In my last post, I took a look at what meditation is and what benefits you can obtain from practicing it regularly. Today, I will share with you some basic techniques so that you can try it out for yourself!
As there are different types of meditation and countless ways and techniques that you can follow, I want to start off by saying a few things about these different approaches.
Types of Meditation: Passive and Active
Generally speaking, the purpose of meditation is to allow you to focus internally and let go of outside influences. Meditation is not unlike sleeping, except that when you are meditating, you remain conscious. Although you are awake, you are tapping into the unconscious mind and its power, bringing it to the conscious level.
There are two main ways to go about this — passively or actively.
Passive meditation involves passively letting go of our defense mechanisms and allowing our body to relax and perform its natural functions of repair and rejuvenation. This approach generally consists of withdrawing from distracting mental activity by focusing on a single thought, sound, or object. For some, the goal is to reach a point where there is an absence of thought altogether.
Active, or dynamic, meditation is used to allow the relaxed, meditative state of mind to solve problems and improve your life. During meditation, techniques are applied to improve memory and learning skills, change habits, improve health, promote healing, reach goals, find solutions to problems, and so on.
Your Brainwave State: Getting Out of Beta
You may not have thought much about this before, but one of the main differences between being asleep and awake is the speed of your brainwaves. When you are asleep, your brainwaves are slower than they are when you are awake.
The normal waking state that you are generally at during the day — fully awake and alert, going around attending to daily tasks solving problems — is called the Beta brainwave level. At this level of brain activity, the left side of your brain usually dominates, you are thinking logically and spatially, and using your physical senses for input. Although this is the level at which we usually function, it is not a particularly good state of mind for solving complex problems, accessing your creativity or getting the most out of your imagination.
Also, when you are stressed out your brain goes on “high Beta” — even faster rates that, if prolonged, can be harmful to your health and well-being.
This is where meditation comes in. Meditation can get you out of the Beta level and into Alpha — a more relaxed brainwave state. At the Alpha level, both your body and your mind are relaxed. This state is characterized by peace, calm, creativity, better focus, concentration and enhanced learning. In this state, your body produces endorphins, which counter the harmful hormones released when you are stressed. Getting yourself onto the Alpha level fosters whole-brain thinking — enhanced creativity, problem-solving, and inspiration. At this state, you can focus on learning, growing, performing, and reprogramming your life.
There are even deeper states of brainwave activity — Theta and Delta — that are experienced in very deep meditative states or in REM and unconscious sleep. In these states of very slow brainwave speeds, the benefits of meditation are further enhanced.
How To Do It
Again, there are so many ways to meditate that I feel that I need to inform you that what I am about to say is by no means the only way to meditate. I am going to share a few simple techniques, but if they do not appeal to you or work for you, please seek out other means that might be more your style. There are styles of and approaches to meditation that can work for anyone.
Follow these general instructions:
- Find a quiet place at a time when you can be alone and generally free from distractions.
- Get into a comfortable position. You do not have to get into the “lotus position” (cross-legged) if that is not comfortable for you. You can meditate sitting in a chair or on the sofa. You can even be lying down on your bed. You just don’t want to get so comfortable that you are likely to fall asleep. Sitting up straight with your back unsupported is sometimes considered to be ideal, as it is supposed to facilitate the flow of energy through your body. Many teachers also encourage that you rest your hands, palms up, on your lap or your knees.
- Close your eyes. Although some people do meditate with their eyes open, focusing their vision on a single object (like a candle), it is probably easier to do it with your eyes closed. Closing your eyes helps eliminate distractions and move your brain into the Alpha level more easily (processing visual input often requires higher brainwave speeds). Some suggest turning your closed eyes slightly upward to help slow down brain activity and silence mental “chatter.”
- Relax your body. Take 3 to 4 deep breaths and relax your entire body. You can focus on relaxing each part of your body, one section at a time, from the top of your head to your toes, releasing tension from each part as you go.
- Relax your mind. After your body is fully relaxed, turn your attention to your mind. I have learned that if you concentrate your thoughts on imagining a peaceful, comfortable scene, this will help relax your mind. Imagine yourself being in this tranquil place — perhaps somewhere that you know well, such as a mountain lake, the seaside, a family cabin, or sacred place. Lately, I have tended to imagine myself in the most peaceful and sacred area of one of my church’s temples. Each time you meditate, try to be consistent with the time, place, and techniques that you use — this will help train your mind and body to relax more quickly the next time you try.
