‘Meditation is boring’. ‘I can’t stay awake’. ‘Are the 10 minutes over yet?’ These are the wonderful sounds of the beginner meditator. I have been there many times over and on a sleepy day I can still have issues of staying awake as the beautiful, calming effect of meditation sets in. But thankfully there’s a way to curb these types of issues. I like to think of it as my Meditation Mix-Tape.
I had been to a number of beginner meditation classes and used a number of apps over the years and it starts much as you’d expect. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths in and out. Focus on the breath…and so on. The problem is, when starting to learn meditation, you can begin to lose focus or start drifting off to sleep. In one of my first meditation classes I fell asleep and even started snoring! How embarrassing…
Firstly, I wish to make clear that I’m not a meditation master; I’ll leave that to the many celebrated and revered teachers across the world who have deeply practiced for decades. This isn’t a post for an advanced meditator who understands levels of yoga beyond simple breathing techniques. This is for the beginner meditator, who has already some experience with breathing meditation*. I have compiled some tips I have picked along the way. I found these very useful and have formed them into the foundations of my ‘meditation mix-tape’. This post is also for a few of you who have asked me for advice about meditation previously.
One of my tutors had once told me to open my eyes when meditating to avoid falling asleep and another told me to chant. I began to realise the diversity beyond breathing that you can focus on in order to begin to be disciplined about meditation. Each have their own unique qualities when bringing them into practice. There are 5 other ‘beats’ I like to add to breathing on my mix-tape if I’m struggling to maintain focus: sight, chanting, listening, touch, and body scanning.
Starting with sight, this form of meditation is often advised by tutors and masters when you’re struggling to stay awake during a practice. To engage with it, you simply softly gaze into the space in front of you and become aware of your surroundings. However, I also like to make a little addition that I learnt from a fellow student who was on my Indian Head Massage course when we both were still training for our qualification. She was always full of such bright energy. When I asked what her secret was, she told me that one thing she likes to do is absorb the energy of the colours around her. For example, she may see a vibrant red and it will bring about such liveliness with it that she would soak it in, as if it were sunlight. I often use this technique when I am feeling that my energy has depleted. I find this very useful when doing sight meditation and also feel more connected and thankful for my very colourful environment.
The next form of meditation is chanting. Some meditation practices feature chanting as a standard. I find chanting a very beautiful form of meditation. It helps to immediately have a calming effect as you draw the breath in and then slowly exhale whilst singing a note or a mantra. I find the exhalation to have a lot of control and added length compared to a standard breathing-in-and-out meditation. Sometimes one chant-exhalation can last for minutes after many months of practice! I like to close my eyes and feel the vibration of my own chant fill my body, almost like a beautiful massage. It certainly is a favourite of mine when I’ve had a particularly hard day. I will get my healing bowl, strike it and try to draw upon its calming quality in whichever note I choose to sing.
Listening meditation is very powerful. Have you really taken time to just sit and listen to the world around you? I like to close my eyes and listen intently. When I lived in London, I could hear all sorts of interesting noises! Police sirens, birds, people laughing, rustling of plastic bags as people carried their shopping home, the sound of the electrics running through the house…all of these noises were rising and falling all the time but often I never took notice. Now I live in a quiet village and here I can hear many birds and even the distances in relation to where I am sitting. Some are far away, others on the tree in the garden. Then I may hear a car door close in the distance, a rustling of leaves in the wind and my cat trying to sneak up on me whilst I’m sitting in silence (she loves to listen to the healing bowl after it has been struck and then proceeds to sit inside it!). Listening meditation is wonderful. It’s definitely one I recommend to musicians.
Touch is an interesting form of meditation. It is sitting with awareness of what you can feel around you. Notice if the chair or ground is soft or hard beneath you. Feel your clothing on your skin – areas where it may be tight and constraining or free flowing and loosely hanging. Feel the sensation of the materials – the nice soft fabric or perhaps slightly coarse and dense. Even nicer is meditating outside and feeling the breeze gently caress your skin.
Further to this is body scanning. Don’t stop at feeling what you can feel by touch…notice how your body feels! Notice the areas that feel tight or ache. Notice other areas that feel supple. Notice if your body feels energised or weary. I often like to incorporate the body scan into any meditation session I do and later either stretch out the tight areas or get a massage/acupuncture if I have any particularly aching areas.
So there you have it, the meditation mix-tape. When you’re next pausing for a moment, enjoy the additional sensations that you can experience in the here and now beyond your standard breathing practice.
*For those who haven’t meditated before, here is a brief outline on basic breathing meditation that I previously shared in my post Your Mental Health 5-A-Day:
Sit comfortably on a chair or cross-legged on the ground. Gently close your eyes. breathe deeply through your nose into your abdomen and then breathe slowly all the way out through the mouth. Repeat three times as a calming measure. Then breathe normally. Notice the fluidity (or lack of!) the breath. Notice where it starts and the paise between the inhalation and exhalation. Feel the air entering your nostrils and the sensation of it exiting. Feel its rhythm. Just be with the moment, without distraction.
Continue for a minimum of 10min. Then slowly move your hands and feet. Regain your senses and slowly open your eyes. Your meditation session is complete.