relaxation

The eyes have it

As you’re reading these words, begin to notice your breathing. Don’t change anything, just letting your body breathe naturally.

  • Notice where the breathing is taking place. How much of the movement is in the chest, and how much is in the abdomen?
  • Notice the rate of your breathing.
  • Notice how deep or shallow your breathing is.
  • Notice how you feel.

Now continue to notice these things, but with one change:

For a minute or two, stop focusing on the individual words, but relax your gaze and allow yourself to take in the whole screen, and then everything around the screen, right up to the periphery of your visual field.

Now that you’re back …

You probably noticed that when you were focusing on reading your breathing was shallower, mostly confined to the chest, and relatively fast, and that by contrast, when you were taking in the whole scene your breathing was deeper, involved the abdomen much more, and slowed down. You probably felt more relaxed, calmer, and happier compared to when your eyes were narrowly focused.

When we’re focusing our gaze narrowly, the sympathetic nervous system is active. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system that’s responsible for fight or flight. It looks for threats and prepares us for responding to them. Unfortunately we tend to have our sympathetic nervous systems active too much, flooding the body with stress hormones and finding ourselves in a chronic state of overstimulation. No sooner have we finished paying attention to one thing, we actively seek out something else to focus on. We get stuck in a hyper-vigilant and anxious cycle of sympathetic activity.

Relax our gaze prompts the parasympathetic nervous system to become more active instead. The parasympathetic is the branch of the autonomic nervous system that brings us back to calm, rest, and balance. This exercise helps us to consciously trigger a parasympathetic response so that we can break the cycle of permanent vigilance, and allow ourselves to relax.

This exercise brings about quite a rapid change. And it’s not difficult to do. It just requires changing the way we’re relating to our eyes — relaxing our gaze and letting the eyes be less tightly focused.

Now you probably can’t read or surf the internet with this mode of vision, but you can take breaks, hold conversations, attend meetings, walk down the street, or drive a vehicle.

And one other thing you can do with this relaxed gaze is to meditate. In fact, this is one way I often encourage people to go into meditation, in order to help their practice be more effective. Here’s one example, and here’s another.

One interesting thing is that the way we focus with the eyes affects how we focus with the mind. When our eyes are in sympathetic mode — narrowly focused — we’ll tend to focus on one thing with the mind. So when we’re being mindful of our breathing, then we’ll tend only to focus on one small part of the experience of breathing. This usually isn’t enough to keep the mind interested and in fact it leads to a form of sensory deprivation. And so the mind creates thoughts to fill the information vacuum.

Our narrow focus of attention, which is like a flashlight, tends to switch over to noticing thoughts, which are generally far more emotionally compelling than the physical sensations of our breathing. And so we end up in the all-too-familiar cycle of paying attention to the breathing, getting distracted repeatedly, and having to bring the flashlight of our attention back to the breathing over and over again.

When the eyes are more relaxed in meditation, we’re able to take in the whole “scene” of our breathing. This is a far richer experience, not just because there are more sensations to pay attention to, but because we can see the connections between various sensations. For example we can see how sensations in the abdomen relate to sensations in the nostrils, and how those relate to the sensations in the back. Our experience is revealed as dynamic, interconnected, and even sensual.

Thoughts will still arise, but since our attention is less like a flashlight, throwing out a narrow beam, and more like an oil lamp, casting light in all directions, we can be aware of our breathing and our thoughts at the same time. Thus, we can simply allow thoughts to pass through our awareness, without getting caught up in them. Suddenly, meditation becomes much easier.

So this is a simple change, but one that allows us to radically change our experience in meditation, and in life.

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British Airways starts meditation initiative on flights

NY Daily News: British Airways will promote meditation techniques on its new transatlantic flights as part of a bigger focus on passenger well-being.

A collaboration with the Mindfulness Institute, the new initiative will launch on BA’s new services between San Francisco and London.

As well as instructional fliers, the Mindfulness for Travel series will include a series of specially created on-board videos designed to help people relax at each stage of a journey — pre-flight, mid-flight and arrival.

Sean Doyle, Americas Executive Vice President, British Airways, said, “At British Airways we …

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Ancient meditation technique sharpens cognitive skills

wildmind meditation newsLiat Clark, Wired: Different types of meditation illicit different types of physiological response, and can vastly improve cognitive skills.

A team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) explored four types of meditation practiced by Buddhists, from two main branches of the tradition, Vajrayana (Deity and Rig-pa) and Theravada (Shamatha and Vipassana). From each tradition, one style of meditation was designed to relax and another to arouse the senses.

