How To Meditate
Have you tried to sit and not think?
Yeah, it's not so easy. Unfortunately, that seems to be the more or less what I see around the internet. Here are some fundamental tips on how to meditate.
How to Sit Properly While Sitting in Meditation Posture
It's funny, one of the questions I hear all the time is, "how am I supposed to sit?"
Since we're used to sitting in chairs and not on a meditation cushion, this can be awkward at first. There are just a few key things to remember.
A comfortable cushion to act as a wedge to elevate your seat and align your spine helps a lot. This becomes even more important when you start doing longer and longer meditation sessions.
Here is a short video we did with Dr. Nolan Lee:
How To Align Your Spine for Meditation
Obviously we are partial to Kathmandu Yogi cushions, but any solid cushion with a bit of give may work.
Stability is more important than looking like a pretzel.
I'm sure you've seen that yogi that's been doing yoga for ten years easily sitting in full lotus posture (left foot on right thigh and vice versa). While this is a great ideal, most of us can't manage it.
If you can't manage the full lotus then sitting comfortably with your left foot tucked in toward your pelvis or right thigh. Then your right foot either on top or in front of the left leg.
Don't force yourself into an uncomfortable position!
The most important thing is that you create a stable base with a straight spine.
Focus on The Breath Coming and Going
One of the greatest gifts we have is our breath.
It is life.
It is also one of the best tools we have to use to aid our meditation practice. It’s normal to get distracted during meditation. Thoughts will inevitably come up.
There is nothing wrong with this – you’re doing great. It means you are alive. You are a living and breathing human being.
The goal of meditation is not having NO thoughts. It’s to observe and rest in what is.
Thoughts will arise.
Allow them to do so.
Watch them come up in your mind, play around and return to space.
In order to avoid getting absorbed in the rabbit hole of your thoughts and stay with the meditation, use your breath.
When thoughts come up it is natural for you to engage with them.
Once you realize you are thinking and not meditating, don’t scold yourself or panic. Simply bring the focus back to your meditation, back to your breath.
Our breath is like an anchor.
Notice how the breath comes and goes at the tip of your nose.
Don’t control it -- breathe normally -- notice your own natural rhythm.
Be aware of being alive.
Be aware of your body.
Your mind will wander and that’s ok. Just use your breath to bring you back. You may even want to count your breaths.
Counting is another tool that keeps us engaged in the meditation. In fact that’s what malas are used for (they’re not just for looking pretty).
[More on using malas in your practice later]
When you get distracted don’t forget ... keep calm and breathe on.
Learning to Visualize During Meditation
How has your visualization been?
Visualizing during meditation can be very new to many people.
A lot of the mindfulness meditations or what you would learn in a yoga class usually doesn't include visualizations.
These types of practices are often seen in tantric Buddhist and Hindu practices.
Just to be clear, tantra means to weave.
Tantric meditations are meant to develop specific qualities like compassion, generosity or directly experience the state of a Buddha. We are using the meditation to identify and mix, or weave, with these qualities we want to develop.
So when I refer to tantra, I'm not referring to sexual union practices.
Although these sexual meditation practices exist, they are not common and only used by highly developed meditators.
Now that that's out of the way, back to learning to visualize.
One important thing to keep in mind about the visualizations is that it's no big deal if you don't "see" the visualizations.
The key is to "know" that what you are bringing to mind is there in your awareness.
Since in its essence, it is still your own mind.
Still, I know a lot of people would like to be able to see the visualizations better when they meditate.
An Old Trick
First, you get an image or statue of what you are visualizing on.
If it's a Buddha form, then you would want a quality painting or statue of the historical Buddha. Or whatever the practice is on.
Then take a piece of paper and poke a hole in it with a pencil.
Now stare at the one tenth of the bottom of the image through the hole for five minutes. Gradually working your way up in five-minute increments.
This helps to kind of "burn" the image in your mind's eye so the details quickly appear when you think of them.
A New Trick
A more modern approach is to use an image on your phone.
You do the same gradual process, but with the zoom.
I haven't confirmed how well the phone version works yet. If you try it please let me know if it helps with the visualization.
Like I said, the important thing is to you have confidence in your mind's ability to be aware. Don't be concerned if you happen to not be the visual type.
The meditations work anyway. =)