When I first started meditating, it was not what you’d call meditation. I’d sit down, close my eyes, try to focus, and promptly have a panic attack about all the things I should be doing besides SITTING ON THE FLOOR DOING NOTHING.
Gradually, I learned that there is some actual technique to this hobby. Yes, it’s incredibly simple, but in the same way that running is simple — you can still trip on a rock or run into a tree.
Lesson number one: Sitting on the floor is a posture, just like Triangle or Down Dog. There are alignment tips that will make it way more comfortable. Alignment is even MORE important in a meditative pose, since you’ll be holding it for ten, twenty, sixty minutes. I used to get so mad at myself for fidgeting, until I realized IT’S ANOTHER ASANA and set up properly. Now, I usually spend the first couple minutes of my meditation adjusting my pose; I guess that’s actually the pre-med. :)
- Sit against a wall to start. We all know that the spine should be straight when meditating, but we might not realize we’re not actually sitting straight. Hard-core meditators might say this impedes the flow of energy or something, but I became WAY more relaxed and upright when I learned where vertical actually was. Plus, the pressure of the wall against my shoulder blades let my breath actually expand my lungs.
- Elevate the hips, so that blood can flow easily to the knees and the hip flexors can completely relax. Even if you’re in Full Lotus, sit on a blanket or a block.
- Cross the legs comfortably. You’ll have to experiment with this one — what’s comfortable for thirty seconds is not necessarily comfortable for thirty minutes. When you find that whoops, you’ve chosen an excruciating position, just make a note of that for next time, adjust your legs slightly, and begin your meditation again. (Note: any movement restarts your meditation, so you’ll probably have several short meditations in your early sessions, not one long one.) Don’t worry about getting to Lotus — the only thing you feel there is “wow, my back is straight!” Worry about your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back, and what they’re telling you.
- Rest the hands easily on your thighs or lap. Palms face down is slightly more calming, palms face up is more open, and one palm in the other (non-dominant hand on top, thumbs touching) is more focusing.
- Release the shoulders. I have to roll them forward, up, and back a few times to get them to relax and hang straight. When they’re relaxed, you’ll be able to feel your sternum rising and falling with the breath.
- Elongate the neck. This is a tricky one. Your neck curves slightly forward, so you want to straighten the curve just a little by moving the chin an inch backwards, as if you’re pressing the back of your head into someone’s raised hand. You just want the muscles at the back of the neck to relax, so you have to make sure your big bowling ball of a head is not hanging forward. If you’re a yoga practitioner, you can stop doing ujayi now ;)
- Relax the face, including the eyes, ears, and tongue. It’s amazing how much tension we hold in the face. How many people have you seen on the street with a furrowed brow ’cause they’re thinking so hard? I used to feel like I should say something to them… until my mom said I do the same thing! The hardest part about releasing your habits is actually noticing them. A lot of times someone else has to tell us; that’s why we go to yoga class. (If you tend to stress, cup the hands and touch the center of the forehead. Draw the fingertips away from each other, across the forehead, to release stress. Repeat at the hairline, the crown of the head, and down the back of the head.) Let the eyes relax like bean bags in the eye sockets. Pointing them towards the tip of the nose (not up towards the Third Eye) will help.
OK, now you’re comfortable. You can have a nice meditation just slowly scanning through these points, finding the millions of subtle sensations inside the skin. If you train yourself to actually admit your knees are hurting a bit, or your stomach is aching, you will prevent injury and answer your own questions about diet and lifestyle. If you find any points of pain, spend a little extra time focusing there. Just notice what thoughts flow through your head as you focus on each part of the body. And relax.
Tomorrow I’ll cover some the mental pieces.