Let me begin by saying that meditation, by itself, has little to do with religions or cults. Sure, there are a number of religions and followings, which incorporate meditation into their practices. However, meditation, in and of itself, is a discipline of the mind, which enables the practitioner to possess a higher level of concentration and focus. That being said, many people use it as a destresser, as self therapy, or to help assimilate information or refine a practices. Others may use it as a means to connect with the concept of their religious focus (higher state of being or deity). Various forms of meditation can actually be seen in prayer through Christianity, Judaism, and Muslim. Whatever the case may be, I will attempt to steer clear of religious affiliation. There may be some reference to Buddhism, but that’s just because they have contributed greatly in the development of meditation. Now, let us begin the path of how to meditate.
Benefits of Meditation
There are many benefits to meditation. A fun visual to these benefits can be found on the artofliving.org website. Benefits include:
- Keeps you stress-free
- Reduces aging
- Adds more hours to your day
- Helps you appreciate life more
- Helps you feel more connected
- Makes you and those around you happier
- Improves functioning of your brain
- Helps you have a good night sleep
- Improves metabolism and helps you lose weight
- Increases immunity and helps fight diseases
- Increases your attention span
This is just a short list. There are actually many more benefits that go beyond the obvious. Some will show up in your life in a variety of surprising ways. Keep reading to find out how easy it is to begin meditation.
Why the breath is a unique aspect of your body to focus upon
Breathing is one of the few involuntary functions of the body, in which we can gain control. The breath is tied to our emotional state. For example, if we are scared, our breathing becomes short and erratic, and when calm, slow and metered. You can invoke the reverse effect on your psyche with your breath. If you are agitated, and consciously slow your breathing, your breath can assist in the normalization of your emotional state. Also, for this to be effective, it takes the mental discipline to refocus your attention onto another object (your breath). Meditation is the means in which one cultivates both concentration and focus. Mastery of meditation can take many years, if not a lifetime. However, planting the seed of meditation in your life begins the journey of practice itself, and will lead ones life in a very positive, fulfilling, and interesting direction. There are many different types of meditation. Typically, everyone who begins meditation will begin with breathing meditation. Some masters have chosen to remain with breathing meditation, and have found enlightenment through that practice alone.
How to prepare for meditation
Posture and Alignment
First and foremost, it is important for your body to be in alignment, with particular emphasis on your head, neck and spinal column. Some may argue that you can meditate sitting in a chair, or lying down. I personally believe these positions may mislead a beginner into a sleep state, which is not the intention of meditation. I have found it to be much more conducive to enter a meditative state, when sitting in a traditional sitting style, such as lotus, half lotus, seiza or sitting on a stool (seiza bench). My personal sitting pose is on my knees, while sitting back onto something like a yoga block. Being a westerner, and male, my body finds it very difficult to get into a full or half lotus position. Women may find it a little easier to obtain the lotus positions, because their hips are lower, and tend to be slightly more flexible then men. My personal sitting style is close to how the Japanese sit when meditating. Some refer to it as sitting on a stool position. Once you have a sitting position that works best for you, picture yourself standing tall and straight, with dignity and prowess. Now allow your upper body to be poised like that while you sit. Keep the crown of your head tall, and bow your head forward ever so slightly. Do not clench your teeth, keep your mouth closed, and lightly touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue. Allow your hands to gently rest on your legs or in your lap, palms up or palms down. There is a multitude of hand and finger arrangements while meditating, which facilitate different flows of energy. I don’t want to overcomplicate things for this article, so to keep it simple, rest your hands on your legs or in your lap. If you choose to rest your hands in your lap, do so by resting your less dominate hand in your dominate hand, and lightly touch the tips of your thumbs together. Here is an example for a left hand dominate person.
Maintain an erect posture, and roll your shoulders back, then relax them down. Your posture dictates the flow of life force energy (Chi, or Qi). I have personally felt the slow down of life force energy from poor posture. It felt like a traffic jam. When I straightened up my back and posture, my Qi flowed effortlessly through my body. It’s a wonderful feeling to realize. After meditating for a while, you will become more attune to the subtle energies that circulate within and around you. It is at this moment, you will realize how the position of your body correlates with the flow of these subtle energies. Whatever you do, make sure you are not straining any part of your body. Check in with all your various limbs and organs, and try to physically relax everything down.
