Meditation – How to Meditate
- Sit with your spine upright, eyes closed, and preferably in a cross legged posture
- Keep your awareness on the breath flowing through the nostrils
- If thoughts come into the mind, be aware of them, but try not to get caught up in a whole train of thought.
- If your awareness wanders, gently bring it back to the breath
- Your attention should be alert and vigilant, yet also soft and gentle.
- You should practice in silence, preferably with your eyes closed
- Your meditation should be practiced first thing in the morning before you eat or drink
- Your practice should ideally be at the same time each day, ideally in the same location.
- Your practice should be without expectation.
- The measure of your practice is by how many days you practice each month.
Further explanation of the main points of Meditation Practice
What we are doing is “Meditation Practice”.
It is a technique that we practice each day, and if we are fortunate, over time of consistent and regular daily practice, we may be fortunate to enter into a meditational state.
Whether we ever experience this state of the ‘oneness of all’ or not, we will still get some or all of the following benefits;
- Become more in touch with our inner being
- Get more in touch with the inner peace and calm and tranquillity that is within every one of us
- Learn how to rest in the gaps between the thoughts rather than be carried away by a train of thoughts
- Over time become less disturbed by thoughts
- Over time develop a more peaceful and tranquil state of being
- Improve our concentration and will power
- Decrease stress levels
- Feel happier and more content
Yoga is over 5,000 years old. Meditation has always been the cornerstone of yoga. The physical yoga postures were only invented about 1,000 years ago in order to remove energy blocks, to balance the endocrine system, balance the nervous system for the main reason to prepare oneself for the more deeper transformation of meditation.
Sit spine upright, eyes closed, and preferably in a cross legged posture
Meditation has to be practiced while sitting upright and erect and alert. It cannot be practiced lying down, as this sends too many signals to the nervous system to prepare for sleep where one loses one’s alertness and will be more likely to drift into dullened states of awareness.
Many modern teachers confuse the ‘modern mindfulness’ concepts with more traditional meditation practice. Some say that one can meditate while walking… or while swimming… or while doing daily activities. While it may be true that one’s awareness of what one is doing can be increased… and that being ‘lost in a train of thought’ can be consciously decreased while doing other activities… the depth of one’s awareness cannot be compared to the depths that one can achieve through sitting meditation practice. I prefer to describe these other states that one can experience while doing other activities as ‘being mindful’… rather than true meditation.
Ideally the spine should be erect, so that the energy flows freely. Ideally our chest should be slightly raised and our back should not be rounded in any way, so that our chest cavity is fully open, so that we can breathe more slowly and easily.
It is a good idea before one begins to lift one’s shoulders up and back to make sure the upper back in not rounded.
A very important aspect of the sitting posture is that one’s chest cavity should be open, giving as much internal space to the lungs as possible. This allows one to breathe more slowly. And in Yoga we say, the slower the breath… the calmer the mind. There are many other practices within yoga that help to improve one’s posture, to help expand the chest cavity, and also to practice breathing more deeply and more slowly. These other practices help one’s meditation practice as over time, one’s natural spontaneous breathing slows down and happens without effort, or without applying any attention to it. This can take years to take place, but it is good to remember that many of the other limbs of yoga are there primarily to help one go deeper in meditation.
Depending on one’s body, it can be a very good idea to do some gentle loosening exercises before one starts sitting for meditation, in order to remove stiffness and tightness from the body. If one has the time, over time it can be good to go one’s physical yoga practice before sitting for meditation. One caveat is that this holds true for reasonably gentle yoga practice… and not for very strong vigorous yoga practice such as ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. If our yoga practice is too strong, it can actually agitate one’s internal energies, and these may take some time to settle before one can easily sit for meditation.
After one’s daily meditation practice has become established for a few weeks or months, it can be a good idea to precede one’s meditation practice with a few minutes of pranayama… such as nadi shodana. This can help to bring one’s awareness into a more tranquil meditative state ideal for meditation.
Ideally one should sit cross legged on a half-moon cushion with one heel in close to the groin area, and the other ankle placed on the floor in front of the inner ankle… rather than crossing bones.
