Meditation is a common buzzword these days. While most people can conjure an image of a cross-legged yogi, palms upturned on the knees and eyes closed, they’re not quite sure where to go from there. That’s because this spiritual practice is less about simply adopting a pose and more about what you do once you get there.
Learning the basics of meditation isn’t that hard, however. Moreover, this age-old practice is said to perform feats as wide-ranging as improving your concentration and memory, making you calmer and more analytical, helping you resist “fight or flight” reactions and staving off Alzheimer’s disease. What’s not to like?
So sure, drag out your yoga mat or pillows and adopt your lotus position. But if you want to really learn how to meditate, and crib all those benefits for yourself, then it’s time to do the real work: focusing on the breath.
Develop Your Breath
There are many approaches to the breath in Sanskrit, the language that was spoken at the time yoga was developed and refined. Two of the most common words to describe the breath include:
Pranayama: an extension of the life force and a three-step process, in which the bearer takes a breath in, holds it, and releases it, before repeating the cycle
Ujjayi breath: an even in and out breath paced in accompaniment to movements in a yoga sequence
Because you will be sitting still, rather than engaging in yoga poses, it’s probably best to start with a pranayama practice. Advice differs, but most experts recommend exhaling for longer than you inhale: for instance, four seconds inhaling, hold for a beat, 5 seconds exhaling. Experiment with what works for you.
Breathe in the Right Spot
The breath is much more effective, and much more rejuvenating, if you take it in at the right place. Most people, especially women, are trained to suck in their stomachs all the time. However, it is impossible to take a truly deep breath while holding in the abdomen and consequently the diaphragm.
In meditation, allow your gut to fall loose so you can pull air all the way down to the bottom of your diaphragm. At first, the feeling may seem strange, but eventually you will notice how much more breathe you get in each inhale.
Accompany Breath with Mantra
If you would prefer not to have to count in your head, you can always use a mantra. Mantras help regulate your breath by giving an alternative to numbers, while still marking time. Here is a list of good mantras, if you would like a traditional one; some of the mantras even have an MP3 accompaniment, so you can hear how they’re meant to be pronounced. You can also choose a phrase with personal meaning.
Keep the Relaxation Going
Once you’re done meditating for the day, you often find yourself in a calmer or more tranquil state than usual. To extend these benefits, you might consider in forming a tea service practice as well. Especially in the morning, following meditation with a steaming cup of Ujido Matcha tea, whisked together with a traditional whisk in a traditional bowl, can really extend feelings of tranquility.