There are an infinite number of ways to meditate, and just about infinite benefits that come from consistent meditation. The most important benefit, as it relates to coping with illness, is that meditation turns off our stress response system. This allows our body’s energy to be directed to repair and rejuvenation.
Mediation is particularly important for me because last week my doctor took me off all of my blood pressure medications. My potassium was becoming a concern and he felt that my meds may be contributing to that. Kidney disease is causing my elevated blood pressure, and without meds, it is imperative that I take natural steps to keep things under control.
Meditation, especially traditional forms of Eastern meditation, can become quite precise. However, I’ve found that each time I place lots of rules on how I meditate, I spend the entire session wondering if I’m messing up and correcting myself.
Over the years, I’ve learned that compassion is the most important ingredient to successfully meditate which actually means that it doesn’t matter if you do it “correctly” or not, just as long as you try.
When I finally realized this, I began experimenting with different ways to meditate to see what worked best for me. Here are 5 styles I have come to enjoy:
- Repeat a Mantra: Choose a word, or sound, to repeat. It can be: love, spirit, unity, om, or anything that speaks to your heart. The word can be said silently or out loud. It is used as a touch point to place your attention on. Each time your mind wanders (which it absolutely will), gently release the thoughts and guide your attention back to your mantra.
- Listen to Classical Music: Just like the mantra, the music is used as a touchstone. Don’t analyze the melody, instrumentation or transitions, allow the music to be present as it is and gently place your attention on it.
- Body Scan: My father taught me this meditation. Sit or lie down comfortably. Start at your toes and visualize deep relaxation and light filling the entire area. Move from your toes to your feet, legs, abdomen, torso, back, arms, neck, face and head. Fill each area with relaxation and light. Move very slowly through each part of your body. Once your head is glowing in your mind, allow the light to shine forth from your body to the world.
- Passing Clouds: This has been one of the most powerful meditations I’ve done. Sit with eyes closed and relax with a few deep breaths. As thoughts come in, watch them, without becoming involved, just as you would watch a passing cloud. Allow thoughts to enter and exit your mind easily. No resistance, no judgment, passive observation. This is a good way to show yourself that you don’t need to become involved in your thoughts. They are just passing through.
- Look at Something: Like the mantra and music, anything can be used to place your attention on: a candle, flower, tree, etc… You can even do this as an evolving meditation while walking and allow the passing visuals to come and go, always placing your attention on what is present at the moment. Many parents have experienced this type of mediation while watching a child sleep. The peace and simplicity of the sight brings peace within.
The Bonus: The bonus meditation is the one I have been working the most with recently. I call it living meditation. It is a constant intention to allow life’s experiences to move into and out of our awareness without resistance. All feelings, thoughts, sensations are welcomed and observed without judgment. Do I do this perfectly? Definitely not! But it’s the commitment to try that makes the difference. I find that thinking of my whole life as a meditation makes me less involved in the dramas my mind likes to create. And that is a blessing.
Another tip for meditation is to set a timer. If you want to meditate for 20 minutes, a timer will prevent you from worrying about what time it is. You can relax into your practice and know that you will be notified when it is time to wrap things up.
Meditation is a commitment to be present with your life. To allow our experience to be what it is without resistance. We simply place our attention again and again on this moment.
If you would like some instruction from people who really know what they are taking about, I highly recommend these books:
- Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of the Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zin
- Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg
What is your favorite way to meditate?