If one is quite experienced in yoga or is naturally quite flexible with open hips, then it may be possible to sit in half lotus or full locus position. This should only be practiced if the posture is comfortable, and that one can sit for at least 15 or 20 minutes with no pain or strong discomfort.
If one has difficulty sitting cross legged on a cushion, one should seek the advice of a very experienced yoga teacher who will most likely be able to help you to find a comfortable sitting position with the aid of some blocks, blankets and other props.
To help find a comfortable cross legged sitting position on a cushion, first check whether one can sit on the cushion with one heel close to the groin, and the other ankle on the floor in front of the inner leg.
If the knees are a little ‘up in the air’, try to put some soft foam blocks under the knees to support them. Try to put the same number of blocks under each side.
If the knees are ‘very high in the air’, first place a foam block under your cushion to raise it slightly. The raised cushion may enable you to sit more comfortably, and allow more of a tilt in the pelvis allowing the knees to come closer to the ground. And then place blocks under both knees to support them.
If none of the adjustments above work for you, then seek an experienced yoga teacher to help.
When we practice meditation, it is good to alternate the cross of the legs each day we come to sit. We naturally find it easier to have one leg in close to the groin area than the other. This is because for most of us, our bodies are slightly imbalanced. One side may be slightly stronger, or slightly tighter than the other. If you always sit with the same leg in close to the groin area, this will actually increase the imbalance, rather than balancing it out over time.
As we get older, we may feel some discomfort in knee joints, or stiffness in the hips. It can help to wrap the body in a blanket to maintain heat in the hips, knees and also lower back. This can help prevent some of the aches in these areas.
Best not to sit with your back against a wall…. or on a chair as it is almost impossible to do this without one’s back slumping after a few minutes. When one’s back slumps it affects the inner energies, and almost always results in dullened awareness and scattered thoughts.
Having said that, depending on one’s age and the condition of one’s body, it one has tried all the sitting postures on a cushion with an experienced yoga teacher, and still can’t find a comfortable sitting posture, it can be worthwhile to try a meditation stool, and to kneel sitting on the stool. And if that also does not work, then to sit upright on a chair… but trying to sit upright away from the back of the chair if possible.
Keep your awareness on the breath flowing through the nostrils
The type of meditation we are doing is called ‘breath focussed meditation’.
If one simply focuses on the breath, one’s awareness moves from the chest to the abdomen to the nostrils… with one’s awareness moving … exploring different parts of the body affected by the breath… such as ribs moving etc. While this practice can be good in improving one’s awareness and helping prevent the awareness from wandering and getting distracted by a whole train of thought… it is still a rather looser type of awareness than simply focussing on the breath flowing though the nostrils.
By keeping one’s awareness on the breath flowing through the nostrils, there is a slightly more focussed area of attention, and less likelihood for the awareness to wander.
One allows the body to breath in the natural rhythm that the body is breathing. One does not try to change the rate of the breath, or the forcefulness, or the gaps between inhalation or exhalation. One simply watches the breath… rather than changing the breath. This is one of the keys to meditation, and one main distinction between pranayama and meditation.
However, the slower the breath the calmer the mind. So during our other yoga practices such as the physical asanas, and pranayama we do many other practices to help expand the chest cavity, and to breath more deeply and fully… which over time… over months and years… increases the capacity of our lungs, and gradually over time, our breath slows down. We become much more efficient at breathing, and also become more used to inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils throughout our daily lives. Breathing through the nostrils (instead of the mouth) also helps the energy flow through the Nadis to become more balanced. Through these practices, our breathing becomes deeper and slower, and this in turn then have great beneficial effects on our meditation practice leading us to calmer and deeper states of awareness.
In yoga, we normally inhale and exhale through the nose at all times, rather than through the mouth. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that it helps maintain the energy in the body, and also helps to balance the energies in the main energy channels Ida and Pingala. It is a very good practice to try to cultivate during our whole waking day.
One keeps one’s awareness on the triangular shape formed by the point between the eyebrow centre (which is a trigger point for Ajna chakra) and the opening of the two nostrils.