The Singapore team points out in a paper published in PLOS ONE that prior research has focused on Theravada meditation mainly, and its ability to induce relaxation and heighten alertness. Coauthors Maria Kozhevnikov and …

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Relaxing into your sit

Relax 4I often forget the importance of physical relaxation at the start of a sit. Softening the eyes, relaxing the jaw, and letting that relaxation run downwards through the rest of my muscles. Today I was more attentive to this process and found myself running through it several times during the course of the Metta Bhavana (development of lovingkindness). The physical relaxation triggers a softness of attitude in general and feels like what Pema Chodron describes as “taking off the armour”.

After the eyes and the jaw, I used the outbreath to relax the chest and abdomen, imagining the same wave of relaxation I felt in my face now moving down the front of my body. Then the shoulders and arms. Then the back. The outbreath has a lot to offer. Again there is something softening in its effect.

I live in a city by the sea so most of my sits are against the backdrop of traffic noise and seagulls. Once my body has relaxed, and with my eyes already closed, I allowed the sounds to come and go, and pay particular attention to the sounds giving way to silence – even just momentarily. It occurred to me recently that the silence into which birds, cars, people and all the other sources of sound return to is the same vast, unified pool of silence. And I try to relax my mind into this idea, and ask it to neither hold on to, or push away, anything it hears.

Physical relaxation is not a one-way street. When grasping or aversion arises when I’m meditating (as it did today) my body told me what my mind had failed to notice. I found my eyes, jaw and shoulders had all tightened up again. So I ran through the relaxation routine a number of times. In this way, my body acts as a dashboard: letting me see indirectly what’s happening under the hood, and allowing me to take corrective action.

Relaxation, the out-breath and a return to silence seem to me to be physical correlates of surrender and acceptance, and I plan to use this dashboard as a matter of habit before each meditation, and during, as required. On a general note, the regularity of sits during this 100 day challenge allows me to feed the understandings gained during one sit back into the next, and build up a practice that is based on my own observations as well as the advice of others.

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Relaxing is stressful for some

Tia Ghose, LiveScience: Deep breaths, yoga, a lazy day at the beach: While some may find those activities soothing, their mere mention can set other people’s nerves on edge.

Now, a new method may help therapists measure just how much relaxing stresses people out. The new tool, which will be presented Saturday (Nov. 16) at the annual convention of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, should help therapists know when to say “breathe in…” and when to steer clear of relaxation techniques.

“For a lot of different anxiety disorders, we use relaxation as a treatment,” said Christina Lumberto, a psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati. “But for the people who don’t like that, it’s not a helpful treatment.”

In the 1980s, psychologists first noticed that some people doing relaxation exercises would actually get quite anxious.

“At first, you do see decreased heart rate, decreased breathing, things that indicate relaxation,” Lumberto told LiveScience. “After they have achieved a relaxed state, all of a sudden everything just spikes back up.”

Because so many modern anxiety treatments use mind-body relaxation techniques such as meditation, Lumberto and her colleagues wanted to identify patients for whom these techniques might backfire. [7 Reasons You Should Meditate]

They created a 21-point questionnaire and tested it on 300 undergraduate students. The survey asks people to rate, on a scale of 0 to 5, how much they agree with statements like, “It scares me when my breathing becomes deeper;” and, “I hate getting massages because of the feeling it creates when my muscles relax.”

The questionnaire captures the myriad reasons why people might have trouble winding down, from feeling lazy to an intense fear of being out of control.

“Some people don’t like to relax because of the physical changes, the sensations of their muscles relaxing,” she said. “Other people will say they don’t like relaxing because they’re actually worried about whether or not they’re relaxing correctly.”

People who fear calming techniques may be more sensitive to changes in their normal physical state, such as changes in heart rate or blood pressure, regardless of whether they’re due to relaxation or to anxiety, Lumberto said.

The relaxation-phobic tend to be more anxious in general, she said. (Oddly, those who fear relaxation are also more prone to asthma, Lumberto’s past research has found.)

Instead of diving into meditation, the relaxation-averse may need to dip their toes in first, using a technique called exposure therapy, which is more commonly used to conquer fears of wide-open spaces or spider phobia, she said.

Of course, just because you dislike yoga or lounging on the beach doesn’t mean you have a problem.

“The point where it becomes problematic is if it really gets in the way of living your life,” Lumberto said.

Read the original article »

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Five tips for National Relaxation Day

In our fast-paced world it seems everyone’s stressed, hassled, and exhausted, so it’s a good thing that August 15, 2012 has been declared National Relaxation Day.

