Last time I talked about why to meditate. This time I’ll tell you how.
Find a quiet spot, somewhere to sit with your back and neck straight and relaxed, with your knees lower than your hips, to protect your lower back. Set a timer that has a gentle sound for a time of ten minutes. Close your eyes. Relax your shoulders and your hands, placing your hands however feels most comfortable to you. Breathe.
Don’t worry if thoughts, images, memories, sensations or external sounds take centre stage in your awareness. Simply acknowledge their presence and return to your breathing.
Some notes on breathing
When we breathe, we don’t just breathe in and out. Normal breathing has three phases: an in breath, an out breath and a pause. After every out breath there is a pause. As your breathing deepens and lengthens, this pause may become extensive. That is perfectly normal. (So is making a ‘snoring’ noise when one goes into deep meditation, as the body relaxes, especially if one is in one’s 40s or older!)
Using a focus
Many people find returning attention to their breathing easier when they have a set focus to bring their attention back to. Some commonly used ones are:
- Counting. Silently count one on your first out breath, two on the in breath, three on the next out breath, four on the next in breath, etc. until you reach ten, then start again. If you find that your attention has wandered, simply return to one again. Even if you only get as far as one through an entire ten or twenty minute silent meditation, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is returning your attention to your focus.
- Following your breath. ‘Follow’ the course of your breath with your mind as it enters and leaves your lungs. This can aid in slowing your breathing if you find that difficult, as can counting evenly to four on your in breaths and to six on your out breaths, then allowing those numbers to increase, the length of the out breath always longer than the length of the in breath, as your body relaxes and your breathing deepens and lengthens.
- Body point. Focus your attention on the tip of your nose, where the breath enters your body; or on a point low in your belly (the hara, or a little higher up the sacral chakra, if you know what those are); or on the centre of your forehead, between your eyebrows (the ‘third eye’); or touch the tips of your forefingers to the tips of your thumbs, and keep your focus there.
- Candle flame. If you find it difficult to stay present (or, indeed, awake!) when you meditate silently, you can try lighting a candle and meditating with your eyes open, using the candle flame as a focus.
The possibilities are endless – try different foci out and see which one works best for you. My preference is for counting or using the tip of my nose as a focus, because otherwise, I move too easily into a trance-like state, which is not the purpose of silent meditation. Using counting or the tip of my nose allows me to remain present in my body, and in present time and space.
I would love to hear about your experiences with meditation, and to hear how you get on with these tips. Do leave a comment and let me know!