One keeps about 50% of one’s awareness on the breath flowing in this triangular shape. 25% of one’s awareness on the body as a whole sitting upright and still. And 25% of one’s awareness Open and Spacious.
If thoughts come into the mind, be aware of them, but try not to get caught up in a whole train of thought.
Thoughts will come and go. That is the nature of the mind. We don’t try to block the thoughts.
However we try not to engage in a whole train of thought. If we notice the mind becoming caught up in a train of thought, we can say to ourselves that “we can deal with those thoughts after the practice” and then gently bring one’s awareness back to the breath.
We are not trying to force the mind to become still.
It is through daily, consistent, regular practice that over time of gently bring one’s awareness back to the breath whenever we notice it has wandered off… that in time the mind becomes trained, and gradually starts to wander less and to become calmer. Gradually one’s awareness begins to rest in the spaces between the thoughts. And over time, the space between the thoughts becomes bigger.
It is sometimes likened to watching clouds drifting past a window. The clouds represent the thoughts… and one simply watches them passing by. When they pass out of view of the window… they are just gone. We don’t hold onto them. We don’t follow them on to other thoughts… as in a train of thought. And gradually our awareness rests in that spacious blueness of the sky.
So to repeat… we do not try to block out the thoughts, but we do try to interrupt any trains of thought.
If your awareness wanders, gently bring it back to the breath.
How we practice is very important. It is very important that we are not forceful, or stressed, or overly concentrating. We should not cause tension.
Instead we try to be gentle, even while being vigilant. We are compassionate with ourselves. We don’t give out to ourselves, or become annoyed with ourselves, or become stressed or emotional in any way.
We just accept that thoughts coming into the mind is the Nature of the mind, and when we notice the mind has become caught up in a train of thought, that we gently just bring our awareness back to the breath.
Your attention should be alert and vigilant, yet also soft and gentle.
As mentioned… how we practice is extremely important.
Your attention should not be strained or overly concentrative. It should be soft and gentle, while still being alert and vigilant
If we furrow our brows, or try to concentrate too hard, this can actually introduce stress into ourselves.
If one tries too hard, or is forceful, we can actually agitate our emotions. We can make ourselves stressed.
If this happens, it actually increases the restlessness of the mind and produces more thoughts, and more emotions.
So we need to thread softly and with compassion… being gentle with ourselves, while still being alert and vigilant.
If we try too hard or bring any tension to the practice, this tension can travel deeply inside us.
So the reminder is to “Be soft and gentle” with ‘how’ we do the practice.
If your awareness continues to wander during your practice, it is important not to become cross or upset with yourself, or to stir up the emotions, but to simply continue the practice by gently bringing your awareness back to the breath
The thoughts are one thing that can agitate the mind. However the emotions can agitate the mind much more so.
So it is extremely important that we don’t get annoyed or upset with ourselves in any way. Be compassionate with ourselves, and allow ourselves the consistent daily regular practice for at least 1 month, without having any expectations.
Give our minds time to gradually become trained.
We have allowed our minds to do whatever it pleases… for so many years… and these habits can be deeply ingrained in the mind. So it is important to allow time, in order for the mind to gradually become trained in this new practice… of Awareness. Of not wandering. Of resting in the spaces between the thoughts.
It can take months… it can take years… and in yoga they can it can take life times in order to train the mind.
But after 1 month of daily practice, you should have at least had glimpses of short peaceful states of mind. These may be only seconds… but they are usually inspirational enough for most people to continue the practice having had a glimpse of what states of mind can come through further practice.
So far I have been mentioning these inner peaceful states of mind. But that is only one aspect of the benefits of meditation. There are many more benefits that come as a result of the meditation practice. One starts to feel less stressed. One begins to feel more relaxed and more peaceful during the rest of one’s day. And other people begin to notice this after you have been practicing for a month or so. There are other benefits that come too such as as becoming more in touch with one’s inner being, becoming more in touch with others, feeling more love in one’s heart and more in harmony with others and the whole universe.
You should practice in silence, preferably with your eyes closed.
