The Marvels of Mindful Meditation
Meditation has a long history, but it’s just as useful today as it ever was. We use meditation, along with meditative breathing techniques, to bring ourselves to a deeper state of presence and clarity of consciousness. It can connect us with the subtler parts of ourselves and our ways of being.
Not to mention, meditation has been scientifically proven to positively influence both our physical and mental health. It can not only reduce stress, but also inflammation in the body as well. The same cannot be said for time spent on social media! So the next time you feel the urge to keep scrolling, try these exercises instead, and experience the difference of spending a few minutes with yourself, rather than distracting yourself.
Today we’ll discuss three techniques—conscious breathing, mantra meditation, and a body scan for deep sleep—that can be done separately or sequentially, for both a better day and a better night’s sleep.
I love designating two 5-minute windows each day for this exercise.
Choose a place where you will not be interrupted. I personally find sitting in my (parked) car, in the backyard, or even in my closet to be wonderful options. Keep in mind that a public place can be a great option. A stranger is far less likely to interrupt you than your spouse, kids, boss, or dog!
Set an alarm for 5 minutes, and make sure to choose one that is soothing. If you use an iPhone, I recommend “Slow Rise” on a low volume setting, so it’s not too jarring when it goes off. There are also a number of meditation apps, such as Insight Timer (my personal favorite), that offer a variety of gongs, bells, and soft whistles that may be appealing as well.
- Close your eyes. If you’re in a public space, first ensure your personal items are safe.
- Take 3 centering cycles of breath: Inhale deeply through your nostrils, filling as much of your diaphragm and chest as possible. Hold at the top of the inhale for a brief moment. Exhale fully through your mouth, without force, just a nice steady release. Repeat 3 times.
- For the remainder of the 5 minutes, continue breathing with your eyes closed. No need to continue pausing at the top. Just breathe in and out naturally. With your mind’s eye*, observe yourself breathing. Experience the feeling and sensations in your body as you inhale and exhale. Feel the air entering your nose, filling your lungs. On the exhale, experience the subtle warmth of your breath. Resist the urge to change or control your breathing pattern after you have completed the initial 3 “settling breaths.” As thoughts enter your mind (and they will), simply acknowledge them, then release them, and return your attention to the experience of your breath.
- When you hear your alarm, simply turn it off and sit for another minute or longer with your eyes open and relaxed, taking in your surroundings.
- If time permits, take a few moments to jot down how you felt mentally and physically prior to starting the exercise, versus how you felt when it ended.
- I recommend doing this exercise once in the morning and again in the evening. It’s a great habit to get into before entering your place of work, perhaps while sitting in your parked car or on the subway, then again in the evening before entering your home. It is a wonderful way to start—or reset—any part of your day.
- Be patient with yourself. As with any new activity, it will take some time for you to start feeling comfortable. But it is amazing how fast the positive changes come on. Enjoy!
*Mind’s eye- what you see in your mind, your inner seeing, versus what you see with your eyes. The sight of imagery, imagination and intuition.
Mantra Meditation: “So Hum”
Mantra meditation … what does it all mean? Well, the tradition we’re going to discuss today is from the East, where the mantra that’s repeated over-and-over does not necessarily have, or need to have, a meaning for the practitioner.
In Western society, there are popular practices using mantras with the intention of reinforcing a positive attitude in oneself, such as repeating aloud “I am a strong, accomplished, and kind person,” while looking at themselves in the mirror. This can also be a beneficial practice but should not be confused with what we are learning here.
The objective of today’s mantra meditation is to clear the mind. That is to say, “calm the fluctuations of the mind.” If we imagine the mind is the sea, our aim is a glassy, tranquil surface, rather than tumultuous, crashing waves.
If you are new to meditating, start with short sessions, 5-10 minutes long, and gradually work your way up to 20 minutes. And remember … be gentle with yourself. If you’re always on the go, like I am, know that restlessness is normal, but it will subside.
Once again, set a non-abrasive alarm bell to gently alert you when your meditation is over.
- Sit comfortably, either…
- In a chair with legs uncrossed and feet on the ground, and your eyes closed.
- On the floor, or meditation pillow with your legs crossed, and your eyes closed.
- Take a few moments to practice your conscious breathing from above before beginning the mantra.
- With lips gently closed, transition into inhaling and exhaling through your nostrils.*
- With each inhale, say silently in your mind “So.”
- With each exhale, say silently in your mind “Hum.”
- Continue with this patterning until you hear your alarm
- When the alarm rings, turn the alarm off and sit for another minute or longer with your eyes open and soft, taking in your surroundings. Resist the urge to check your phone immediately, instead recognizing the new space you’ve created for yourself.
*If you find it uncomfortable only breathing through the nostrils try inhaling through the nostrils and exhaling through the lips.
Body Scan For Sleep
Body Scanning is a wonderful technique to do before bed. There are many times I don’t even complete this exercise, as it just soothes me right off to sleep. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t recall where I left off, but I know I had a good night of rest.
If you’re doing this in the middle of the day and do not want to fall asleep, sit upright in a chair, preferably non-rocking. The upright version will most likely leave you feeling calm and refreshed*, as though you took a power nap. To do this version, follow the same instructions below, just sitting upright in a chair. Set an alarm for 22 minutes with a soothing bell to alert you when your session is over. Before resuming your activities, sit quietly with your eyes partially open for 1-2 minutes, taking in your environment.
- Turn off any other sounds or alerts in the room so you can lay quietly and undisturbed.
- Lay down on your back, either in your bed or other comfortable quiet and safe place. You may cover yourself in blankets if you desire.
- Place your arms by your side, palms turned up if this is comfortable for you.
- Let your legs be separate from one another and naturally turned out.
- Take 3 “centering breaths” in and out. In through the nose, and out through the mouth.
- With your mind’s eye, bring your awareness to your right foot. Feel the skin, muscles, and any sensations in the foot. Resist assigning any meaning to what you feel, just allow yourself to become present with that part of your body. Then, imagine breathing air into your right foot. As you exhale, imagine the skin and muscles of the entire foot relaxing.
- Do these awareness, breathing, and imagery exercises 1-3 times for each body part listed below moving through your entire body. As you get more familiar with the exercise, you can get more specific than what I have detailed here. Enjoy!
Try this exercise 1 or more days a week. It can be done daily for optimal results.*
- Right toes and foot
- Right lower leg and knee
- Right upper leg and hip
- Left toes and foot
- Left lower leg and knee
- Left upper leg and hip
- Pelvis and genitalia region
- Lower back
- Mid back
- Upper back
- Stomach and abdominals
- Right shoulder
- Right upper arm and elbow
- Right lower arm and hand
- Left lower arm and hand
- Left upper arm and elbow
- Left shoulder
- Neck and clavicle (Collar bone)
- Jawline and cheekbones
- Forehead and brow
- Back of the head and upper neck
- Top of the head
- Full body
*If you finish not feeling refreshed like you just took a nap you may not be getting the right quality/amount of sleep at night. Try this exercise before bed, 8-9 hours before you need to wake up.