- Focus. Bring your thinking to the present moment — not on how your day went or what you are going to do tonight. You want to try now to center your thoughts by focusing on something in particular. This helps slow down your brain activity. It can be done in one of various ways.
- Become mindful of your breathing. You don’t have to breathe in a certain way, but just pay attention to how you are breathing. Notice your inhaling, exhaling, and pauses in between. Let your mind become fixed on the rhythm of your breathing.
- Focus on one thought, sound, or object.
- Some people focus on one thought and repeat it over and over again. For example, repeating the word Om (or AUM, a Sanskrit/Hindu divine name), or other meaningful phrase (mantra) such as an affirmation (“I am capable,” “I am successful,” “I am loved,” “I attract abundance,” etc.) or even a scriptural passage or line from a hymn (“be still and know that I am God,” “fear not, I am with thee”).
- Focus on meditative music. Put on some calm, peaceful, relaxing music and then when you meditate, focus your mind on the music.
- Follow a guided meditation. You can find many meditations, live or recorded, in which an experienced teacher will guide you through the steps of meditation, giving you guidelines and suggestions throughout. This is one of the easiest methods for beginners to follow, as you simply focus your attention on the speaker’s voice and follow their instructions.
- As mentioned before, meditation can be done with open eyes, focusing on a specific object such as a candle or a picture or something like that. Try to keep your concentration on that one object and not on any of the surrounding visual input. Again, I don’t see this as the easiest or most beneficial approach, but it may work for you.
- Become aware of your thoughts and emotions. As you meditate, distractions will happen and thoughts will naturally spring up and run across the stage of your mind. This is normal. Don’t become frustrated if something distracts you or if your mind starts to wander, but just let those thoughts pass by as you gently refocus your mind on your chosen thought, music, etc. Take no particular interest in your thoughts or let yourself get involved in them. Don’t become attached to any emotions that accompany those thoughts (like anger at the thought of someone who was rude to you today). You may want to passively take notice of your thought process: are your thoughts more negative than positive? If so, you can practice replacing those negative thoughts with positive mantras or affirmations. In general, you want to simply refocus your mind on your singularity of thought and let others pass by and disappear. In time, you will find that thoughts will pass by quickly and not interrupt your meditation as much.
- Slowly bring yourself out of your meditative state. Tell yourself that you will count to ten or that you will take three deep breaths (or something like that) and that as you approach the end of your count, you will bring yourself back to the present, out of your meditative state, affirming that you will feel refreshed, energetic, and better than before.
These are just some basic guidelines for starting out. As you progress and gain experience with meditation, you can work with more dynamic techniques that will make use of your relaxed state to impress ideas on your subconscious mind, such as using creative visualization to make and reach goals, rid yourself of bad habits, clear away painful emotions and limiting beliefs, promote self-healing, eliminate the effects of stress, and more. I will be posting on how to use meditation for these purposes in the near future!
Give It a Try!
The following are some guided meditations that you can use to practice with.
This first one is good to start with because it is only 5 minutes long. The meditation itself is okay — nice and positive — but not especially well done. It will give you a decent idea of how to get started.
This next one is longer and done by someone who apparently has more experience. Do this one if you want to get more serious about this and have a half hour to spend meditating.
This next one is from Laura Silva of the Silva Method. This is the system that I am learning from. Laura Silva has many years of experience and provides a very detailed and dynamic meditation experience. The meditation in this video is what is known as the Silva Centering Exercise, which focuses on relaxing your body and mind for a deep level of meditation. It includes some powerful affirmations for harnessing the power of your mind. All you need to do is focus on her voice and follow her instructions. This is another long one, so make sure you have at least half and hour to sit quietly and meditate.
This last one is just some music that has been designed specifically for meditation. You can use this if you would like to try meditating without the vocal guidance. Just follow the steps I outlined above as you relax your body and mind and try to concentrate your thoughts one one thing, the easiest way being to simply focus on the music and let all other thoughts sail passively by. Every time your mind starts to wonder, gently bring your focus back to the music. Remember that your goal with this is to let your body and mind relax so that your brain can enter the therapeutic Alpha level or deeper.
COMING SOON! I will be sharing here a series of blog posts that go into more detail about how you can apply more advanced techniques to get even more out of your meditation.
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