It will be helpful to consider some logistical issues and tips on how we might encourage ourselves in meditation.
Sit in the right position. Sit in a way that helps you feel physically at ease and mentally alert. It is helpful to keep the spine more or less straight and to hold the upper body erect as if you were pulling it up slightly.
If your spine is straight, your breathing will be natural, the flow of energy will be unimpeded, and your mental functioning will be unhindered. If you are sitting on a chair, the soles of your feet should rest flat on the floor if possible. It helps you to be grounded.
It is not beneficial to lean against anything unless you need to. Do not keep any object on your lap, as it could cause a subtle distraction.
Decide whether to keep your eyes closed or open. It is better to keep your eyes open, because this facilitates clarity and wakefulness.
If you are not an accomplished meditator, however, then it will be easier and more appropriate to keep your eyes closed, as this will prevent you from seeing any distracting physical objects or movements.
So your eves can be open or closed, depending on your needs. If you choose to meditate with your eyes open, try keeping them half open and looking into space about two feet beyond the tip of your nose.
Relax the muscles. If you feel tight or tense, slowly and gently tighten all the muscles in your fists and then the muscles of your whole body. Then release them with a feeling of relaxation in the muscles. Enjoy the feeling of relief from the tightness and repeat this a few times if you like.
Breathe naturally. Breathing normally and naturally is a great support for meditation. The relaxation can be deeper if you relax your stomach muscles, so that the breath comes freely from the area of the diaphragm. Also, it is relaxing to keep your mouth slightly open, even if you are breathing through your nose.
Breathing techniques vary according to the purpose of your meditation, whether it's to foster a contemplative state or to encourage the movement of energy. Mostly, you are interested in natural, relaxed breathing that promotes a calm mind.
If your breathing feels stifled or uncomfortable while you are meditating, do one of the following exercises:
• Concentrate more on two aspects of the breathing, inhaling and exhaling, with the inhalations shorter and the exhalations longer. Or count your breaths. An especially relaxing exercise is to simply focus on your exhalations. This releases tension and frees up the breathing.
• If your breathing seems constricted, bring your awareness to the feeling of the breath's being held back or blocked. Don't try to do anything about it but just be in touch with that feeling. Then exhale a deep breath and think and feel that the constriction is entirely cleared, and all blockages are totally blown away, like unclogging a faucet. Feel and believe that your breathing is now moving naturally.
SOME TIPS FOR MEDITATION
During meditation, if you experience uneasy sensations — pressure, stress, suffocation, worry, or pain — you could use any of the following exercises that you find appropriate:
• Take a couple of deep breaths and expel the sensation of worry or discomfort with the outgoing breath. Feel the peace.
• With the outgoing breath, send the sensation far away in the form of dark clouds that dissolve into the open, empty, clear sky.
• Think of the word and feeling of "boundlessness."
• Think and feel that your body is boundless, that even its cells are boundless. Allow your breathing to relax in the boundless feeling, as though your breath were totally free and without limits or constrictions.
• Think and feel that all the cells are breathing, in and out, directly through the pores of your body.
• Imagine your body as if it were a body of light. Light is intangible and free. Feel what that would be like.
• Be aware of any uneasy sensation in an open way, without judging it and without wanting to push it away or cling to it. Continue to breathe naturally and remain in the state of mere awareness. Open awareness is considered a high form of healing and can help anyone, during meditation as in the rest of life.
• If you feel as if you were floating, imagine that your body is filled with light that somehow has a heavy quality. Although light is insubstantial, we could think of it as heavy, the way air is weighed down by moisture or the way the earth's atmosphere exerts air pressure. Or just remain in open awareness of the floating sensation, without judgment, worry, or grasping.
DURATION OF MEDITATION
People often ask me how long and often to meditate. No one way suits everyone. Spending more time is better, but it depends on the individual's needs and potential. If you have demands on your time and energy, then the effort to meditate could just create more of a burden.
So you should meditate as much as you can but only for as long as you feel comfortable.
Generally, training in meditation begins with a phase in which you introduce your mind to the practice. After you have laid a good foundation, it is a matter of maintaining and refreshing your habit of a more peaceful mind.
In the introductory period, two approaches are possible:
1. If you are meditating in a gradual and relaxed way, it might be important to practice for at least a couple of hours every day for a couple of months.
2. If you are meditating more intensively, it might be appropriate to meditate for many hours every day for a couple of weeks. If you have never meditated before and find yourself struggling, the gradual way might be better.
When you are maintaining your practice, it is best to meditate every day or at least every other day. Otherwise, you will lose the continuity you have achieved by your previous meditations. Spending more time is always better, but practicing for thirty minutes or so every day or every other day ensures continuity and increases the healing power of meditation.
Whatever your experience, if you meditate for hours, take short breaks of five minutes or so every half hour or hour. It will help you keep alert, clear, and energetic. During breaks, don't get involved in distractions such as talking with people or watching TV. Instead, do something that eases any mental or physical fatigue caused by sitting and concentrating. You could look at the open sky, breathe some fresh air, enjoy a couple of sips of water or tea, or do some simple stretches.
During meditation, you shouldn't put any pressure on yourself, rush to finish this and that, or become mechanical. With a relaxed mind, let the meditation unfold at a natural pace, like the flow of a stream through a wide open plain.
This article was excerpted from
About the Author
Tulku Thondup was born in Tibet and studied at the Dodrupchen Mastery. He fled to India in 1958, where he taught for many years. In 1980 he moved to the United States as a visiting scholar at Harvard University. His many books on Tibetan Buddhism include The healing Power of Mind, Masters of Meditation Miracles, Enlightened Journey, and The Practice of Dzogchen.