A large aspect of Meditation is becoming in touch with your own inner being. This involves turning your attention away from the external world and turning your attention inwards.
There are 8 limbs of yoga and one limb of Yoga is called Pratyahara which deals with this whole area of not becoming disturbed by the senses.
In everyday life, we are constantly bombarded by stimuli from the senses… especially though visual stimulation. One easy way to stop some of this is to simply close one’s eyes. This helps one to turn one’s awareness inwards.
Another way is to practice in a place that is very silent, or at least without too many disturbing sounds.
Some of the most disturbing sounds can be other people talking. Because this naturally arouses one curiosity as to what the people may be saying, and can make one listen more intently… thus distracting one’s awareness from going inwards.
Strangely enough, some loud noises such as a train going past may not be as distracting as other people speaking. Many people train themselves to bring their awareness inwards, even in quite loud surroundings.
However it is very difficult to meditate with one’s eyes open. It is almost impossible to not become engaged with what we see through our eyes. There are some forms of meditation (some Buddhist meditation) where one practices with one’s eyes open. Usually the eyes are cast downwards while one is sitting… and one’s eyes are allowed to go ‘out of focus’ as if one is not looking at anything. But this technique is quite difficult for most people to learn.
Your meditation should be practiced first thing in the morning before you eat or drink
One reason for this is that early in the morning, one’s awareness has not had time to become preoccupied by events during the day.
Usually at that early time in the morning, one’s awareness is more fresh and alert, and untroubled and not hazy by tiredness or stress or from thinking.
Another reason is that the last meal one has eaten is probably over 10 hours ago. So the internal process of digestion, and assimilation of food into the body has completed a good few hours ago, and the body has been in stable balance during sleep for the past 6 or more hours.
The old seer’s also noted a time of approx. 1 hour before sunrise, when one was much more likely to enter into higher states of awareness. In India this is usually about 4:00 am. In our more Northern part of the world, sunrise changes during the year and is much earlier in Summer than in Winter.
Many monasteries and spiritual communities rise very early to practice traditionally about 4:00 am
I am not suggesting that we consider doing this, as most if not all of us, also have to do some daily work, and are in relationships and have other responsibilities in life in addition to our yoga and meditation practice.
However, it is a very good idea to keep at least 20 minutes of your early morning free for meditation.
What is recommended is to get out of bed, empty one’s bowels and bladder, take a shower so that one is cleansed and fully awake, and then to sit for one’s practice.
If you eat or drink (even water) you will stimulate the digestive juices. You will stimulate the flow of energy through Pingala channel, and this will make it less likely to balance the energies in Ida and Pingala.
So it is advised, to avoid any food or any drink at least until one finishes one’s meditation.
It goes without saying that taking stimulants such as tea or coffee are definitely not recommended, as these also stir up the internal energies even more so.
Some monasteries or spiritual communities do not eat after 6:00 pm, in order to give a long time without food or drink going into the body before meditation. You may like to consider this as regards what you might ingest late in the evening… or at least try to notice any change in your awareness during meditation the next morning.
Your practice should be at the same time each day, ideally in the same location.
As your body and mind become more used to sitting at the same time each day, it becomes easier to do this. Your body and mind also become prepared for the quiet calm state that ensues, and it becomes easier to enter into these deeper states of awareness.
The more familiarity you can cultivate with the surroundings of your meditation practice the better. It you can do this at the same location this also helps. Many people also say that the location that you meditate, and the cushion or blanket that you use become charged over time with a different type of energy. Whether one believes that this is in your mind, or whether the energy in those objects has changed in itself, by having these objects to use each day for meditation does help. It is also a very good idea not to use the objects for anything else other than your meditation.
Some people like to have a candle nearby or a spiritual picture, or something else that helps inspire them on a spiritual level. I personally don’t use a candle and definitely not incense or I find that it irritates slightly the back of my throat. However in places such as India which can be affected by very strong smells, incense can have a very good role to play.
If you have a lifestyle that does not allow you to meditate in the same place each day, then obviously it is best to meditate wherever you can, than not meditate at all. Better to mediate in the early morning shortly after you wake up… than somewhere else later in the day.
