Today we’re talking about meditation techniques.
The problem a lot of people have with kickstarting a regular meditation practice is that they don’t really know what they should be doing while they are meditating. Generally speaking, you’re not really ‘doing’ anything while you meditate, you’re rather just ‘being’.
Why is meditating good for me?
Practising meditation is supposed to enable you to become more present. A beautiful way of looking at meditation is a literal flowering or blossoming of consciousness. It’s a coming into yourself, your mental space so to speak, and just being there, distancing yourself from all the noise, whatever your noise is for you.
But what does just ‘being’ mean? And how do you just ‘be’? It’s a hard one to master, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Meditation isn’t the easiest at the best of times, especially when you really do have so many things to think about. It feels impossible to stop the thoughts coming. But wait… maybe that’s where you’re getting it ‘wrong’. I use the word wrong here for lack of a better word, as there is technically no right or wrong way to meditate, just different techniques to suit different people with different minds.
But yes, back to why stopping your thoughts isn’t the right idea. Meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts from coming – if this is what you think meditation is doing, then this article is definitely for you.
Meditating helps you distinguish what is your thoughts and what is your true inner essence
One thing you learn when you meditate, or rather, one of the first principles of meditation, is distinguishing between the thoughts in your head and your true, inner essence. You can call it your soul, you can call it God, you can call it whatever you like, but for the purpose of this piece, we’re going to refer to your ‘deeper self’ as your inner essence.
When you meditate, you’re not trying to stop thoughts from entering the mind, you are observing these thoughts. You become the watcher or the observer of your thoughts, and in doing so, you come to the realisation that they are not who you are, your inner essence, but a conditioned part of your consciousness that you can control.
When you’re able to observe these thoughts and understand that distinction, you’re able to break away from repetitive negative thought patterns that prevent you from being present with your surroundings and finding contentment where you are.
So, how do you connect with your inner essence? And can you do this from home? Yes, yes and more yeses.
Here are 5 different ways you can meditate at home to find some peace and quiet in the mind and hopefully feel a little more present.
Counting your breath
Counting the breath is a great way to meditate. Begin by observing the breath. Locate where you are mainly breathing in the body – perhaps it’s mainly quite nasal or isolated around the chest, or maybe you’re already taking deep belly breaths – and then start to visualise this breath being distributed throughout your entire body. So watching, visualising, the flow of breath circulating throughout your body, in through the nose and flowing from there. Then, begin to lengthen your inhales and stretch out your exhales, counting to help you to do this. So, breathing in for a count of 8, holding for just a second at the top, and then breathing out for a count of 10, holding for a second, and then repeating for as long as you need.
There are so many benefits to this, especially when it comes to reducing anxiety. By slowing the breath, you start to slow down your heart rate – which, as we sadly know, likes to skyrocket when we’re feeling on edge. This, in turn, stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, so the part of your autonomic nervous system which counteracts the release of stress hormones in the body such as adrenalin or cortisol. Gradually, the body and the brain begins to feel calmer, more collected, and more in control.
Candle gazing – or if you have an issue with candles, choosing an object of your choice – is a great way to focus and calm the fluctuations of your mind. All you need to do is place a candle (or chosen object) in front of you. Try to choose a place at home where you’re not likely to be interrupted by others to give yourself enough time to settle into the practice. Light your candle (please don’t set any objects on fire!) and gaze at the candle for as long as you can before you need to blink. Finally, when you can’t resist, close your eyes and then watch the candle continue to burn within your mind’s eye.
You’ll see when you close your eyes that you can still make out the shape and form of the candle as it was before but painted onto your eyelids. It’s a really calming and quite spiritual practice. When the image of the candle disappears, gently open the eyes and repeat as many times as you need to feel calmer or more restored.
Similar to counting the breath, nasal breathing can help to calm the body and the mind, especially when we’re feeling pretty anxious and finding it really difficult to switch off.
Nasal breathing, otherwise known as Nadi Shodhana in traditional yogic philosophy, is about controlling the flow of breath in and out through the nose, creating a beautiful line of energy – spiritually and physically speaking – as you direct the flow of breath in and out either nostril. Nadi means ‘energy line or channel’ and Shodhana means ‘purification’. The idea is that through this kind of meditation, we cleanse the body and the mind by controlling our breath.
Take your forefinger and your thumb. Press down with your thumb on one nostril and breath in through the other, breath out the open nostril and then close this nostril with your forefinger, opening the other. Breath in and out through this nostril, taking slow inhales and long exhales, then switch nostrils again. If it helps, to visualise this, you’re making a figure of eight or an infinity symbol with the flow of your breath. You can also press your two peace fingers onto your third eye – the point just above and between the eyes – which is said to be the seat of your soul in many yogic traditions. This is your Ajna chakra, an energy centre, which is associated with seeing clearly and wisdom.
Vinyasa roughly translates as matching breath with movement. So in a vinyasa flow yoga class, you’re doing a moving meditation. Some people find it really hard to sit still and meditate. If this sounds like you, then movement might be better suited to you. You don’t have to do anything remotely sequenced or choreographed – it’s important to not get caught up with what you look like or following a specific pattern, especially if your ego then gets in the way meaning your inner voice, that perpetual negative critic, pops up.
Any movement from just rolling the shoulders a few times to taking a few spinal rolls or twists on the knees will do, just try to match each movement you make with an intake or an outtake of breath. This will really help to keep you focused and, hopefully, calm the mind and quieten the noise.
If any thoughts or feelings do arise while you’re doing this, just take a deep inhale to come back to the breath, and exhale to breathe those thoughts out. Remember, these thoughts are NOT you, you are the awareness of them that brings them into existence. You can, therefore, once realising this, extinguish them, breath them out, and let go.
Finally, you can also try mantric meditation at home. Mantra roughly translates as ‘mind tool’. A mantra is a word or collection of words that you repeat to focus the mind. If chanting out loud isn’t your thing, that’s fine! You can repeat them internally. Your mantra also doesn’t have to be some historical Sanskrit expression, so don’t worry about having to learn a new language to do this. You can choose a phrase, expression or just a set of words that resonate with you. For instance, maybe you’re feeling a little insecure about yourself, so you can repeat: “I am enough and I am complete’. Maybe set a timer for 5 minutes to begin, and then eventually just let yourself go for as long as you need to feel more relaxed, more in control, and more sure of yourself.