Note: This article represents an hour long meditation session which has been edited into an article to give an overview of what to expect from Applied Awareness meditation sessions. It’s not unusual to learn more in an hour or two in these meditation sessions than others who have meditated for years.
The first Applied Awareness meditations everyone learns are deep relaxation meditations. These help build concentration, provide a great overview of how our minds work, and are an excellent way to relieve stress.
But we’re not going to just start meditating. Instead we’re going to talk about meditation and how it works first, because the more we know about meditation and what we’re trying to accomplish, the more we can get out of it.
So to start with, what is meditation? How does it work? Why am I here? These are the things we need to understand up-front so we can settle in and get the most of our time here.
Let’s start with what is meditation? We all have ideas about what it is or we wouldn’t be here. The question seems simple enough, but unless you’ve heard me or someone who’s meditated with me talking about it, you might have a hard time pinning it down. So lets discuss the basics, which are that everybody already meditates, whether they know it or not. Any time we sensor ourselves around children, we’re meditating. We all choose to act differently around different people, and in different situations, and are usually aware of it. That’s meditating. Most of us take a deep breath to relax or re-focus from time to time, and that’s meditating. So whether we knew it or not when we showed up here today, we already meditate.
Meditation is just a word we use to describe purposely sidetracking or suspending our habitual auto-pilot mental activity. Until we have more experience meditating, we go through the majority of life on auto-pilot. But we don’t have to. We can gain more control of our lives by learning more about how our mind works, and how meditation works. This is why we meditate.
Before we get started it’s also a good idea to talk about relaxing, because it’s something we’re going to try to do when we meditate. We’ve all had different experiences in life, so how we interpret and react to concepts like relaxing can be very different. There was a meditation session a couple of months ago where an elderly woman told me she could never relax, and that the more she tried to relax, the more agitated she became. At the end of the class where we pass the attendance sheet around, she asked her daughter, “Can you put my name down for me, I’m still relaxing.” So the problem isn’t that we can’t relax, just that we might have a different understanding of what that means based upon our own experiences. So when I say “relax”, I mean to just let your body be limp and fall asleep, noticing any muscle tension, and releasing those muscles.
Now that we have a little more information, we’re ready to start meditating. Go ahead and lay down, close your eyes and get comfy. I prefer everyone lay down and get as comfortable as possible. I know a lot of people think you need to sit in an uncomfortable posture to meditate, but I want you to be as comfortable as possible so you can concentrate on what we’re here to do.
Now take a deep slow breath in, hold it for a few seconds and slowly let it out. Then do it a second time. Taking a deep breath is naturally relaxing. It works by distracting us for a moment away from our normal thought process, and even that brief distraction is enough to help us relax a little.
Starting with your face, relax all the muscles in your face. It’s OK to wiggle your nose or jaw if you need. Relax your neck, go ahead and move your head from side to side if you need. Relax your shoulders and arms, shrug or rotate your shoulders if it helps. Relax your hands, wiggling your fingers is fine. Relax your back, and abdominal muscles, it’s OK to wiggle around a little. Relax your butt muscles, your legs and your feet. It’s OK to wiggle your legs and toes if you need, I usually do. Just let your body be completely limp.
Now notice your breathing. We’re going to pay attention to breathing in and out. Some people can notice the feeling of breathing in their diaphragm, or feel the lungs filling with air, and some feel the air at their nostrils. Use whichever is easiest for you to pay attention to…and with each exhale let your body relax deeper end deeper…let it fall completely asleep…and we’re going to continue to do this for the next ten minutes or so.
If you have problems paying attention to your breathing, you can help draw your attention to it by counting breaths from 1 to 5, and then start over at 1 again…and just keep paying attention to breathing in and out while letting your body relax deeper with each exhale.
During live meditation sessions there are normally three to four 10-12 minute segments after which we sit up to restore our normal blood flow while I ask for input on how well each person was able to relax, and to suggest adjustments to help them hone in. The reason we normally go 10-12 minutes is because that’s an average time frame we can concentrate before becoming distracted and uncomfortable. I would much rather you be able to concentrate on what you’re doing for a few minutes at a time, than fight with yourself trying to concentrate for longer periods. It’s not about how long we meditate. Meditation shouldn’t be an endurance event. We’re trying to learn about ourselves and gain a measure of peace in our lives. Yes, our minds are going to wander off while we meditate, and when we notice it, we just go back to concentrating on what we were supposed to be doing without thinking about it. We can think about it when we’re done meditating, but while we’re meditating it’s the only thing we need to be doing.
The next couple of 10-12 minute segments include adding more dynamic elements to pay attention to in addition to paying attention to our breathing and letting our body fall asleep. By dynamic I mean something not constant, like the sounds around you, or the feeling of the breeze or an oscillating fan on our skin. What we are doing is adding more elements to pay attention to until the mind becomes naturally still, and not too many elements that we can’t keep track of everything. Here everyone will be different, so the last 10-12 minutes will be returning to using the combination which had provided the greatest mental relaxation. What we’re doing in these early deeply relaxing meditations is building concentration while we learn how our minds work.
Speaking of how our minds work, what do our minds do? They think of course, but what exactly is thinking…how does it work? We’ll discuss that in our next meditation article.