Years ago, during a rough patch in life, I started seeing a behavioral psychologist to deal with some anxiety issues and insomnia. Part of his sessions often consisted of a guided meditation, where he would speak to me in gentle tones while I lay on the sofa, breathing deeply. The meditations were probably a good 20 minutes or so, and frankly, I wondered if perhaps these sessions were just a way for my therapist to get a break from listening to my life nonsense, but I found them very relaxing and left afterwards feeling calm and refreshed, two feelings that didn’t come naturally to me.
After one session, my therapist complimented me on my breathing. He noted that I could slow my breath down and take very long, deep breaths that helped me reach a different state. Higher consciousness? Maybe. Calm and relaxed? Definitely, at least during and for a bit after the meditation. He asked if I had learned this somewhere. I told him about the years I had spent taking Kundalini Yoga from a prominent LA teacher. It wasn’t daily training, just a class or two a week with a bunch of other students in a studio or in the instructor’s living room.
“Breath of Fire” (very rapid in and out breath through the nose and controlled by the diaphragm) and techniques that included filling your lungs with as much air as possible (or blowing ALL the air out of your lungs and keeping them empty – always much harder), and then doing yoga while holding the air in or out is the kind of training that can improve breathing technique. There were also gong meditations, lying on your back, eyes closed, and breathing deeply while the instructor bangs on a large gong, which you hear as well as feel (sound waves) for the duration of the meditation.
My therapist then suggested, that as a massage therapist and massage therapy instructor, I might also teach people how to breathe. So, with that in mind, here are a few thoughts for those of you who want to incorporate a meditation practice into your life to reap its proven positive benefits, including:
· When to meditate and how often
· Creating a good mediation environment
· What you need to meditate
· Mantra or no mantra?
· Deep breathing techniques
· Clearing the mind (what to think about… or not)
· Benefits of Mediation
· “Mindfulness.” What does it really mean?
1. PICK A GOOD TIME AND START SMALL
Did you know that the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa in Latin, which sounds like a Hermoine spell from Harry Potter) with the intention of remaining there until he achieved enlightenment? How long he actually sat is not entirely clear, but may have been weeks. Without food.
Good news: you don’t need to do that.
Start small. Most people who meditate “religiously” (it is spiritual, sometimes, but not necessarily religious, although even the Big 3 religions refer to silent or personal prayer as “meditation”) do so in the morning upon waking (and some do, in fact, get up at 4:30 for “sadna,” a pre-dawn meditation practiced by some Sikhs, when the spiritual energy is supposed to b especially strong), and then again in the late afternoon or early evening (before or after dinner is great).
Deep breathing before bed is a good way to relax, but a full meditation right before bed is not advisable because that might trick your body and brain into thinking you’ve slept enough already. And while early morning meditation seem to be fantastic for many, be realistic about yourself. Don’t make yourself get up at 5 or 6 to meditate if you hate getting up early. Do it when it’s convenient and easy for you, and then you’ll be more likely to keep doing it!
As for meditating for a week (or more) without food and water like the Buddha, this isn’t recommended for beginners or even the experienced. For most people, 15-20 minutes is a good session, but even five minutes is beneficial, and some long-time practitioners will do longer mediations. Starting out, five minutes is a good number because …