Contributing Author, Jenifer Kinder, YTT-200
Meditation seems to be the new craze, and with good reason! Anyone of any age can meditate. In fact, many schools are now incorporating meditation into their curriculum. Mediation does not interfere with any religious beliefs or practices. It does not require a unique location or fancy props. So then what exactly IS mediation, and what is necessary to achieve it?
Meditation is a practice of mindfulness and relaxation. Learning to meditate is like learning any other new skill. It takes consistent practice, and you will find it gets a little easier each time. Many people believe that they will not be able to achieve a meditative state because they “can’t turn their mind off” or find it challenging to sit still for a long time. Meditation is not so much about clearing your mind or sitting perfectly still, but learning to observe your thoughts and feelings, both emotional and physical, without judgment. It is being mindful of anything residing within you at that very moment. It is letting yourself “just be”.
One of the best ways to begin a meditation practice, or to change up your usual routine if you already have a method, is to be outside, in nature. Many times, people will use special music to meditate, or a voice-guided meditation. These are fantastic tools to add to your meditation. But there is nothing quite like the natural sounds and scents of the earth to help you center yourself.
How to Start Meditation
Find a location where you will be comfortable to sit or lie down.
This could be in a park, at the beach, your backyard. Try to find a space where it is unlikely you will be disturbed. Blankets and pillows are always helpful but not necessary. Make sure to turn off your phone so that you will not be distracted during your practice.
Position yourself so that you are comfortable and have support.
You can sit or lie down. If you are lying down, you can stack a rolled-up blanket or two under your knees to help support your low back. If you are sitting, sometimes it is helpful to sit up against something so that your spine stays straight. A tree is a great companion for meditating!
Prepare to meditate by closing your eyes, glancing down, or softening your gaze, bringing awareness to your breath.
Notice any sounds, smells, or sensations you may be experiencing. If any thoughts come to you, acknowledge them, thank them, and let them go. Always come back to the breath when the mind wanders. Try to take deep breaths in through the nose, filling up your entire abdomen with fresh, clean air and then exhale through the nose, nice and slow.
Keep repeating this breathing pattern, in through the nose and out through the nose. Sometimes it is helpful to count your breaths. On your inhale, you can start at 40. On your exhale, silently say 39, inhale 38, and so on. If you lose your count, you can start back at 40. Nothing needs to be perfect. Just breathe.
Scan your body, staying with the breath.
Starting down at your feet, imagine you are sending the breath down to your feet. Then send that breath and awareness up through the ankles, calves, fronts, and back of the knees, upper legs, hip area, and then around to the low back. Keep breathing and send the breath to the abdomen and middle back. Send your awareness to the upper back, releasing any tension you may be holding onto in the shoulders. Relax the neck. Make sure your jaw is unclenched. Keep breathing in through the nose and out through the nose. Send that awareness to the face, relax the facial muscles and the eyes. Allow the back of your head to relax. Breathe!
Be present in the moment.
Now that you have completed your body scan, you may notice your breathing has slowed, or you’ve stopped counting in your head. Whatever is happening is all perfectly fine. You may be starting to feel heavy and extremely relaxed. You may even drift in and out of light sleep. Breathe into anywhere you may still be holding onto any tension. Relax your body. Relax your mind. Let the sounds and scents around you become a part of you. Imagine flying with the bird you hear chirping. Relish in the warmth of the sun. Breathe in the fresh, clean air, maybe noticing how the breath feels on the tip of your nose. Notice how the earth feels beneath you. You are becoming one with your mind and body as you practice your meditative state. You are absorbing the vibrations of the earth and all the healing and nurturing we can get from nature. You can stay in your meditation for as long as it feels right for you. Your body will let you know when it is time to come back to the real world.
Wake your body and mind.
When you feel your meditation is complete, give yourself a few moments to “wake” your mind and body back up. Sometimes it is helpful to wiggle your fingers and toes. You can do a lovely body stretch. Listen to your body. Take your time. When you are ready, you can slowly blink your eyes open and come to a seated position if you are not already in one. Now take a few moments to sit in nature, eyes open, still breathing your mindful breaths. Take time to look around and observe your surroundings. Thank yourself for allowing your mind and body to take a much-needed break, no matter how long or short your meditation was. Take a moment to thank the earth as well!