While meditation can sometimes seem like a difficult feat, meditating can be as simple as watching the breath or observing one’s surroundings. Supplement your life with a daily meditation practice by following these helpful guidelines and techniques.
Notice thoughts: do not judge or avoid them
The most important element of meditation is this: simply notice your experience. We all have ideas bubbling in our minds throughout the day, so it’s completely normal for thoughts to come up. Simply observe or “watch” what is happening: become aware of any thoughts, emotions, stimuli, or sensations that come up, and do not judge them as “good” or “bad”. Similarly, do not try to control or avoid thoughts since this will only create inner tension and resistance.
Meditate in a comfortable, quiet, and spacious area where you feel safe. Sit on the floor cross-legged with a pillow underneath you to elevate your spine. If you are uncomfortable or have hip or knee pain, sit on a chair with your back straight and your feet on the floor. Set a timer and try to let go of any concerns as you begin your meditation session. Make sure to shut off any devices that may distract you.
Start simple and be consistent
When just beginning your meditation practice, start with shorter sessions—set a timer for five minutes each day and gradually add time when you feel ready. You can meditate for five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes, or however long you like.
Be brief but consistent: you can meditate when you first wake up or before you go to bed, as this will help set a positive tone for the day and will help you experience a relaxing and deep sleep. If you prefer, meditate in the afternoon or during your lunch break to balance yourself in the middle of the day.
Technique 1. Breathing – Lengthening the exhale
As natural as breathing is, it has been used as a powerful tool for thousands of years to calm anxiety and establish mental clarity. One simple breathing technique involves “following” the breath and extending each exhale slightly.
- Sitting in a comfortable position, inhale gently and steadily for four counts.
- At the top of your inhale, hold your breath for three counts.
- Then, as slowly and gently as possible, exhale for six counts.
- Hold the breath out for a count of one to finish.
- Repeat for at least five minutes
*Note: When your exhalation is slightly longer than your inhalation, your vagus nerve (which moves from the neck down through the diaphragm) signals your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system, which is involved in the body’s activities while comfortable and at rest. Similarly, the vagus nerve cues the brain to turn down the sympathetic nervous system, which functions as a way of stimulating body functions associated with stress and the fight-or-flight response.
Technique 2. Walking meditation
“Walking meditation is a way to practice moving without a goal or intention,” says Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It can be used to become aware of each step that we take, regardless of where we are, and it can be joined with the practice of mindful breathing as we walk through a space with our bodies and minds.
- Choose a place to begin your walking meditation and go there. Walking through a local park or forest can be therapeutic, and going for a walk around your neighborhood can work, too.
- Set an intention to remain silent throughout your walk and to observe stimuli in a manner that is nonattached, observant, and calm.
- Begin to take steps that are slow and relaxed. Observe your experience with awareness. Focus your attention on the feeling of walking and other parts of your environment like the colors, people, animals, sounds, and temperature. Notice the weather and the way the air feels around you.
- As you move your body, pay attention to your inhalations and exhalations.
Technique 3. Trataka meditation
In Trataka meditation, one focuses their attention on the flame of a candle or another object of interest. The technique is used to establish concentration and it creates stillness as the mind becomes focused on the flame. The benefits of Trataka meditation range from relaxation, to improved eyesight, to, activation of the third eye (pineal gland), and they can be felt by anyone.
- Light a candle and put it on a small table 3-4 feet in front of you.
- Sit comfortably with the spine upright and the upper body relaxed. Any posture is fine; but try to refrain from moving for the duration of the practice.
- Check to make sure that the flame is at the level of your eyes.
- Close your eyes and take 4-5 deep breaths to relax.
- Open your eyes and gaze at the flame without being distracted by thoughts or external disturbances. Keep your eyes open and do not blink, for as long as is comfortable. If thoughts come up, simply acknowledge them and get back to focusing on the flame and your breath.
- Keep your vision steady on the flame rather than the candle or wick.
- Continue to look at the flame until you cannot keep your eyes open anymore. Close your eyes.
- When you close your eyes, you may visualize an after-image of the flame. Bring this image to the point between your eyebrows at the middle of the forehead, where your third eye is.
- When the image begins to fade away completely, become aware of your breathing and begin to watch the flow of your breath for 7-8 breaths (If you cannot see the image of the flame, that’s okay. Simply continue with the exercise. With practice, the depth of your concentration will allow the after-image to become clearer).
- Open your eyes and repeat the full routine 1-2 more times.
Meditating causes us to be less reactive, less automatic in our responses, and more intentional with our actions. There isn’t any specific result you need—you don’t have to be “enlightened” or reach some sort of nirvana—but hopefully you’ll feel more relaxed and grounded afterwards. While some meditation sessions are more successful than others, keep up a regular practice to improve concentration and grow in mental clarity. The purpose of meditation is to improve concentration and to become more comfortable with the present moment.
Written by Nicole Kagan
- Berzin, R. (2012, April 01). A simple breathing exercise to calm your mind & body.
- Hanh, T. N. (2008). Mindful movements: Ten exercises for well-being. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
- Trataka and the amazing benefits of candle gazing. (2013, November 02). in5d.com/benefits-of-candle-gazing-trataka.html