Meditation will change your life.
This is the impression one might get from reading about meditation on the internet. And while I believe that meditation can have a major impact on our lives, I think that newcomers to meditation put too much pressure on themselves and hold too high of expectations going into it.
I’d like to provide a more relaxed, practical approach to meditation for people who have struggled in the past or who are completely new to meditation. If you’re at this point, don’t expect meditation to change your life. Start slowly and without pressuring yourself. Seek to know yourself better and cultivate inner peace.
If you do this, you will have a better chance of developing a sustainable practice and will eventually see how grand an impact meditation can have on your life. As you devote more time to your practice on a consistent basis, you’ll also see the other major benefits including lowering of stress, improving your focus, and aiding in creativity.
I meditate 3-7 times each week and find it invaluable for calming my mind and getting me through creative slumps, but I meditate in my own way that works for me. I don’t always practice meditation in a traditional, strict way. I tried that for years and I always found myself failing.
This article is for people who have struggled with traditional meditation. I will share the various ways I use meditation as well as my own practical meditation techniques.
The benefits of meditation are well-documented. This link contains a pretty decent primer if you aren’t sold.
Despite the benefits, many people including myself have struggled to establish and maintain a meditation practice. Everybody’s struggle is different, but I’ve narrowed mine down to a few major causes.
I felt like I was wasting my time. I approached meditation to experience its benefits, but you can’t always see or feel them. I consistently questioned whether I was doing it right. The idea that I was doing it wrong and wasting my time discouraged me.
I was too strict on myself. I decided that if I was going to meditate, it had to be exactly like someone told me and I had to do it for increasingly long amounts of time. I put myself on a strict schedule and while it was good at first, it was hard to maintain. Eventually, meditation represented work and I would actively avoid it until the habit I tried to cultivate was gone.
I approached with goals in mind. I wanted to learn about myself and how my mind worked so I approached meditation like there was some goal I was working towards. When I couldn’t see progress, I questioned the value of meditation and quit.
To sum it up, I was very rigid and judgmental towards my meditation practice. I didn’t approach it with an open mind. I approached with big expectations and ended up being disappointed with meditation, myself, or both. I didn’t allow my meditation process to evolve and grow with me.
Why I Meditate
Thankfully, that all changed. After I took the pressure off myself and gave up on the idea of meditation, something funny started to happen. I noticed myself using meditation techniques in my own way for a variety of reasons. No, I wasn’t meditating in the strict sense, but the principles started to seep into my daily life.
From these humble beginnings, a useful, sustainable meditation practice arose.
But my meditation practice is not typical. I meditate about 5 times per week, but I use meditation for distinct purposes now: relaxation, introspection, inspiration, and creativity.
The rest of the article will explain my typical meditation technique and how I evolve my practice depending on the purpose of my meditation.
How To Meditate
1. Set an intention.
What is your purpose for meditating today?
Like I said, I have 4 general intentions for meditating: relaxation, introspection, inspiration, and creativity. Let me explain the differences.
If I am on edge and I have a million thoughts racing through my mind, I will use meditation to relax. In this case, the focus of my meditation is slowing down my thoughts and my breathing. I want to center myself.
If I am feeling in a rut and I need a boost of motivation, I will meditate for inspiration. In this case, I find a guided meditation that was created for the specific purpose of inspiring me. It helps to follow a guided meditation when you are in a funk because it will fill your mind with positive ideas. In this case, my breathing is not the object of my focus, the words of the guided meditation become my focus. I might use my breathing to first calm my mind, but then I focus my energy solely towards the guided process and inspirational ideas. Here is an example of guided meditation.
If a certain problem or idea has been dominating my thoughts, but I can’t seem to find the answers, I will meditate for creativity. In this case, I try to calm my mind by following my breathing, but eventually, I allow myself to think about my original idea/problem. I allow my mind to freely associate ideas and wander more than I do during a traditional meditation session. This is because I want my mind to make new connections. Doing creative thinking in a meditation setting allows me to have 100% focus on the creative problem. Usually when I meditate in this context, I come up with many great ideas. I stop meditating when I finally feel like my mind has made an important connection that I HAVE to write down.
If I am approaching meditation in the traditional sense, I am seeking introspection. In this case, I try to follow my breathing in a passive sense and watch my thoughts. I don’t judge my thinking, but I try to notice patterns. I’m not harsh on myself, but if I become distracted, I refocus myself on my breathing. This is traditional mindfulness meditation.
2. Decide how long and set a timer.
It’s almost always a good idea to set a timer because you don’t want to constantly think about how long you’ve been meditating and when you should quit. If you don’t have a timer set, this will naturally happen.
Don’t feel the need to set the timer for an extreme length of time. Even meditating for a few minutes can help you clear your mind and relax. Sometimes it’s better to set your timer for less time because you can always continue to meditate after it goes off. If you are just starting I recommend setting a timer for 5-10 minutes.
