I’m sure by now most of you have tried out meditation at least once in life or at least heard about meditation.
The first time I came in contact with meditation was through ice skating. When I was younger, I remember having to take tai chi lessions in the summer during the off ice season. And towards the end of my ice skating career we had a person come every summer and lead us through guided meditations. We specifically focused on visualizations. We were taught to visualize every single move within our skating program each time before a competition. Those were my earliest experiences with the medium of meditation.
Later in life, I had a couple of opportunities to meditate with Buddhist monks. The first opportunity was through an elective school trip that would include a visit to a Buddhist monastery. We had the honor to be meditating and talking to Buddhist monks from Tibet. I still have very fond memories of that trip. What stood out was how humble and wise all those monks were. Their perspective on life fascinated me. My desire to meditate on a daily basis formed when I started taking yoga classes. I then had a second opportunity to learn from Buddhist monks. I wanted to deepen my own practice and my husband was intrigued to learn how to meditate as well. We went to a Buddhist temple in Toronto called Kadampa on a weekly basis. There we learned a lot about meditation and the different types of focuses you can have in meditation.
For the longest time I used a free app called insight timer for guided meditations, which opened me up to all sort of meditation practices. Throughout the years I really experimented with various types of meditations. I tried everything from sitting in silence to basic energy work to breath work and movement based meditation to chanting and law of attraction meditations and to many more. Lately I like to use props in my daily meditation practices such as candles, singing bowls, sage, crystals and essential oils. But meditation doesn’t have to be super fancy.
Over the years I have spoken to a lot of people that told me they’ve shyed away from meditation, because they had certain expectations of what meditation should be like or feel like. For some people it can be very discouraging to realize that our ego constantly has something to say, especially in moments where we try to clear our head from any thoughts. So this post is really dedicated to those who think they’re doing or have been doing something wrong when meditating and to those who are new to meditation.
Meditation is not just the stern ability to shut down the mind and be completely zoned out. Meditation is so much more than that and can be done and used in many different ways. But before we’re diving too deep into the various forms of meditation, we need to talk about the basic foundation:
The ability to stay present.
Acording to Thich Nhat Hanh¹, meditating is above all being present. He writes that to be here is very much an art. The art of meditation. Meditation is bringing your true presence to the here and now.
Your true presence is the most precious gift you can give to yourself, the ones you love, the world and to life itself.
But how do you meditate?
An easy way to get started is by focusing on the breath. Just breathing in and breathing out, noticing the breath, following it and sensing it. With some concentration on the breath you can reconnect your body and mind.
Why is this conection so important?
In today’s world we are so often disconnected from ourselves. Our body is in the presence but our mind is somewhere else. Either worrying about the future, stuck in the past or preoccupied by our emotions, feelings and thoughts. The moment you start with mindful breathing, your body and mind reconnect with each other. According to Thich Nhat Hanh it only takes 10-20 seconds to bring the body and mind together in the present moment.
How to meditate for 10 minutes or longer:
At the beginning all you have to do is connecting to the present moment. Just start to notice what’s happening in the present moment. There are so many sensations you can notice if you pay attention, such as aches and pains in your body, or other type of feelings or sensations such as the sensation of your rip cage rising and falling.
Start there. Pay attention to how you breath in and breath out without necessarily changing the breath. As you sit in meditation see if you can maybe make the inhales and exhales longer. If you find yourself stressed out a lot make the exhales longer than the inhales to calm down your nervous system. You can stay with that focus on the breath for as long as you like. But I’d recommend that you start with 2-5 min. Like with anything that needs practice it’s better to start slow and easy. As you are getting better and established some sort of routine you can increase the time gradually to the desired length. (Pro tip: I use a timer to let myself know when practice time is over. I find I’m able to concentrate better, when an alarm is set. Like this I’m less likely attempted to check my watch during practice.)
Further more you should know that your mind will start talking at one point of your practice. Some days your practice is uninterrupted and peaceful and somedays your mind will talk nonstop. You don’t have to ignore it but you also don’t have to engage with it, instead just notice it.
Without any judgment just listen for a while. What is it saying? How is it feeling? And rather than shutting it down or giving the practice completely up stay within the present moment. Continue to breath mindfully and just watch the thoughts come and go. Some days you’re betteer at focusing on the breath and some days it’s really hard to concentrate at all. The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.
In my next blog, I will talk about how to set up a meditation routine.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments.
¹Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of many books.