Meditation is supposed to induce a simpler, less busy state of mind. But that does not mean that all you need to do is sit down, close your eyes and hey presto: land of peace and bliss! If you’ve tried this you’ll know it’s not that easy. Just as you need to warm up before playing sports, or practice scales to learn the guitar, there are ways to prepare yourself for meditation and other tricks and techniques that can make all the difference.Which is good news. If you have trouble concentrating in meditation or other problems with your practice, there is a lot you can do about it. Here are just ten of the many tips I teach to help people with their meditation.
1. Meditate regularly at the same time, twice a day: If you sincerely want to advance in your meditation it is important to establish a habit of regular practice. One reason to practice twice a day is because the subliminal effect of the mantra carries over for about twelve hours. So if you meditate twice daily this effect will be continuous and will build. Experienced meditators find that if they always meditate at, say, 6am and 6pm, when that time of day comes around they feel like meditating, in the same way that you feel hungry just before your regular meal-time. Optimum times for meditation are near sunrise and sunset. People who are beginning meditation frequently report having difficulty finding the time to meditate. Try writing down everything you do during the whole day for a couple of days. Then look for spaces where you could fit in even a short meditation. Almost everyone has time somewhere in their day when they are doing something less important. Experienced meditators often find that they need less sleep (due to the deep state of physiological rest during meditation), so you may gain back most of your time spent in meditation by sleeping less.
2. Meditate in the same place. Try to arrange a corner or even a small room as your meditation space. Keep it clean and fresh and meditate there regularly. When you go to this space, you will naturally want to meditate. You can really feel this if you meditate in a place where a great Yogi has practiced their meditation for many years. Of course you can meditate anywhere, but it helps to have a quiet and special place dedicated to meditation.
3. Meditate on an empty stomach. After eating, the energy of your body is directed toward the digestive processes at the expense of your mental processes. Think of the sluggishness you feel following a heavy meal. Meditation requires alertness, concentration, mental energy and ‘wakefulness’. It is much easier to meditate with an empty stomach. If you are really famished and your hunger is distracting you, try eating something light like fruit, or drinking some juice.
4. Minimize interruptions: Put your phone on ‘do-not-disturb’ mode and let your friends and family know that during this time you do not want to be interrupted. Close the door, close your eyes and leave the ordinary world behind. This has a deep psychological impact. Give yourself completely to the practice.
5. Meditate in a comfortable, erect posture. When meditation is really working there is a flow of energy upwards through the spinal column. Slumping or slouching impedes this energy flow, impairs breathing and reduces mental alertness. Gentle stretches or warm-ups help prepare the body for meditation. Some people find that putting a small pillow underneath their hips alleviates pressure on the knees and induces better posture by elevating the spinal column. If sitting on a rug, cushion or folded blanket is not comfortable, you may want to meditate sitting in a straight backed chair.
6. Read spiritually inspiring books. Your rational mind, which hopefully keeps quiet during meditation, also needs to be satisfied. Set aside some time each day for reading uplifting books. After meditation, when your mind is calm and clear, take a few minutes for reading.
7. Use Kiirtan chanting music before meditation. Kiirtan means singing or chanting a spiritual mantra. A mantra is a word of group of words, usually in sanskrit, that help sooth the mind and take you into a meditative state. Mantras can be repeated silently in meditation, but some mantras are intended for singing. Music is like a language of emotion – it can shift our emotional state in seconds. With the right music, Kiirtan can put us into just the right mood for meditation in a few minutes. Many experienced meditators consider this an indispensable part of their practice.
8. Breathing. It is well known that breathing deeply and slowly calms the mind. But what few people understand is the difference it makes to your mind depending whether you are breathing through your right or your left nostril. If the flow of air through your left nostril is stronger, you will be able to concentrate much better in meditation. It is easy to check which nostril is dominant. Just place your hand beneath your nostrils, breathe out, and you will feel which nostril emits a stronger flow of air. If your right nostril is dominant you can change it by lying on your right side with your head on your right arm for a few moments. The left nostril will become dominant and you should now sit for meditation. I know this may sound kind of weird, but it really works. I explain why in my article, The Nose Knows, but for now I suggest you just take my word for it and try it.
9. Talk to a Meditation Teacher. I am one of many teachers who work with the Ananda Marga spiritual movement. Ananda Marga means ‘The Path of Bliss’ and the association propagates the practices of meditation, yoga and social service. Find out more about it on the website www.pathofbliss.org A teacher in this system is known as ‘Acharya’ which means ‘one who teaches by example.’ If you talk to an Acharya you can get personal instruction, free of charge.
10. Meditate with a group regularly and attend retreats whenever you can. The experience of chanting and meditating in a group is quite different than practicing on your own and is a great source of inspiration and support. Meditation retreats are an opportunity to go much deeper in your practice. This is where many people have their first intense meditation experience. Ananda Marga conferences, classes and seminars offer you a chance to enjoy the powerful energy generated by the group chanting and meditation, form new friendships and learn more about your practice the ageless philosophy of yoga.