Welcome! This is an introduction to meditation.
I’m so excited that you are interested in starting to meditate!
Why Meditation is Beneficial to Us!
Meditation can help us:
- Find a sense of peacefulness & quietness
- Feel good about our life in the moment
- Feel complete in our skin
- Feel present
- Feel energized & inspired
- Find new ideas
- Feel connected with ourselves and others
Exercise meditation incorporates the meditation techniques listed below. So it’s helpful to understand these techniques so you can get the most out of our Exercise Meditation sessions.
And what’s neat is that by doing Exercise Meditation, you’ll further your sitting meditation practice also!
A Zen Style of Meditation
I think most meditation is about connecting with our breath, body and letting go of our thoughts. This is no different.
However this style is specifically based on teachings passed onto me, which follows a Zen style of meditation that I learned studying at the Honolulu Diamond Sangha.
My overall writings and exercise meditations take from what I was taught and add in my own realizations along the way.
Some Thoughts as You Embark on Your Meditation Journey
Meditation can help us feel like we can finally fully feel our lives and ourselves. It helps me for example feel connected to nature, others and myself. Time seems slower as if I can actually experience each leaf move.
However, in many of my sessions I feel like I’m not meditating or doing it right. The especially quiet moments often come in short snippets, after a long period of crashing waves of noise that I’m trying to pull out from.
Meditation will feel like many tiny steps forward, sideways and then huge steps backwards. It can be frustrating.
My words to you, are words to myself, but what I know to be true; and that is in the dimension of meditation, every step in any direction is meaningful. It’s just not a straight path, or even a path.
I encourage you to stick with some type of practice even when it doesn’t feel like “it’s working”. You got this.
Things You’ll Need
- A firm thick pillow to sit on (a chair can also work)
- Timer (a phone works!)
- Pillow/Blanket for your knees
- Tatami mat
- Pillow/Blanket for your hands
Materials Needed – In Detail
A firm thick pillow to sit on (a chair can also work)
The purpose of a meditation pillow is to have a comfortable seat that will elevate you above your knees so that you can elongate your spine.
A seat that optimizes your focus.
Based on that definition, in no way do you have to meditate on a floor cushion in a fancy looking Yogi position! You can sit on a chair, or a stool.
The best cushions usually have a firm filling. It could be buckwheat, rice, high density foam, or your sofa cushions. They even sell these beachball meditation pillows where inside a meditation cover is a beach ball. This is great for traveling. I haven’t tried just using a beach ball without the cover, but that could be an inexpensive way to get started.
You can also use a thick regular bed pillow and fold it in half. I do this a lot when I travel or if I need to meditate in a different room from where my meditation pillow is.
The main thing is that your hips must be above your knees. This allows for your spine to be straight. Unfortunately a soft pillow that you sink into will curve your back. This will close your chest, making it harder to breathe, and can eventually cause back pain.
Anything can be used as a timer such as a watch, phone, or smart assistant. Timers that just vibrate are a good option so that an alarming sound isn’t pulling you out of your meditation.
However if you were looking for something like a bell sound which is a nicer notification sound, you can check out my free meditation audios that are timed for different lengths. There are also some meditation apps that have timers on them.
Blanket Mat to Sit on
If you have hard flooring versus carpet, then you’ll want to have something soft for your cushion and you to sit on. This cushions your knees.
Pillow/Blanket for your knees (Optional)
In a cross legged position our feet will probably rest on the floor, with our knees slightly above the floor.
If you meditate for long periods or have any knee issues, you might want to support your knees so that they have something for them to rest on. This might also be a solution for you if you find your feet fall asleep regularly during meditation.
Pillow/Blanket for your hands (Optional)
This one is totally optional and likely only needed if you meditate for more than one hour, or if you were like me and have short arms (I’m not actually sure if I have short arms but that’s my reasoning for my need for hand support pillows).
Basically when you put your hands in the mudra position you usually rest it slightly on your thIghs so that your thumb is about where your belly button is.
I find that my shoulders or arms become slightly strained to keep my hands from falling off my legs, especially if I mediate for more than 30 minutes. I usually use my stuffed animal Green bean, but any pillow, sweater, blanket can work to support your hands in the mudra position.
The Sitting Position
The key for your sitting position is that your spine is gently pulled upward so that you can open up your chest, which allows for breath and air to easily move in and out of your chest and body.
When you sit on your cushion, position your butt on the front end of the cushion in a cross legged position. You can also sit on a chair.
Not required sitting positions
If you feel flexible you can, but are not required to, position your feet on your thighs.
These are examples of Yogi looking poses (not required! 🙂
Half lotus: Your legs are crossed legged, or you can position one foot so it rests on the knee of the other.
Full lotus: Both legs are maneuvered to cross over the heels, rest on the opposite thigh.
