You can learn how to mediate easily and quickly, without an app, a book, a class, or a program.
I remember looking into transcendental meditation 15 or 20 years ago. I was shocked that it cost over $2,500 dollars to learn the practice. Whoever controls this information has done an exceptional job of making it impossible to find out how to do it, whether online or in a book.
That seems wrong to me for the simple reason that meditation, in its purest form, has been around and freely practice for millennia. Why should you have to pay for that?
Having done my research over the years, most quality meditation practices are taught for free or by donation. You can easily find, for example, a Zen meditation group or centre in most major cities.
In 2006 I sat a Vipassana meditation for 10 days at the Ontario Vipassana Centre, where you learn and practice two types of meditation in complete silence. I received lodging and meals and the program was both volunteer driven and by donation only.
You can also start smaller, more simply, and quickly. Sure, you can download a free or a paid app, but they will not offer the same effect as the simple breathing meditation I’ll detail below.
In my opinion, most meditation apps are really a distraction and won’t let you go deep enough inward. The app creator is not doing this on purpose, but when you have to listen to someone’s voice and their guidance, you are being influenced by something “outside of yourself.” And then there’s the promise of an “in app purchase” that will help you meditate more deeply… #resist.
However, if you think you need an app to get started, by all means start with an app. When you’re ready for the next step, let it go and try my suggestion below.
You can also ask yourself, “How will meditation benefit me?”
Once you have your answers, ask, “What is my reward for practicing this new behaviour?”
For example, here some of the many benefits I’ve noticed with my regular practice:
Whatever your benefits, use them as a reminder when you resist or push back against making the time to practice your meditation.
Now whenever I miss more than a session of regular mediation, I notice that I can become more easily frustrated or feel like I might lose my temper. Meditation really does help to more easily “pause and reflect” before responding to situations that may normally upset you. Given that I have traditionally been someone who get easily upset, this is one of the biggest benefits and rewards for having a regular meditation practice.
Note that this post is a complement to my earlier article, A Single Line of Thought, which I would not have been able to write without a regular meditation practice.
Below are a list of suggestions to help you set up a calm environment to reduce distractions, and make meditation an easy, regular practice.
If your clothes are tight and binding they will be a distraction. I usually wear shorts and a T-shirt in summer, or cotton sweat pants in cooler weather. I often wear socks so that my feet won’t get cold, which could be a distraction.
If I’ve just come out of the shower and my skin is warm, I sometimes meditate wearing only a pair of shorts. I’m someone who has fidgeted all his life and I have a habit of making little twitches and pulling at my clothes. Wearing as little as possible is the ultimate in eliminating my own, unique distractions.
Can you sit comfortably cross-legged on the floor on a cushion or yoga block? Or are you better off sitting upright in a chair, feet comfortably flat on the floor?
Once seated, take a moment to adjust your clothes, your self, and sit with good posture. That means eyes straight ahead, chest up, and tighten your abdominals slightly to keep your back naturally flat. You want to feel comfortable, not fighting the position, but not slouching at the same time. Sit upright without back support, or use the wall or the chair back if needed.
Find a comfortable place to rest your hands. That may be anywhere along your legs, from you hips to your knee. You can lay your hands palm down, palms up, or cup your hands together with your arms resting on your thighs.
There is no right or wrong. Make it easy to start.
Here’s my set-up:
I sit on an extra-large yoga block on a yoga mat. The block is 12″ wide by 24″ long and 4” thick. This is the perfect height for me to sit upright easily, without causing a sore, low back. The block is supportive and comfortable to sit on for a long time. The yoga matt gently supports my ankles so that I don’t feel the bones pressing into the hardwood floor. I usually sit with one hand resting inside the other.
I started my practice with 5 minutes and realized how easy it would be for me to do 10. My next step is to mediate for 20 minutes, in part because I want to challenge myself and because of the greater benefits.
There’s no right or wrong. If you have a busy day, you will be amazed at how much clarity and peace of mind you’ll receive from a daily, 5-minute meditation.
Most of us don’t have time for an hour of meditation a day. When I sat the Vipassana meditation, they suggested one hour in the morning and one hour at night. I have no desire to meditate that much (I’m not planning on becoming a monk), but the choice is up to you.
Remember, as little as 5 minutes of meditation per day can offer substantial personal improvement.
Review these instructions first, and then go do it. Even if you haven’t had the chance to do any of the suggestions above, I challenge you to do a meditation and tell me how it went in the comments, below.
Set a timer for 3-5 minutes (and chose a pleasant alarm sound).
Sit down, get comfortable, and gently close your eyes. Begin by focusing on your breathing.
Don’t force anything. Simply notice your breathing.
If you want, you can slow down your breathing, but don’t force it. When you focus on slowing down your breathing, you are increasing your focus on the breath. You can try to inhale for four seconds and exhale for six. The counting is another way to help keep you present.
Notice the temperature of the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils. Does it feel cool coming in? Warm as you exhale? Does the air only move through one nostril?
Slowly and comfortably inhale, filling your stomach area and feeling your chest rise naturally, but don’t hold your breath. Slowly exhale until it feels natural to breathe in again.
Sometimes you may feel like you need to take a deeper, or a longer breath. That’s okay. Other times you may need to cough or clear your throat. Simply notice and do those things, but don’t let them bother or distract you. Always come back to noticing your breathing.
If you feel like you have an itch, just notice it and try not to move. Scratching the itch is giving in to the distraction.
Don’t judge or be critical of yourself if you lose focus. This is normal.
When you realize that you are off thinking about something, or that you’re scratching an itch, come back to simply noticing your breathing. Notice how you feel in this moment and come back to being present. You can name your feelings or sensations if you want, but again, don’t judge them. Simply notice whatever you are feeling and let it go.
When you focus on your rate of breathing during meditation you can positively influence what’s called “heart rate variability.”
I first learned about this in Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct.
Most healthy people have a variable heart rate. This means simply that your heart rate has normal ups and downs, even as you’re reading this article. As you inhale your heart rate increases, and as you exhale your heart rate decreases.
When you are under stress for long periods of time, your heart rate can get stuck at a higher rate, “contributing to the physical feelings of anxiety or anger that accompany the fight-or-flight response.” McGonigal
If you’ve ever seen a dog panting uncontrollably, who’s afraid of thunder or fireworks, you are witnessing a perfect example of the sympathetic nervous system taking over – the part of our biology responsible for fight-or-flight. The dog pants at a continuously high rate without any change in heart rate. This would happen to my first dog, Buster, who would pant uncontrollably for 30-60 minutes after a thunderstorm.
The regular practice of focusing on your breathing during meditation can increase focus and calm.
“… [W]hen people successfully exert self-control, the parasympathetic nervous system steps into calm stress and control impulsive action. Heart rate goes down, but variability goes up. When this happens, it contributes to a sense of focus and calm.” McGonigal
The more you practice meditation, or any form of relaxation that helps control your breathing and increase heart rate variability, the greater your capacity for willpower and self-control.
“Studies also show that people with higher heart rate variability are better at ignoring distractions, delaying gratification, and dealing with stressful situations. They are also less likely to give up on difficult tasks, even when they initially fail or receive critical feedback. McGonigal
So… did you mediate today? How did that go for you?