Why We Meditate (And How To Do It Better)
Meditation is a powerful tool for easing stress and making space to connect with yourself. The goal is not to stop your mind but to keep it’s frantic, skeptical and controlling side from running your whole life. Yet, making that connection can so easily be lost in the discomfort and agitation of sitting. When sitting is a challenge, all you think about is how uncomfortable you are. Here are some tips to stack the odds in your favor so you learn to meditate and establish a consistent meditation practice.
Move First, Sit Second
A restless body leads to a restless mind and both make it more difficult to sit still. When you meditate the point of stillness is the entryway to peace and healing. The pause allows time for self-reflection. You can act from a place of inner alignment, rather than react and you gain the ability to see and then change unhealthy habits.
If you expect to go from running around busy to your zen-like happy place in one step, you’re setting yourself up for failure. To make make mind and body more at ease, a little movement should be done before meditation. The level of intensity will vary day to day and depending on your fitness level. Consider a walk, a run, or some yoga asana.
Sit Up Straight
Posture is important in meditation for several reasons. For one, sitting up straight keeps your mind alert —when you slouch, it’s a sure sign your mind has drifted off. Also, if you think of the column of your spine as a conduit of energy (and it is, it’s the core circuitry for the electrical currents of the nervous system) you want the channel to be open, not kinked or closed off. Lastly, it’s safer for the discs in your lumbar spine.
Sitting up straight requires some effort, but it shouldn’t be so much as to cause suffering or the kind of agitation that nags at your mind and pulls you out of center. Stretching your hips and hamstrings gives your low back a chance to be in better alignment and relieves some of the agitation that happens when sitting. Here are some yoga poses to prepare for seated meditation:
- Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose)
- Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
- Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
- Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
- Adho Mukha Eka Pada Rajakapotasna (Downward Facing Pigeon Pose)
- Sucirandrasana (Reclining Figure Four Hip Stretch)
When sitting, there are some simple landmarks to help guide you into optimal alignment. The most critical part of your posture, from a safety point of view, is your low back. When you sit for meditation, or for anything, your low back needs to move in and up to support the natural curve there.
If, when you sit, your low back is rolling back and/or down, and your back is hunched, you are at risk for injury. Instead, you want to get your lumbar spine forward in reference to your pelvis. The easiest solution is to elevate your hips on a pillow, a zafu or a folded blanket. Check in a mirror to see for yourself. Alternatively, sit with your back against a wall for support but do continue to lift up from inside.
Second, get your knees at or below your front hip bones. When your knees are high it means your low back is rounded and you’ll be straining to sit upright. Again, elevate your hips but keep your knees and feet off of the cushion so they’re lower. This opens your hip flexors and makes it easier to sit calmly and move into meditation.
Consistency Is Key
Meditation is cumulative. It’s a bit like cleaning your house —do a little each day and it’s much easier than waiting to do it once a month. Start with just a couple minutes, and commit to a week of that. Once you’ve got a pattern established, then you can increase time if you want.