Monday, July 13, 2009

Meditation Techniques for Restless Minds

Image via Katrina Bos

As I mentioned yesterday, meditation is a great way to decrease stress and discover more simplicity (the theme of this week's posts) in our lives. Whether you are a meditative neophyte or you have tried your hand at a few different meditation techniques, I hope to introduce you to a few new ideas for calming your mind. In particular, since so many of us are running on overdrive day in and day out, it can be impossible to suddenly jump to a cross-legged position and clear our minds of any thoughts for an extended period of time. So instead of discussing some of the more intensive meditation methods, such as transcendental meditation, I'm going to touch upon 3 techniques that are good starting points for those of us who have a hard enough time relaxing before bed at night. So go ahead and give one of these methods a try today. Just 10 or 15 minutes of meditation is a great time-frame to start out with. 

1. Breath Meditation

A basic starting point for many new to meditation, breath meditation involves focusing our attention completely on our breath as we inhale and exhale. To begin, find a comfortable seated position (on a chair, the floor, even recliner will do) and close your eyes. Begin to take slow deep breaths while counting, for example inhale for five counts, exhale for five counts. You can slowly increase the duration of each breath as you progress in your practice to obtain deeper, longer breaths. As you count, focus entirely on your breath, on your rib cage and then your whole chest expanding and contracting with each breath, on the feel of the air as it enters and exits through your nose. Be mindful of your heart rate slowing and your muscles relaxing. Continue to focus on your breath and your counts - this is a helpful way to empty your conscious mind of daily worries and thoughts. For visual people, you may find thinking of yourself as giant balloon slowly filling and collapsing. For more visual options, see #3. If this form of meditation is a bit too quiet for you or you have trouble staying still, then try#2. 

2. Motion Meditation

For those who get a little restless when practicing traditional forms of meditation, give one of these physical meditative techniques a try. One option is called the "sweeping house" technique. For this method, you'll want to again find a comfortable seated position and turn your focus to your breath. When you find your attention wandering, take both hands and place them at the nape of your neck. Then, in one fluid motion, move your hands up the back of your skull, forward across the crown of your head towards your forehead, and finally flick your hands away from your head. The idea here is to physically scoop the mind clutter (i.e. distracting thoughts, worry, doubts) from your head and fling them far away. Repeat this motion quickly ten or twenty times, and then return to your breath meditation. 

Still not feeling the seated-meditation vibe? Try walking meditation. In this practice, we are still focused on our breath, but we also draw our focus to the process and sensation of walking. Of course, you'll want to keep your eyes open for this form of meditation and find a quiet, safe place to practice in. Again, as you count your breaths, focus your attention on the movement of your legs, on the sensation as each part of the foot makes contact with the ground, on the gentle rise and fall of your body. Should unintended thoughts arise (this means anything not related to your breath and the mindful awareness of your body's movement), try the mind sweep technique explained above. You my also find a visual component helpful: When I practice walking meditation, I like to think of any negativity I carry in my body as slowly moving from my head down my body to my feet. Then, I picture the dark clouds of negativity being flung out of my body from the tips of my toes with each step forward.

3. Visualization Meditation

For those who think and learn visually, visualization meditation can be an especially rewarding practice. These forms of meditation tend to work best while sitting or lying comfortably, eyes closed. Again, draw your attention to your breath as a way to slow your body's rhythm and center your focus. You may want to try incorporating color visualization, such as envisioning your body slowly filling with increasingly brighter color as you continue your breath meditation. You may choose a color that represents an emotion or state of being you wish to embody. Trying to calm down? Fill yourself with a serene blue. Looking to embody your sensual side and feel more comfortable in your own skin? Imagine your body is emanating a luscious purple. Are you a little more abstract? Think of your body as a garden, working it's way from wilted and parched to lush and thriving as you practice. Maybe each breath brings with it another blossom or more foliage. 

Another great visualization exercise can be found on Steve Pavlina's website titled Visualization-Meditation Exercise

Wanting more?

If you'd like to learn more about the many benefits of meditation and various ways to practice this time-tested art, check out the websites below. Many, including How to Meditate, offer guided meditation videos and audio downloads which can be very helpful, especially when you're just starting out. For now, I'm off to practice some of my own breath and visualization meditation in preparation for a great night of sleep!

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