When they think about relaxing, most people would tend to hit upon rather conventional things, like soaking in the bath, having a glass of wine at the end of the evening, or watching a movie. But those things are temporary fixes that don’t lead to long-term change. Instead, I’d like to suggest five habits that can be cultivated and practiced every day. These are skills that can become a permanent part of the way you function in your daily life, and bring you long term benefits. And you can do them whether or not you have time for a long relaxing soak in the tub.

1. Take your time eating
We all have to eat, and we don’t generally do it very mindfully. We watch TV while we eat, or we read, or we’re caught up in a conversation, or we just space out. Sometimes, heaven help us, we even eat while we drive.

It’s very enriching, and deeply relaxing, to eat mindfully. It might not be feasible to eat every mouthful of food with complete attention, but what if we were to eat the first and last mouthful of a meal or snack mindfully? Whether you’re eating a gourmet meal or a candy bar, really notice the movements of your body as you transfer the food toward your mouth. Notice yourself receiving the food — how it feels, tastes. Eat slowly. Chew methodically. Savor the experience. If you find you’ve plowed into your food and are mindlessly scarfing it down, pause, and take the next bite with full awareness.

2. Give yourself short breathing breaks during the day
You may have heard of the three-minute breathing space, in which you spend a minute just tuning in to an awareness of your experience, a minute focusing on the sensations of the breathing in order to gather your attention, and a minute expanding your awareness so that you’re no longer noticing just the breathing, but also other sensations from the body, your mind and emotions, the sounds, light, and space around you. Even on the busiest of days it’s a good idea to take a few of these three minute breaks.

If that seems impossible, then just pause what you’re doing, take a few mindful breaths, and then bring your attention back to the task at hand.

3. Notice what your thinking is doing to you
A Harvard study of 250,000 people found that they spent almost 50% of their waking time thinking about something other than they were doing. What’s more, they found that the people who were most distracted were more likely to report feelings of unhappiness. Much of our thinking promotes unhappiness.

So develop the skill of checking in from time to time to see what your thoughts are doing to you. Notice whether you’re relaxed or tense, whether your overall experience is pleasant or unpleasant, whether you’re happy or distressed. Notice this without making any judgements about yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re “bad” or a “failure” for harboring thoughts that make you feel bad. But see if you can just notice those thoughts, and let them pass away. Actually, just to notice how you’re feeling you have to let go of some of the compulsion around these inner dramas.

4. Reduce input channels
One thing that really stresses us is being interrupted. So give yourself a chance to focus. If you’re writing a report, shut off your email program, turn your phone off (don’t just switch it to vibrate). Close any programs you don’t need to have open. It’s just you, and the task. You’ll find that when your concentration isn’t interrupted, you’re not only more relaxed and happy, but you get more done.

5. Give yourself a break from the news
We get really hooked on the news, and we stress about it. That politician and his lies! Those criminals! That tragic accident two cities away! It seems like it’s vital to keep in touch with what’s happening. What if a war were to break out and nobody told you? Well, I remember times I went abroad on vacation and didn’t have access to English-language news media. And you know what? When I got back, I felt like I hadn’t missed anything. Most of the news is the same old yadda-yadda, and the TV companies are trying to built it up so that you’ll get mad, be scared, and pay attention (and by the way, here’s an ad for a new wonder-drug).

Try unplugging from the news entirely for just a day. Or maybe for a week, go on a news fast and do nothing more than glance at the headlines in the newspapers. The world will go on, and you’ll be happier.

I’m not suggesting that you abstain from news for life, but at least for a while give yourself a break so that reading or watching the news is a choice and not a compulsion. And you’ll realize how much your own habits stop you from being relaxed.

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Five ways to slow down and stop rushing

people rushing in Shinagawa Station, Minato, Japan

As I was meditating this morning, our cat hopped up in my lap. It felt sweet to sit there with him. And yet – even though I was feeling fine and had plenty of time, there was this internal pressure to start zipping along with emails and calls and all the other clamoring minutiae of the day.

You see the irony. We rush about as a means to an end: as a method for getting results in the form of good experiences, such as relaxation and happiness. Hanging out with our cat, I was afloat in good experiences. But the autopilot inside the coconut still kept trying to suck me back into methods for getting relaxation and happiness – as if I weren’t already feeling that way! And of course, by jumping up and diving into doingness, I’d break the mood and lose the relaxation and happiness . . . that is the point of doingness.

Sometimes we do need to rush. Maybe you’ve got to get your kid to school on time, or your boss really has to have that report by end of day. OK.

But much of the time, we rev up and race about because of unnecessary internal pressures (like unrealistic standards for ourselves) or because external forces are trying to hurry us along for their own purposes (not because of our own needs).

