I’ve always admired people who have a daily meditation practice. There are very few people for whom meditation comes easily, and I’m not one of them. I meditate with some regularity, but I’m still in the phase where it’s kind of like working out: I force myself to do it, it’s taxing, and it requires a lot of concentration, effort and self-discipline. I do hear that it becomes more natural over time, so at least there’s that.
For now though, I just force myself to do it as often as I can. Once I’ve succeeded (success is relative: I think the max amount of time I’ve ever been able to remain meditative is about 10 minutes), I feel great – like I just did something really challenging and good for my mental health.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that certain meditation techniques work for me, while others don’t. Simply sitting down and “clearing my mind” doesn’t work – I need to have a focus. Here are three techniques that do the trick for me – a few of which I’ve never heard of in a yoga class or meditation workshop.
Notice the Temperature of Your Breath
I learned this technique at the Newman Catholic student center in La Crosse, believe it or not. This priest was honestly one of the best spiritual leaders I’ve ever had in my life. It was clear from his messages that he was more about spirituality than doctrine, and his warm, embracing outreach to low-income people and students made it clear that he had his priorities straight.
In a service during finals week, he was speaking about making time for prayer even in the midst of a chaotic season of life. He had everyone in the church close their eyes and inhale and exhale deeply. He mentioned that we should notice the temperature of our breath; it comes into the body at room temperature, but when we exhale, it’s much warmer. It has been heated by our bodies, a wonderful sign of life and a great signifier of the yogic belief that breath is life.
When you meditate, try to pay attention to this phenomenon. Notice how the breath enters the body cool and fresh. Hold it in your belly for 5 seconds, and then exhale slowly. Concentrate on the air’s newfound warmth, and try to internalize how the temperature of your body – the stuff of life – has heated the air, and how the air has given oxygen to your body in return.
Breathe Up and Down Your Spine
This is a technique you’ve probably heard of in yoga class or online. It’s a prevalent part of Kundalini yoga as well as other schools of yoga that focus both on the breath practice and the concept of energy moving along the spine.
Ideally, you’ll be sitting cross-legged or in lotus pose for this. You can also do this lying down (definitely choose that option if you’re more likely to be comfortable that way) but I enjoy the feeling of my bones meeting the floor for this one.
You’re going to inhale and exhale as always, but as you do, you’re going to focus on breathing along your spine. As you inhale, move your concentration up from the base of your spine, along your back, all the way up to the tip of your head at the culmination of your inhale. Hold your breath (and your concentration of energy above the head) for a few seconds, and then descend down the spine all the way back to the base again as you exhale. Keep on repeating this.
Honestly, when I’m really into this practice, I’ve been known to fall asleep. That’s how effective it is.
Let Quietness “Massage” Your Brain
OK, I know this one sounds weird, but stay with me. We’re bombarded by noise all day long. I don’t know about you, but I spend much of my day wearing headphones. If I’m not wearing headphones, I’m often in conversation, on the phone, watching a movie, or listening to music in some other way. I rarely experience silence.
Learning to savor silence is important. Depriving our ears of stimuli forces us to relax and not to think, which can be really uncomfortable (hence why many of us can’t drive five minutes to the grocery store without listening to music).
I actually really like silence. I find it very serene, and when I’m tired, I would much rather drive in silence than with music on. Maybe I’m getting old …
When you go to meditate, pay attention to the fuzzy feeling that your brain experiences when it’s exposed to silence. Noises (music, conversations) may pop into your head, but just acknowledge and dismiss them. I like to think of the physical sensation of silence around my brain – it’s almost like my brain is enveloped in a warm massage, relaxing after hours of work processing sounds. I try to savor and enjoy this feeling while I’m meditating.
If background noises occur (people talking next door, the garbage man coming by outside, a dog barking in the yard) just acknowledge it as part of the experience. Savor the sound, but let the relative quietness shine through as the predominant experience.
These techniques are my three favorites, but there are plenty of others out there. I think the most important component of meditation is to practice it regularly – and that’s something I still struggle with.
A few bonus tips for you though, before I close:
- Mediate after exercising. You may already know that the entire point of the physical yoga practice is to prepare the body for meditation. Even if you’re not into yoga, prolonged physical activity (on which you’re concentrating, not doing mindlessly) will have a similar effect.
- Try putting your feet up. Seriously! I don’t know what it is, but lying with my feet elevated above my head (I usually just scoot up to the wall and put my legs up) clears my mind. I think it must be because of more oxygen flowing to the brain.
- Caffeine and meditation are not friends. I love coffee, so this makes me sad.
- Alcohol and meditation are not friends. I love wine, so this also makes me sad.
- Don’t meditate in order to fall asleep. That’s not the point.
- Guided meditations are nice for relaxation purposes, but they’re not really meditating. Meditating, traditionally, is more akin to praying. You’re going to want to decrease external stimuli, not increase them, and guidance is indeed a stimulus. You’re trying to look inward here.
Finally, do it regularly. I know it’s hard – this is a habit I need to get into too. Would anyone be interested in doing a meditation challenge with me? Comment below, get in touch or let me know via Instagram or Twitter !