The Fundamentals of Meditation
Written by: Michelle Belanger
For those who are following a spiritual or mystical path, meditation is one of the most fundamental skills to cultivate. Meditation allows the individual to intentionally enter an altered state of consciousness that is more focused and more profound than ordinary consciousness.
Although most people in the modern era tend to associate meditation with Hinduism or Buddhism, numerous religious and mystical traditions the world over make meditation an integral part of their practices. Additionally, it is important to understand that meditation, although most often utilized in a religious or spiritual context, is simply a tool of the mind to help balance and focus consciousness.
As such, meditation is a-religious, and can be practiced by individuals of any belief system or can be used outside of the context of spirituality simply to focus and elevate personal consciousness.
This presentation is intended to instruct you in the basics of meditation while also dispelling some common misconceptions about the practice.
The Benefits of Meditation:
- Allows you to achieve clarity
- Helps to manage stress
- Strengthens concentration and focus
- Improves your ability to visualize.
The Basics of Meditation:
For Your Body: Breathing, Relaxation
For Your Mind: Inward Focus, One-Pointed Concentration
Steps for Meditating: Slow Your Breathing, Relax Your Body, Let Go of Stress and Negativity, Focus Inward, Still Your Mind, Find a Focus, Return to Ordinary Consciousness
One of the most basic aspects of meditation is breathing. Before you even try to enter a meditative state, you should regulate your breathing so you are taking very slow, very deep breaths in and letting them out just as carefully and slowly.
When someone says, "Take a deep breath" most people inhale sharply, filling the upper part of their lungs so their chests expand noticeably. This is not the kind of deep breath you want to take in meditation. Instead of inhaling sharply and all at once, you want to breathe in very slowly, as if you are taking air in through a straw. You must breathe with your diaphragm and imagine the breath being pulled down to the very bottom of your lungs.
When you exhale, it is not like letting all the air out of a balloon. You need to exhale just as slowly as you inhaled, letting go of the breath in a small but steady stream. In general, it is best to start off by breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth. When you exhale, purse your lips together like you are going to blow into a bottle and let the breath out in a controlled and extended stream through the small aperture in your lips.
Ideally, you should breathe in for at least 8 counts, hold it for at least 2 counts, then breathe out for another 8 counts.
If your are breathing correctly, to a certain extent you will naturally begin to relax. However, you really need to let go of all the stress and tension of your day before you enter into a proper meditative state. To achieve the proper relaxed state, I recommend the following exercise, to be used in conjunction with deep breathing, as described above:
Starting from your feet up, begin to tense the muscles in your feet and lower legs. Gradually increase that tension while you breathe inward for a count of 8. Hold the breath for a count of 2, then release the tension as you exhale, drawing out the exhalation for a count of 8.
Move up to your upper legs and hips. Tense the muscles while you breathe in, trying to feel all the different muscle groups being pulled taut. Hold the breath and the tension in your muscles for a count of two, then release the tension with your breath gradually over a count of 8.
Do the same thing with the muscles in your abdomen and lower back, then move on to your hands and forearms. From there go to your chest and upper back, then your upper arms and shoulders. Next, tense all the muscles in your face and neck, increasing the tension as you breathe in for 8, holding it for 2, then releasing it for 8. Finally, tense all the muscles in your entire body, increasing the tension while you breathe in for an 8 count, holding it for two, then releasing all of the tension from your entire body as you exhale for a final count of 8.
Clearing Your Mind:
It is a common misconception that the whole point of meditation is to empty or clear your mind. That's a part of meditation, but it's only a step toward the real purpose. Meditation, as mentioned previously, is a tool of consciousness that allows you to achieve a uniquely focused state of mind. This focused state is known as"One pointed-concentration" and it allows you to focus intently and without distraction upon just one thing. Clearing your mind is more about overcoming any uncontrolled or random thoughts that might distract you from this purpose than it is about trying to exorcise any kind of thoughts at all from your consciousness.
Once you have gotten the breathing and relaxation part down, close your eyes and turn your attention inward. Focus your eyes as if you were looking into the middle of your own head. Now try to still your thoughts so all you can feel is the low hum of awareness that is you.
If you are having difficulty with stray thoughts, try imagining that you have a remote control in your hand, and whenever a distraction presents itself, you can just press your thumb down on the "off" button to make it go away. Do this until nothing you do not want to focus on is entering your mind. Once you have achieved this point, take a few moments to enjoy this stillness of mind, then turn your focus to the specific task that you wanted to accomplish through meditating, whether it is a visualization, some kind of internal energy working, a prayer, a mantra, or the actualization of some goal in your life.
Meditation is not just about the body, nor is it just about the mind. In order to get the full benefits of meditating, there must be total cooperation between the two. You can do breathing exercises and relax yourself from your toes to the top of your head, and this will relieve a lot of stress and make you feel great, but if you cannot still your mind, then you will not be able to properly meditate.
Stilling your mind, especially in today's busy world, is the hardest and most challenging part of meditation. Our minds are used to processing tons of information all at once, all day long, and so a state of stillness and one-pointed concentration is very alien to us. But with practice, it can be done, and the results are impressive. In time, you will learn to be able to enter a focused and meditative state in just a few moments, at any point during your day. It will help you to tune out distractions, and simply turn your attention inward, to what you want to think about.