How do you feel when you’re rushing? Perhaps there’s a bit of positive excitement, but if you’re like me, there’s mostly if not entirely a sense of tension, discomfort, and anxiety. This kind of stress isn’t pleasant for the mind, and over time it’s really bad for the body. Plus there’s a loss of autonomy: the rush is pushing you one way or another rather than you yourself deciding where you want to go and at what pace.

Instead, how about stepping aside from the rush as much as you can? And into your own well-being, health, and autonomy?

How?

  1. For starters, be mindful of rushing – your own and others. See how other people assume deadlines that aren’t actually real, or get time pressured and intense about things that aren’t that important. (And yep, you get to decide for yourself what you think is real or important.) Notice the internal shoulds or musts or simply habits that speed you up.
  2. Then, when the demands of others bear down upon you, buy yourself time – what the psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach calls “the sacred pause” – in order to create a space in which you are free to choose how you will respond. Are you letting the rushing of others become your own? Slow down the conversation, ask questions, and find out what’s really true. Consider the sign I once saw in a car repair shop: “Your lack of planning is not my emergency.”
  3. On your own side of the street, try not to create “emergencies” for yourself. You can get a lot done at your own pace without rushing; plan ahead and don’t procrastinate until you’re forced into hurrying. More fundamentally, be realistic about your own resources. It’s a kind of modesty, a healthy humility, to finally admit to yourself and maybe others that you can’t carry five quarts in a one gallon bucket. There are 168 hours in a week, not 169. It’s also a kind of healthy renunciation, relinquishment, to set down the ego, drivenness, appetite, or ambition that overcommits and sets you up for rushing. And it’s a matter of seeing clearly what is, a matter of being in reality rather than being confused or in a sense deluded. Nkosi Johnson was the South African boy born with HIV who became a national advocate for children with AIDS before dying at about age 12, and not one of us can do more than what he said here: Do all you can, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place where you are.
  4. Also watch how the mind routinely gets caught up in becoming: in making plans that draw us into desires that draw us into rushing. The trick is to see this happening before it captures you.
  5. Most deeply, try to rest in and enjoy the richness of this moment. Even an ordinary moment – with its sounds, sights, tastes, smells, sensations, feelings, and thoughts – is amazingly interesting and rewarding. Afloat in the present, there’s no need to rush along to anything else.

Even when you don’t have a cat in your lap.

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“Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress,” by Dan Goleman

Cover of Relax, by Daniel Goleman

I’ve read a couple of books by Dan Goleman, who is most famous for being the author of Emotional Intelligence, but this is the first time I’ve encountered one of his audio programs, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Relax: Six Techniques to Lower Your Stress is, as you might expect, about stress and how to relax. It offers six guided practices intended to help develop a sense of ease, relaxation, and wellbeing.

In the introduction, Goleman points out that there are many and varied symptoms of stress, including psychological tension, muscle tension, and nervous system arousal, and that not everyone experiences stress in the same way. Therefore, not every antidote to stress will work for everyone, and each person needs to find relaxation methods that work for them. It’s worth bearing that in mind while reading my review; just because I found a particular exercise more or less effective than others doesn’t mean that you’d have the same results.

Title: Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress
Author: Daniel Goleman
Publisher: More Than Sound
ISBN: 978-193444-119-0
Available from: More Than Sound as a CD or MP3 download, and from Amazon.com (CD only).

The program on the whole is quite short, at 43 minutes and 33 seconds, and a fair amount of this time is introductory material. But don’t let that put you off; the practical material is very effective, and the entire audio program has a sense of spaciousness. In fact people who are stressed would probably be better focusing on a brief program containing short exercises like this than on a longer program that they don’t have time to listen to.

The six exercises are as follows:

  1. Deep breathing: taking long, slow, deep breaths.
  2. Muscle relaxation: systematically tensing and relaxing major muscle groups
  3. Autosuggestion: dropping into the mind key phrases that induce a sense of physical relaxation.
  4. Countdown: a series of actions accompanying a count down from twelve to one.
  5. Breath focus: simply paying attention to the neutral sensation of the breathing.
  6. Breath count: counting the in and out breaths, and using mental focus to help you drop tension and worry.

Goleman’s presentation is authoritative, assured, and reassuring. Early on he mentions his background at Harvard, and discusses scientific research, and this helps reassure the listener that they’re in the hands of someone who has a deep background in the topic of stress and emotional regulation.

