yourself feeling sleepier than if you were sitting upright. None the less, the number one priority is that you are comfortable. So if lying down is right for you, that’s fine.
If you get stiff or pins and needles while you are meditating, gently and slowly move and re-position yourself and carry on. However, the idea is to find out how to sit completely comfortably for an extended period of time without having to move, so keep playing with your posture until you get it just right.
When you are settled, close your eyes lightly, or have them slightly open if you are very sleepy or disoriented.
5. Let the weight drop down
Take several big, long, deep, deliberate, audible breaths. As you breathe out, let your weight drop down through the sitting bones – down, down, down through your seat and the floor into the ground.
Even as we let our weight drop down, we are also aware of an invisible force supporting us upright. It’s as though we have a taut string attached the crown of our head, reminding us of our natural poise and alertness. The more we relax and drop down, the more we feel effortlessly supple and upright.
6. Relax and soften
Relaxing further, roll your shoulders a few times each way. Then move your head gently from side to side. Make some wild faces to release your face muscles (nobody’s looking!). Let your jaw hang slightly slack and your tongue be free.
You can use your hands to gently massage your jaw, cheeks and forehead. Carry on over the scalp and down the back of your neck. Give your shoulders a bit of a squeeze then stroke down your arms to your fingers.
Continue down the body with your hands, squeezing or stroking all the way down to your toes. You can hang over your toes for a while. Keep breathing easily and slowly uncurl. Finally, shake out your hands and finish with a nice stretch. Come back to a relaxed, upright sitting posture again.
Take a few more strong breaths. Let your tummy be soft. Check your jaw is still slack and that the tongue is free.
7. Drop into the breath.
Notice how you are breathing now, however it wants to come and go. Feel how it is to be breathing, how you feel inside yourself, the rhythm of the breath as it comes and goes. Let yourself be filled with breath. It’s as though your whole body is breathing, expanding and contracting with every in and out breath. Feel your breath right down to your toes, to the tips of your fingers, to the roots of your hair.
8. Give your head a rest
As you’re breathing, you may be aware of questions and preoccupations rippling around in your mind. It probably feels like its going on in your head. However, invite your thinking mind to rest for a little while. It’s not needed for few minutes.
Soften your eyes, let your eyes go soft and dewy (even though your eyes are closed you can do that) and let the brain itself feel slack in your head. Just feel the breath going in and out the body. Breathe in and out and let all those thought particles fall through the breath like dust particles falling through the air in a sunny room. Let them all fall to the ground.
9. Feel into your heart
Breathing into the body, notice how you are physically feeling around your heart area in your chest. Can you feel if it is tight or relaxed? Can you feel if your heart feels nice, or if it feels pain, or somewhere in between? Can you feel if your heart feels far away or if it feels very vivid and acute and present?
And whatever it is or isn’t, just noticing it as you breathe. Feeling the texture and the tone of our heart. You might be aware that there is a kind of atmosphere – an emotional atmosphere around your heart. You might not have a name for it, but you can feel its ambiance, its flavor. Perhaps you can even sense its color – the color of your emotional heart right now.
Breathe this emotional atmosphere, this ‘heartness’ into the whole of yourself. Let it circulate with the breath.
10. Being with all that you are
Continue to breathe with all that you are – all that you think, all that you feel, all that you sense and all that you know. Gather yourself into the breath and let yourself drop into the vastness of your total being. Getting into this zone is a meditation in itself and you need do nothing more. However you are now ready for a further focused meditation if that is what you have chosen. Enjoy.