Correct Attitude and Intention
Another aspect of your practice is your state of mind. You never want to compartmentalize your meditation as a joke, or something you do that is silly. You should take your practice seriously. Perhaps you can begin by stating an affirmation for your meditation. For example, you can say: I enter this meditation with a pure heart and clear mind; life’s energy will circulate through me and I will join with it, renewing myself, and reaffirming my connection to Earth and the universe. Another thing that helps, which Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, is to smile to yourself while you meditate. You can raise a subtle smile physically, or it can be an internal intention. This reminds us that we are simply human, and to enjoy life and the act of sitting.
The mind is normally filled with a lot of chatter. If you’re new to meditation, you’ll find it very difficult maintain your attention on your breath. To give yourself the best chance of success, you should remove as many distractions as you can. Sit in a place that is quiet. Odors, good and bad, can be a distraction as well, so try to get yourself away from smells. Also, if it is within your control, adjust the temperature in the room so that it is comfortable for you.
How to Breath During Meditation
All breathing will be done through your nose, so keep your mouth gently closed. Once you are ready to begin, take a deep, clearing breath in through your nose. Start by expanding your diaphragm, which will expand your lower belly, and then, keep inhaling to expand your chest. Exhale slowly, through your nose to shrink your chest, and then shrink your belly. On your next breath, do not expand your chest/rib cage. You want to maintain only diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale deep and slowly into your belly, and exhale slowly. You can repeat this a few times if you wish. When you feel settled, begin breathing normally, but remember, only with your diaphragm/belly. You’ll want to breath into a point approximately two inches below your navel.
Breathing Meditation: How to Focus
There are many different types of meditation; many of which begin with breathing meditation. You can choose to stay with breathing meditation for the rest of your life and achieve masterful levels of concentration, and focus through this method. You can also achieve enlightenment through this method, but it would require the addition of following the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. I myself am following the Eightfold Path, and it has caused a revolution of my life to take place. However, if you are just beginning, I would recommend starting simply with breathing meditation, and sticking with it for a while, until you feel comfortable enough to move on. Now, back to the practice.
After your initial deep breaths, you return to a normal, rhythmic breathing pattern. Keep your eyes gently closed, and maintain your attention on the tip of your nose. Focus your attention on the sensation of the the tip of your nose as air moves in and out of your body. If you follow the breath into your body, then your mind will be occupied with too many variables to become focused. If you find your mind starts creating too many images and distractions, then, ever so slightly, open your eyelids to let a little light in. This will help keep your mind from creating images. Maintain your attention the tip of your nose and only the tip of your nose. It can be helpful to count while you breathe. For example, one in breath and out-breath can count as one, and the next in and out breath will be two. When you get to 10, start over. A slightly difficult task to overcome is being able to observe the breath without controlling it. When I began, I found it very difficult not to control my breath, if it is the object of my focus. However, over time, you will be able to separate the task from the act of observing. As you breath, thoughts will undoubtedly arise in your mind. Simple watch them as they arise and diminish. Try not to entertain those thoughts. Simply step away from them as they arise, and redirect your attention back to your breath. This process of being distracted and refocusing your attention is actually the beginning of a workout, which helps you strengthen your concentration and focus. Over time, you will notice there will be less mental distractions, or rather, you will be able to refocus much faster. Eventually, you will be able to maintain uninterrupted focus for extended periods of time. This revolution of the mind articulates itself in your life, in ways that are different for everyone. I found I could enjoy simple tasks, like washing dishes much more, nature seems more beautiful and alive to me, and I have become more present in the moment.
It is also important to note that if you are not from a country, which has adopted meditation as a normal way of life and every day practice (like some countries and peoples found in Asia) you need to approach mediation with practicality. You may find that if you try and do everything the way Easterners do, you may end up misguided and confused on your journey. Meditation is a way of life for some people. It has become so much of a part of who they are, there is no distinction between it and themselves. Westerners may look upon it as a novelty, or a means of self-therapy, but it can be so much more than that. The journey of meditation is different for everyone. You have to keep your mind open, be willing to follow your heart, and let it carry you to wherever your meditation practice takes you next.
I hope you enjoyed learning about meditation and breathing. If you like this article, please let me know by leaving a comment at the bottom. Be sure to look at my other posts. You may discover something you never knew before. Also, follow me on my social networks, located on the sidebar of this website. Take care, and Namaste.