The guidance is well-paced, and accompanied by what you could call “free time” — time in which the listener can practice on her own without guidance. There is some gentle background music accompanying the dialog and running through the “free time.” The music is unobtrusive, although at times I was reminded of the “angelic” keyboard music that I’ve heard at funeral homes. That’s not entirely a bad association, though. At times as I listened to this program I felt like I was ceremoniously saying farewell to my stress.

I found that the individual exercises varied in their effectiveness, but remember that your mileage may vary. Your stress response may manifest differently from mine, and a tool that doesn’t work for me may be just what you need in order to relax deeply.

The first exercise, Deep Breathing, worked well. We simply take long, deep, slow breaths and let go of them, with the hand on the belly. In a stressed state, the breath becomes shallow, quick, and short, and breathing more slowly helps us to bring our physiology back into balance. In addition, simple body awareness has a grounding effect on the mind (as long as you get beyond noticing only the body’s tension).

The Deep Muscle Relaxation exercise involves systematically and consciously tensing and relaxing large muscle groups. This exercise was actually counter-productive for me. I found the periods of tensing to be too long compared to the periods of relaxing, and I ended up with a headache. But remember that not all techniques work for everyone.

I found the Autosuggestion exercise to be very effective. We just notice various parts of the body in turn while dropping in a phrase, allowing the body to respond without trying to relax. So we may notice the eyes and repeat “my eyes are soft and relaxed” This is an exercise I’ll definitely take up. I had one caveat: one of the instructions was to become aware of the heartbeat, repeating “My heartbeat is calm and regular.” Here we hit the problem of affirmations sometimes not being true. Research has shown that affirmations backfire with many people, because in repeating them they’re reminded that they’re very far from the state that they’re telling themselves they’re in. If, for example, you’re so stressed that your heartbeat is pounding and erratic, then simply noticing that fact would likely make your stress worse. Telling yourself under these circumstance that your heartbeat is calm and regular could induce even more stress. But again, this is a case where Your Mileage May Vary. Not all these exercises are going to work with everyone. And in any event, the listener could do this exercise on her own in a modified way, where the statement are true, and where stress triggers are avoided.

The Countdown exercise is described as being “simple,” but in fact it’s a complicated sequence of actions and suggestions accompanying a countdown from twelve to one. I rather liked the fact that I never knew what was coming next. The exercise constantly takes you by surprise, stopping you from getting into a rut, and making it very effective. However, of all the exercises I thought that this one would be too complex to be practiced alone. As long as you’re listening to the audio program, however, there would be no problem.

In Breath Focus, we’re back to a simple form of mindfulness of the breathing. This was a reminder to me of how much can be accomplished in less than five minutes. This in fact seemed like a much longer meditation, and also seemed oddly spacious.

Finally, there is the Breath Count, where we focus on the neutral sensation of the breathing to help us let go of stressful thoughts, and we count at the end of each in and out breath: In – 1 – out – 2 – in – 3 – out – 4 – etc. When we reach ten we start the counting over again. This is a very simple practice, and again it’s led in a very spacious way. After leading us through the practice a couple of times, Goleman gives us space to practice on our own. I suspect that for many people with very busy minds, there perhaps would be a need for more reminders to come back to their experience.

At the end of the exercises there are nice reminders to scan our experience and to take our time going on to our next activity.

This is probably not a CD that will appeal to experienced meditators, but then that’s not the target audience. For people who are stressed and who want simple exercises that help them to develop greater relaxation, this is an excellent program.

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Try something quietly profound

There is nothing noisier than silence, if your head is full of words. Escape the clamour of the city and at once an excited voice enthuses about the quiet. “How wonderful,” you tell yourself getting out of the car, “to have made it up to the Highlands, to have fled the traffic and the TV and the strident voices round the dinner table. Fantastic!” You strike off along a path through pine trees – isn’t the hush extraordinary! – and before you know it yesterday’s argument with your wife is playing out in your head. How could she have said that! “You’re lucky you still have someone to insult.” That would have been the smart answer. Why didn’t I think of it? Wait a minute, is my phone getting a signal? Damn.

When my father died I discovered, sorting out his papers, that he donated to the Noise Abatement Society. Dad was always hyper-sensitive to sound. Me too. I’m the kind of guy who keeps fresh earplugs in every coat pocket, to cut out the phone babble on the train, the buzz of announcements at the airport, or the beating music from an adjacent room. So when I hear about the Facebook campaign to make John Cage’s 4’33” Christmas No 1, I’m immediately on board. When I see titles such as Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence, or George Foy’s Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence, I order them at once. The hunger for silence is growing, I tell myself. Great! Just that the quieter it is outside, the more noise there seems to be inside my head.

Read the rest of this article…

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Ten tips for priming an effortless meditation

woman meditating 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.

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