Getting Started with Your Meditation Journey
I began my meditation journey over 50 years ago. I had heard stories about people fighting to tame their monkey minds but I had a far greater problem. My mind had been overrun by a troop of baboons.
I started with just taking short naps after being totally exhausted from long work and study days during my senior year in college. I would find a place that was quiet and dark. I tried to be sure I would not be disturbed or be too warm or too cold. I tried various tricks to keep focused including mantras, as the Maharishi promoted the Transcendental Meditation movement back then. Everything worked to some extent and I was blessed by the fact that if I had worked or played hard that day, I would sometimes “pass out” for 20 minutes.
In fact, I stopped calling it my meditation and just called it my 20 minutes. You could set a clock by it. Later in life, my kids would have to observe that quiet time every day when I came home from work. But they seemed to have no problem with it. They would get my 110% attention when I finished my 20 minutes. And sometimes at 19 minutes, they would already be on top of me.
The miracle of getting an extra four productive hours out of my day with just a 20-minute break was magic for me. I did not find out until much later in life that many people had discovered this same path, all with differing approaches. Over time I have studied many of these different methods to get to the same result.
My study of traditional yoga starting in the early 2000s brought me full circle to the realization that the whole purpose of yoga is to find bliss through meditation. The stretching and exercise certainly were good for my body but that turned out to be the side benefit. The yoga approach to meditation was awesome. However, the downside was all the asana, posture, distraction. So, while I prefer to promote the yogic approach, I wanted to come up with a western way for quick results. So with some yogic technique thrown in for good measure, check this out.
It doesn’t get much simpler than this.
- Sit down or lay down in a comfortable low stimulus environment and close your eyes.
- Count your breaths backward from 99.
- When you reach zero, open your eyes, stretch and return to your life.
A Comfortable Position and Place
Once you get the hang of this meditation method, you can do it anywhere and anytime but that takes practice. To get started, it is important to reduce the environmental stimulus and get comfortable. Sitting comfortably for 20 minutes for the uninitiated may be an oxymoron so laying down at first may be preferable. Pick a place somewhere other than your bed. Ideally, it would be on the floor with a small amount of padding like a yoga mat.
Darken the room to reduce visual stimulation. Try to have a quiet place or use earplugs at first. As you get more proficient you will learn to shut out the noise. If cool or cold, use a blanket. If warm, dress down to stay cool. If your lower back is uncomfortable, place a pillow or bolster under the knees. With neck or upper back discomfort, you may want to elevate the head slightly with a blanket or a pillow. Let your arms drape out about 12” from your body with palms facing up. Spread the feet about 12” apart. If you are easily distracted by the light, use an eye pillow or mask.
As an alternative to earplugs, you can also use soothing, relaxing music. Background music will cover most distractive noise and prevent an interruption to the meditation.
If you plan to do this seated, the ideal posture is a comfortable cross-legged seated position on the floor. Place the hands on knees, palms face up to receive energy, and face down if you just wish to be grounded. Close your eyes.
Take your first slow breath in, filling the lungs completely so the belly and chest rise. Raise your shoulders towards your ears. Exhale, roll the shoulders back and down as you count this as breath 99. From here count each full cycle of breath backward to zero.
Sounds easy, right?
You’ll find out pretty quickly that there is a tricky monkey running around in your head pushing your buttons, tweeting your brain, and reminding you of everything you ought to think about instead of not thinking. Like a three old kid that won’t take his nap, this monkey refuses to stop messing with you.
And at this point you say. “Oh, where was I? Um, 98…OK. Guess I can’t meditate. Something must be wrong with me”.
It’s OK. The mind is doing what it is meant to do naturally. It’s just we’re going slow it down a bit. We are going to start by treating our monkey-like newly-met toddler. At first, we are just going to observe. Let the thoughts come and go. But don’t forget to keep counting. “Oh, a, 97.”
This monkey can be quite entertaining at times, with shopping list ideas, stuff we forgot to do at the office, things we would rather be doing now. And darn we forgot what number we were on. “OK, the last one I remembered is 97.” OK start again there.
The first few times you try this, you may just quit after never getting past 86. That’s OK. We don’t call meditation a practice for no reason. Come back again in a few days and try again.
Beyond its numerological significance, a practiced yogi will average about five breaths per minute during this exercise. Breathing will be faster in the beginning and slower at the end. That means that the meditation, without interruptions from monkeys, will take about 20 minutes. And 20 minutes is a perfect meditation cycle time. If you find yourself finishing faster than 20 minutes, start to practice taking in long breaths. Breathing deeper will make you more relaxed and ultimately more effective with your breathing.
To Sleep or Not to Sleep
One of the big questions the meditation initiate is confronted with is sleep. Is it OK or not? First, I think I would have given up on meditation if I had to stay awake. But I was blessed with an internal clock that even if I did fall asleep, I was always completing the meditation in 20 minutes. But I also think that there is a possibility that this extreme deep sleep for only 20 minutes may be truly transcendent and maybe the equivalent of a blissful state.
The frequency of meditation is up to you. I started my path with daily meditation. But once I started understanding the results, I started learning how to adapt the breath and mental disposition to be able to drop into a meditative state in almost any situation. There are so many things we do that can be done while meditating. Going for a walk, washing the dishes are just simple examples that you can bring your meditative state to your daily activity.
Start experimenting. I think you will enjoy the immediate benefits.