Buddhist monk in Sirikit Dam by Tevaprapas Makklay
As I’ve said before, in fitness, self improvement and definitely when it comes to the art of meditation, I am by no means an expert. I simply try to absorb as much knowledge like a sponge and apply what is relevant to me at the time. That being said – as I am an absolute newbie when it comes to meditation – I feel pretty qualified to discuss how to meditate for other newbies to give it a whirl too.
This post is not a source of what is “correct”, it is simply what I do and what is working for me and this is what a couple of my readers asked me to write about; how I do it, not how it is done in general as there are thousands of different meditation techniques, guides, books and classes in the world. They asked for what does Fitterstrongerbetter do, and this is what they will receive.
Is this meditation guide for me?
Whether you have never meditated before, have meditated but couldn’t get the habit to stick or get frustrated with the process, this post may help you. If by the end of the series of posts you are still frustrated, talk to me and I will try my best to help.
How to sit while meditating
Your typical “how to teach Westeners about meditation” books you can pick up at your local bookstore written by a white desperate housewife-come-‘healer’ for fellow white desperate housewives may suggest lying down to meditate. I have never heard of or seen the Buddhists and Hindus meditating lying down, they always sit like the man in the picture above; cross legged with their hands on their laps, right hand in the left hand with their palms open to the sky.
If you’re not as flexible as our Buddhist monk above, just try sitting cross-legged normally, as you would see a child do. If you have a bad back or weak muscles in it, try doing it on a chair that can support your spine. Eventually you will want to be able to do it without back support, but you’ll struggle enough with controlling your mind at first, let alone holding your back up properly.
Wear comfortable clothes that are warm as your body temperature will drop, make sure you’ve gone to the bathroom before you start (nothing worse than having to break off your session early because nature calls) and you are somewhere as quiet as possible. Quiet for New York city would be different from quiet in the middle of a field by your house, but we make do with what we’ve got.
Hamsa – I am that
You may have heard the term “mantra” thrown about in popular culture or by reading a few meditation guides online. A mantra is a sound, word or phrase that is believed to have the power of spiritual transformation. There are many, many mantras used throughout Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism that are spoken for different reasons depending on the situation.
However, in regards to getting the meditation technique down-pat, I will discuss the sanskrit mantra hamsa, English translation: “I am that”. First taught by Hindu guru Swami Muktananda, the mantra is split down the middle; ham on inhalation and sa on exhalation.
What I like about hamsa is that it is so flexible; it can have religious meaning if you would like it to, or not.
Meditation has been tied to religion for thousands of years, more years than we could ever comprehend. However, if you are agnostic or Atheist and not seeking religion, but you are wanting to meditate purely to understand yourself better, to learn how to be more present and to help heal a tired or unwell mind; meditation does not have to be about religion, nor do mantras in fact.
As an agnostic, my meditation is drawn away from religion; I am not listening to God, I am listening to the part of myself that my fear, stress and ego drown out with their louder voices.
My hamsa changes every day, yet stays the same in what I am thinking. Before my meditation, I will decide what my “that” is (calm, well, happy, brave, compassionate etc.) and after saying it once out loud before I start, I will only whisper hamsa and only think hamsa not the translation, nor what my “that” of the day is. The repetition of the hamsa is to focus my monkey mind, but I have already told my levels of consciousness what today’s goal is, I do not need to repeat it.
Inhale – “ham” (pronounced “hmm”)
Exhale – “sa”
It is as simple and as complicated at that. Buddhists always say the technique of meditation is easy, mastering it is what takes a lifetime. Notice how hamsa split in to syllables is exactly the noise we make when we breathe in and out? Let that help you, focus on that.
The Buddhists refer to people who think and talk too much as monkey-minded, which couldn’t be more accurate. We will chatter away either internally or externally, moving from one branch to the next, only stopping when exhausted or eating.
By the length of my posts and how much detail I go into when writing, you have probably guessed I am a monkey-mind and you would be correct.
When meditating, I find it infuriating that my internal voices can’t stay quiet. I will go through a rainbow of emotions in a big cycle; calm, angry, happy, bored, restless. I will be calm and happy so long as I feel like I’m doing well, then a random thought will pop into my head and I will clear it, another one pops up and I will clear it, the third time I get distracted, I lose my emotional fitness. This is why I consider myself a newbie, as I can’t control my emotions effectively yet.
Mantras are great for everyone but especially monkey-minds. As described in one of the books I’m reading at the moment; mantras in meditation are like giving a monkey a pile of buttons all the same shape, size and colour and asking it to move them one by one to another pile. The monkey feels like it has been given something to do and is more likely to be successful than if you were to tell it to sit quietly in a room without moving once.
If you get frustrated that you cannot keep your mind focused, ask yourself why it is imperitive that you master this immediately when it takes years for everyone else to get a solid grip on it. Does it make you feel uncomfortable that you can’t do it? Good, it means you are outside your comfort zone and you can learn.
Expect your mind to wander, but trust that you will do your very best to bring it back to hamsa. Just like fitness, we cannot go from nothing to running 10km without problems. Meditation is similar, when you start you have no stamina when it comes to clearing your mind and that is okay. The hard bit is sticking at it and making it become a habit. If you manage to, you will be thankful you did as meditation has many scientifically proven benefits and it is good for the soul.
Try hamsa and let me know how you get on. Be completely honest and if you really struggle then don’t worry because my next post will be techniques that require higher focus and therefore your mind will find it easier to stay where it is meant to be.
Good luck, we’re all in the same boat!