The first part of learning how to meditate is getting comfortable with the physical posture. Understanding how to hold our body while we meditate is very important. Each instruction is there for a reason and that is to help our energy flow in the best way to relax our mind. In the first few minutes of settling down on our cushion we try as best as we can to take the meditation posture without straining ourselves. We don’t want to be too comfortable or too uncomfortable. We are looking for that sweet spot where we are both relaxed and awake. It takes a while to get used to sitting in this way and that is totally normal. Most of us are used to alternating between being highly alert to spacing out. My teacher recommended focusing on settling our body for the first few minutes of practice. We take this time to position our body and make whatever adjustments we need to get comfortable. Then we try to be still for the duration of our session. The reason is that if we continue to fidget and rearrange, we never really sink into the actual practice.
How to sit:
1: If you are sitting on a meditation cushion, sit with your legs crossed. If you are sitting in a chair, make sure both feet are on the floor.
2: Sit with your back straight back. Your spine should be straight when you meditate. This is very important.
3: Straighten your shoulders, but not too much so that your straining. Hold yourself with a sense of dignity and elegance.
4: Bend your chin in slightly to lengthen the back of your neck. This helps the energy flow.
5: Rest your hands on your knees or gently folded on your lap. Try both until you get a sense of what feels more comfortable.
6: Your mouth and tongue should be relaxed. Try to leave your mouth slightly open and rest your tongue on your upper palette.
7: Your eyes should be half open and half closed so that you are softly gazing about 45 degrees down. You can measure four finger widths from tip of nose while looking down to find the right angle. This is not a closed eyes concentration practice. This is about learning to be relaxed and awake and open to life.
How to breathe:
After you go through the steps of the physical posture the main focus is on the breath. There are many different techniques that you can learn. I think it is really good to try a few different ones until you find the one that seems to be working for you. My go-to technique is counting from one to ten and back down again. Each out breath is one count. Another technique is to focus on the sensation of the out breath and then to relax your awareness on the in breath. This is how we practiced at Naropa. You can learn different breathing techniques, but the point is to develop a one pointed focus on the breath. This being with the breath and the breath only is what causes a state of inner peace.
Naturally thoughts will come into our mind and we all have a tendency to get lost in them. Many people think that when we meditate, we shouldn’t have so many thoughts, or maybe we should block them out. This is not true. The mind has thoughts just like the ocean has waves and the sky has clouds. The idea is to recognize the thoughts for what they are and just let them go. I remind myself that meditation is not the time to process feelings or sort out my life. I can do that later on when I finish my practice. Meditation is about relaxing and letting everything just be. If anything troubling comes up, we can simply acknowledge it and trust that we will get back to it later. Anything that is truly needing our attention will come up again. Meditation is about holding ourselves with loving and open attention. As long as we stay true to the practice we are safe and contained on our cushions with our inner resources of wisdom and compassion.
Learning to meditate is the first step, but developing a consistent practice is where many of us struggle. These days most people recommend starting with short sessions, ten to fifteen minutes, but do it every day. Like training in anything, we start small and build from there. There is really no substitute for a daily practice. Just having this daily check in with ourselves creates a stable and centered foundation for everything else we are trying to accomplish. It all starts with a calm mind; sitting, breathing, and relaxing.