Your practice should be without expectation.
What is recommended is that whatever arises during meditation… whatever thoughts you may have, whatever feelings you may have… whether you see colours or sounds or anything else… is not to pay any heed to it.
Not to get attached to it in any way.
Practically everything that arises during meditation, is usually as a result of inner tensions, or anxieties, or inner conflicts being released.
No matter what arises, one should simply bring your awareness gently back to the breath flowing through the nostrils.
It is advised after your meditation practice, not to dwell on anything that may or may not have arisen, and simply move on with the rest of your day.
Some people think that when they see colours, or images in front of their closed eyes that it is a sign of deeper meditation or some realization or something. However, it is advised not to get attached to these thoughts or feelings, but to simply let whatever has arisen to simply pass.
There are times during your practice over the coming years where you may go through weeks or months of not noticing anything arising… and you may even feel that the practice has become boring and you may question yourself as to why you are doing this practice. This boredom itself is simply an obstacle that has arisen. We are advised to simply accept it, not dwell on it, and to keep going with the practice. And in time this boredom also passes, and one just continues with the practice.
Your practice may not always be calm and peaceful. Sometimes it may become quite disturbed and emotional. All different types of emotions can arise.
Again, one is advised not to become discouraged by this. Not to pay much heed to the emotions that may arise, and to simply continue with the practice. The emotions that are being experienced are simply the ‘feeling level’ effect of some deeper inner phenomenon that are being released.
One teacher who teaches at Burren Yoga describes meditation as likened to the following;
That our minds are like a glass with mud on the bottom covered by water. The mud is like the inner conflicts that we have, the supressed emotions and memories and other mental and emotional tensions that can be buried deep inside us. Some yoga teachings would say this mud is like samskaras and some of these may be as a result of past lives.
Meditation is like pouring pure clear still water into the glass.
One effect of this meditation is that the mud at the bottom of the glass begins to rise up and the water becomes cloudy. However as we pour more water, gradually this mud rises to the surface and actually flows over the edge of the glass, leaving behind less mud and more clearer water. This can take weeks, months, or years for different people.
Over time, we remove more and more mud, and we are left with clearer water.
The measure of your practice is by how many days you practice each month, and not by any experience that may arise during meditation.
If you ever miss any days of practice, just begin again.
They say that learning the meditation practice is as easy as teaching a 4 year old how to brush their teeth.
But to try to get oneself to do the practice each day is a s difficult as getting the 4 year old to brush their teeth each day.
For that reason, it is a good idea to invent certain strategies to motivate and reward yourself to do the practice each day.
The best way to do this, it to break it down into chunks… and focus on one day or a few days at a time, in order to get the practice established.
One can make a solemn promise to oneself that no matter how one feels that you will do at least 10 minutes practice each day for the next 7 days.
And on the 6th day… to make the same solemn promise for the next 7 days.
One can put up a monthly calendar on their wall, and to put in a mark or a sticker on the day they do their practice… and then to look back at the end of the week, or the end of the month to see how well they have been practicing.
The benefits of the meditation is not related to any experience that may arise during the meditation, but rather over time the overall effect that is produced on the rest of your waking day through the daily practice of training your mind
CD to help establish the daily practice of meditation.
They say that the process of meditation, is as easy to learn as teaching a 4 year old child how to brush their teeth.
However that getting the daily practice established, and keeping it up each day, is as difficult as getting a 4 year old child to brush their teeth each day.
There is a CD which has 4 tracks which helps you to establish this practice yourself.
The first track talks you through the process of bringing your awareness through the body, become aware of the body as a whole, and watching the breath. It gives you guidance, and reminders of what to do during the practice.
One practise using this Track 1 every day for the first month, and then one moves on to the second track.
The second track is the same practice with much less instructions, and one practices using this each day for the 2nd month
Similarly the 3rd track is the same practice with less instructions, for the next month.
And the 4th track is almost silent. It reminds you of the various stages to settle and prepare yourself for the practice, and most f it you simply do yourself during the silence. And after the 4th month, you put away the CD and simply continue yourself.
You can see more details about this Meditation CD at