1. Don’t get too comfortable.
This may seem like a strange tip for more profound meditation, but it is essential. Most people will get too comfortable and fall asleep or get very tired. Your body will start to tell your brain you are trying to take a nap! Remember, sleeping is not meditating. Meditation brings about both mental alertness as well as relaxation in the body. The goal is to bring the body and the mind into yin and yang balance with each other. Harmonizing an alert mind with a relaxed body takes time and practice. To accomplish that, you must put your body in a position that keeps the mind actively engaged in keeping your body in that position. You actively keep attention on your body. In doing so, you bring your attention to the present moment instead of thinking about the past or future. The best posture to be in is a seated position with your back straight, slightly tucking the chin to straighten out the nape of the neck, and touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth. Keeping your back straight ensures the brain constantly checks in with the body instead of wandering off into other thoughts. But remember that you are not in the military, do not puff out your chest while attempting to keep your back straight. Strike a balance between a straight back and a flat chest. If you accomplish this balance, you’ll notice you engage your core and start to breathe into the belly, not your chest. Use your breath as an indicator of your posture. If your breathing is shallow even after a few breaths, your posture is likely restricting your diaphragm. By holding your body in this position, then relaxing it throughout your meditation, you are training yourself to go into deeper states of meditation.
2. Don’t “control” your breathing. Listen to it.
Breathing isn’t something you have to tell your body to do. The natural process of our body is to take in the air our body needs at that moment. So, let it. Your job isn’t to tell the body to breathe deep; it’s to create the conditions that invite the breath to go deeper. Two elements help create those conditions. The first is your posture; the other is your mind! Understand that if the body and mind are calm, the breath will go deeper into the belly on its own, without you doing anything at all. Don’t force your breath down if it doesn’t want to go. The first step to engaging the mind to invite the breath into your belly is to take a few natural breaths to feel where it is at that moment. If you’re stressed, your breath will be shallow. Like a person, the best way to calm them down isn’t to control them into calming down. The best thing to do would be to listen to them first, allowing them to get what’s bothering them out, to calm down. Meditation is often referred to as “deep listening .”The same approach we take with a stressed-out person is valid for the breath. Listen with an open mind to your breathing. Exactly where it is.
Don’t be upset or discouraged if it is a short or shallow breath. Let it be, and remove any attempt to control your breath. Instead, feel the sensations of the breath in the body. Like a loving therapist, please note what the breath is doing and how it feels. You’ll notice over time that your breath will naturally go lower into your belly once it feels like it is not being controlled or forced into doing anything. Your mind needs to focus intently on the breath when meditating, but as an objective scientist, not a controlling parent trying to push your will. Doing this will gradually lead to more profound meditation as you stay active in your breath, listening deeply to everything it says.
3. Alert the mind, relax the body
Mindfulness is a very appropriate word. You want your mind full when you are meditating. Initially, we want to “clear our mind” to let it be re-filled with details from the present moment. Initially, clearing our minds can be difficult with willpower alone. It’s best to establish a routine for your muscle memory. Something that tells your brain that you are about to start meditating and to bring the mind to the present. Another word for routine is ritual. It can be something simple like how you settle into your meditation posture or a simple stretch or big exhale out. The simplest way to reconnect with the present moment in meditation is to become aware of what you’re feeling in your body when you breathe. And that’s just it.
Become aware. We do not want to judge or attach our feelings to the past or future. This is NOT an intellectual activity—the opposite. Do not analyze. Do not question. Our minds have a habit of intellectually time traveling. First, we feel something, associate it with where that feeling came from, or speculate why it’s there. We also project into the future by assuming what that feeling will turn into over time. It takes training not to follow every thought we have. By acting like a scientist observing an animal’s behavior, or a hunter watching the movements of its prey, we take in information momentarily, keeping very still not to influence what’s going to happen next. We need to train our minds to be this way. The breath will act as the “first cause,” which starts bodily movements and sensations ripe for observation with every breath in motion. Keep the mind of a child. Every moment is new and exciting. Keeping your interest and attention is critical in deepening your meditation. Nothing is worse than boring meditation. You need to enjoy what you’re doing if you want to continue.
One of the most transformative bits of advice I’ve ever gotten regarding meditating is to have a gentle smile. It is a game changer. Most people take themselves way too seriously. Put aside all the physiological benefits of smiling, such as releasing endorphins, and smile because of what you are doing for yourself. Meditating is worth being happy about. You are not at work; you are not doing housework; you are not fighting with anyone; you are not paying bills; you are not late for a meeting; you are not running for your life from a swarm of bees, whatever it is. What you ARE doing is absolutely nothing, which is magic in our world today. We wish the world would slow down all the time and we could relax, so when you realize that wish by meditating, smile in gratitude. Nothing could be more tragic than realizing a goal of finding time to meditate and frowning the entire time. You are taking time for yourself to breathe comfortably in a quiet space. Be grateful for the simple and life-affirming fact you are living as you breathe and smile lightly. Frowning weighs you down. You’ll notice your meditation will be lighter, more accessible, and more at ease with a gentle smile.
5. If nothing happens, you’ve done it right!
Most of us are uncomfortable when nothing is happening. We often unconsciously create drama or stress for ourselves to fill the space and time of our lives because of a deep discomfort towards the phenomenon of nothing happening. Try sitting on your couch for 5 minutes with no phone, tv, music, agenda, objective- nothing. That is meditating. We often couple the act of meditating with techniques that calm us, such as observing our breathing, to make that experience less painful. Still, meditating is, in effect, doing nothing and becoming comfortable with it. Irritable, discontented, annoyed, or simply uncomfortable are people’s first impressions of “meditation.” But that thinking is short-sighted; meditation isn’t anything at all; that is our first impression of ourselves when we cut away all the distractions we fill our lives with. By practicing meditating, we are practicing living with ourselves as we are. And if it is painful, that is the first bit of important information we gain from meditating. Settle in; it gets better over time; or should I say- we get better over time. Some say that meditation is like a mirror, only showing us ourselves. If we meditate and nothing happens at all, we are accomplishing the first important step of deepening our meditation practice.
Article written by: Colin Capaci, MS