I use a free Meditation Timer app on my iPhone.
3. Set your posture.
I don’t think posture is extremely important for meditation. What’s more important than listening to someone’s idea of ideal posture is to set yourself up for success by finding a position that’s comfortable for you. While I usually attempt to sit in a traditional posture, if I am sore or uncomfortable, I will allow myself to meditate while lying down. I’ve had some great meditation sessions lying down.
When I feel up to it though, I sit in a traditional meditation posture with my legs crossed, and my back and neck straight. I place my hands wherever they feel comfortable without rolling my shoulders. I usually sit on a pillow or blanket to create a more stable foundation. You can search online for more about meditation posture, but I will stop here and include a picture.
If you are consistently struggling to find a comfortable meditation position, I would recommend trying one of these. I’ve had the opportunity to use them and they do a fantastic job of making a seated pose very comfortable.
4. Calm Your Mind
Once you are comfortable, close your eyes. I like to start my meditation with structured, deep breathing where I count the length of each part of my breath. This is not traditional, but it helps me to slow down my breathing and clear my mind of distractions.
Here’s how it works.
Inhale slowly through your nostrils and count each second of the inhale. My slow inhale usually takes 5-12 counts. Start breathing in by slowly expanding your abdomen. When your abdomen is fully expanded, start expanding your chest and rib cage. Your goal is to breath in as deeply as possible and completely fill your lungs.
At the peak of my inhale, I hold my breath and start counting. I try to hold my breath for double the number of counts of my inhale. During that time, my focus remains on the counting and on the sensations that my body feels due to the holding of the breath.
After I’ve held my breath for 10-24 counts, I start to slowly exhale through my nostrils. The goal is to exhale slowly enough so that 1 exhale lasts for as long as you held your breath, 10-24 counts. The focus is on counting the length of the exhale and on the sensation of the breath leaving your body. Make sure to reverse the process of the inhale by contracting your ribcage and your abdomen. You want to completely expel the air from your lungs.
Depending on the goal of my meditation and the state of my mind, I will do this between 2 and 10 times. The primary purpose of this practice is relaxation and focus. Breathing this slowly will relax and ground you, and counting the length of each part of the breath will help remove distractions and focus your mind.
I like to start each meditation practice with this controlled deep breathing because it really helps me focus. If I am meditating to relax, I usually do more deep breathing (in fact, I may only do deep breathing). If I am meditating for introspection or creativity, I take as many deep breaths as it takes to calm my mind.
It’s easier to focus on your breath when you are actively counting, which is why I use this technique to start almost every meditation session.
5. Restore normal breathing
Once you’re ready to move on, slowly transition back to normal breathing. Watch your breath return to normal. Notice how the sensations are different from controlled deep breathing. Focus on the breath leaving and entering your nostrils.
In a few seconds or a minute, you will have transitioned from deep, structured breathing back to a normal pace of breathing. You should feel more relaxed and should have a much clearer mind than before you did your deep breathing.
6a. Meditating for Relaxation
If you are meditating for relaxation, the controlled deep breathing is the focus. However, feel free to follow your normal breath for a few minutes. If your mind is clear and you feel relaxed, your meditation is over.
6b. Meditating for Creativity
Once I’ve settled back to normal breathing, I will start to think about the problem or idea that’s been troubling me. I won’t pressure myself in any way, but I’ll let the idea into my mind. If nothing is happening, I’ll focus back on my breath. Sometimes, a creativity meditation ends up looking a lot like an introspective meditation, if I don’t come up with any insight on my creative problem. If inspiration doesn’t strike, I just try to focus back on my breathing and not let my mind drift into pointless thought. If it does start to drift, I go back to counting my breath.
6c. Meditating for Introspection
Now that you’ve calmed your mind, start to watch your normal breathing pattern. Make your breath the object of your focus. Notice the thoughts that arise, but try not to get carried away. If you find yourself distracted, bring yourself back to the breath. If you are having trouble focusing on the breath, acknowledge each inhale and acknowledge each exhale. If you still have trouble, go back to counting.
The goal of this portion of the meditation is just to watch your mind, notice thoughts, notice patterns, and come back to the breath. Don’t be hard on yourself. The important part is that you are removing your mind from the constant stimulation and distraction that life provides.
6d. Meditating for Inspiration
If you decided to do a guided meditation for inspiration, then after you set your posture, you should have just started the meditation audio and followed along. That’s self explanatory.
So that’s how I meditate. It’s not 100% traditional, but the controlled deep breathing allows me to center myself and I’ve found that giving myself the freedom to sometimes let my mind wander makes meditation more useful for me. I hope you’ve learned something.
If this article piqued your interest and you want to know more, I would recommend this book.
If you have any meditation tips or questions, I’d love for you to share them in the comments section. Thanks for reading