Hips Above your Knees
The easiest way to achieve an aligned straight spine starting from the base of your butt bone, is for your hips to be above your knees. Tilt your pelvis will tilt slightly forward, versus being tucked under, since that can cause your back to round. If you are sitting towards the front of your cushion this may naturally already happen.
String in the back of your head
The last step to lengthen your spine is to lengthen and straighten your upper back and neck. To do this imagine that there is a string that goes from the back of the crown of your head and that it is pulled up straight up to the sky very gently. This will naturally elongate your upper spine & neck.
In addition you might find that now your gaze is towards the floor and your chin is tucked in. Perfect!
Your gaze should be towards the floor, around 3 to 4 feet in front of you, with your chin slightly tucked in.
Even though I’ve talked a lot about a straight back, your back can still be relaxed. When I first started out meditating at Tassajara zen center I wanted to look like a great meditator. So I would lift up my chest and straighten my back by tightening it a lot. I had back pain at times as a result. Lesson learned was keeping everything relaxed is key (oh and I don’t need to impress anyone with my meditation pose).
Eyes Half Closed
Close your eyes halfway so that it allows for light and some sense of blurry visuals. With your eyes this way you won’t have a clear view of what’s in front of you, which allows you to to focus more on your breath without shutting out all light.
For me I have found that I have a tendency to close my eyes completely. But I learned that if I do that, I have much more visual thoughts and it’s much easier for my mind to run wild.
You’ll be placing your hands in the mudra position about resting your hands on your thigh.
The mudra hand position is when you create a somewhat circle with your handles. To do this place your left hand’s fingers over your right hand’s fingers so that the tips of your fingers end at the knuckles of the opposite hand.
Next, have the front tips of both of your thumbs gently touch. Your hand now forms a somewhat circle, like a mudra.
This works as a good barometer to check where your attention is. You might notice that if your mind starts to wonder your fingers start to drift apart. Or if you are thinking deeply, your fingers press together.
The goal is to keep a gentle tension between your thumbs, as if you are gently holding an imaginary piece of paper between your thumbs.
Counting Our Breathe
Counting Our Out Breathe to 10
That was a lot of words regarding how to position our body! The good news is I can explain what to focus on in 2 sentences.
Count each out-breath until you get to 10. Then start over.
But let’s still break it down.
Count each out-breath
You’re only counting the out-breath. Try to start by saying the number you are counting (for ex. “1”) at the moment the breath starts going out of your body.
And then stop your count the moment the last molecule of your breath leaves your body.
You will naturally notice your inhale in order to catch the exhale count. So although it may seem like the focus is only on the exhale, it’s really continuous attention on the every movement of the breath.
Count each breathe, starting from 1 until 10
As you start to count each exhale, you’ll probably notice then at some point you’ll lose count because of a thought. It’s OK, losing our count is part of the process.
The next step when this happens (and this will happen often) is just to bring your attention back to the count. You can start from where you remember you left off. If you can’t remember you can also start from one, that is OK too.
It’s Ok, Our Mind WILL Wonder & critique ourselves for it
If you were to peek into my mind during meditation, these are some thoughts you would see:
“Oh shoot I’m not counting! Oh my God, I’m terrible at this.”
“Oh darn, I don’t think I’ve been counting for the last 10 minutes. I am not good at this”
“I’m not feeling good, this is not going to work for someone with a busy mind like me!”
“I really need to get back to work. When is the timer up?”
Hopefully, besides insight into the randomness of my mind, you’ll be prepared if any of these random thoughts show up at your place, to let it go.
Finding & Accepting Our Breathe
Another common challenge is letting go of our expectation of what our breath will be.
I’ve often struggled with feeling like I was doing it “wrong” because I expected my breath to be a certain length, have a certain timing or feel a certain way in my body.
This became very clear to me during one of my 8-day meditations. I was sitting there struggling to find my breath. So I would almost exaggerate my breath in order to feel it in my body and sync up my timing. But my chest and lungs would get tired from the constant huge breath movements.
I went to my teacher during a “Dokusan”, a time when a student can talk to their teacher, explaining the issue. He said that was OK.
I left the “dokusan” feeling relieved and also more aware of my control issues. I also decided to just really focus on listening to my breath and counting what I could. I started to see that sometimes my breath was really short, and sometimes super faint.
And in the end it was also OK that I was a little bit more directive in my breathing to get my rhythm. I could even let go of that criticism.
My recommendation from this is to answer worries & criticism with, “That’s OK, I’m doing good.”. And then come back to listening for the out-breath to do our count.
How Long Should I Meditate for?
Any amount that will get you started.
Starting with 3 minutes works. Building up to 5, 10 and even 25 is a good path. However if you can find a time to try a longer 25 minutes session I highly recommend it! Or if you feel up for it, go for 25 minutes or an hour.