February 9, 2024
Meditation – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
with Tamara Decker
I’m Tammy, and I am a certified meditation instructor.
First, I wanted to ask you to think about why is learning to meditate important for you.
Maybe you want it to help you with your stress, to gain focus, or to quiet the voices in your head.
Some of you may have heard of mindfulness and being present, and mindfulness can help you with your meditation.
However, meditation is not always relaxing, especially if you’re doing it right!
There are different kinds of meditation, and you can follow guided meditations on various apps. I use Insight Timer, others use Calm or Headspace. These guided meditations do relax you, and I really recommend them for relaxation, especially before bed or when you need to calm your mind.
But what I’m trying to teach is a different kind of meditation. Well, let me take a step back and say a lot of people tell me they can’t meditate because their minds are too busy. Does that sound like you? Do you want to meditate to stop your thoughts?
Well, the truth is – you can’t empty your mind. That’s a myth. That is almost impossible unless you’re up in a cave and have been practicing meditation since you were a child. What one of my teachers told me – and I use this as a metaphor a lot because it explains the practice of meditation so well – you are the captain, and your mind is the boat. Often, we let the boat just drift, and our “boat” becomes in control of the “captain” and not the other way around. We become at the mercy of the currents.
So when you meditate, you’re learning how to steer your boat. And it’s not that easy. It’s not always relaxing. It can be a hard, painful journey, especially with stormy thoughts or too many currents. People think meditation is sitting and clearing your mind, or listening to your breath or counting, and yes, that’s your vehicle for meditation. But what meditation really is is learning that when you veer off course, you can come back. So it’s not that you can’t meditate if your mind wanders. No, you can meditate if you can just come back. And if you have to come back 30 times in 30 seconds, you’re still meditating because you’re slowly training your mind to listen to you. Instead of going off on whatever course it wants to go on.
The second thing I was going to talk about is posture, and it is important. In Asia, a lot of people are used to sitting on the floor… and that is fine. Westerners have a really hard time, or most do, so sitting in a chair is also okay. I have back and neck problems. So sometimes I have to lay down, but I lift my knees so that if I fall asleep, I fall over, and that will wake me up.
So if you’re sitting in a chair, you want both feet on the ground and to sit upright. If you are on the floor, also sit comfortably but upright, and if you’re lying down, lay straight, but at the same time relax. The reason you need to try to sit upright is so that you can breathe from deep in your belly and not only from your chest. And in fact, one way you can start with meditation is just noticing your belly going in and out. Also, being upright helps you to be awake because a lot of people fall asleep during meditation. Just make sure that if you are sitting in a chair, you are not leaning back into it because that will cut off your ability to breathe from the belly.
The final thing to think about is the idea of opening your heart, shoulders back but not tight, your head gently being pulled up by an imaginary string. Think of your spine extending into your skull and try to get the alignment straight. This will help you relax your shoulders and avoid any tension in the neck. And just before you start, remember to relax your face. Some people recommend a Mona Lisa smile, a small gentle smile, slightly upturned at the corners. Smiling will affect your physiology and will make you feel better.
So before we start actual meditation, lets just tune in for a minute to our posture. If you’re going to sit on the floor, you want to have your arms next to you and then just flop your hands over onto your knees. Just flop, so that your shoulders are right where they were when your hands were hanging by your sides. This will prevent tension in the neck.
(have someone read the following to you so you can follow the exercise)
Close your eyes…
Whether you’re in a chair or on the ground, you might think about settling your hips back and being heavy.. check to see if that opened up your your breathing a little bit. In fact, let’s spend 10 seconds here. Just put your hand on your belly and breathe in and out and see if your belly is moving, or if it’s just your chest. A really good way to relax is to move your belly in and out with your breath. Because this tells your brain that everything’s okay, you don’t need to run from “any tigers” right now.
Keep doing that, and think about your shoulders. Can you relax your shoulders more?
Think about your neck. Is it straight? You can imagine a little wire pulling it up from the top of your head. Sometimes that means tucking your chin a little bit, not actually looking down.
Now try to relax your jaw.
Try to tune into your body. How are you feeling? Is there anything that’s painful? If there is, try to examine the pain. Is it hot or cold? Is it sharp? achy?
Try to feel your feet. Can you feel them from the inside?
Try to feel your connection with either the chair or the ground… feel that support.
Okay, you can open your eyes. How did that feel for you? Did you feel good in your body? Any tension? It is very normal to feel tension in your body. Getting your posture right will take practice, and you just gradually build up the necessary muscles.
Now, talking about actual meditation, you can do just that. Tuning into your body is sometimes enough and can be relaxing… But not always…
Traditional meditation practices start with following your breath because your breath is always there. So one tip is to pick a spot. I like the belly because it relaxes us, so you notice your belly coming in and out. Some people prefer to feel the air going in and out of their nostrils. But what is important is to choose one spot because otherwise, you’re allowing your mind to move around again.
When I first started meditating, no one explained that the whole idea of meditation is to try to get your mind to listen to you. I thought you were supposed to become some holy guru with a completely blank mind. No!!! Your mind is designed to think; it’s going to think! But what you’re trying to do is eventually slow down and steer those thoughts. A lot of people, when they first start meditating, experience a waterfall of thoughts. There are so many thoughts that they can’t even pick one out, there are just so many. With regular meditation practice, you start to actually hear these individual thoughts. You become mindful of each one – and you may start to notice the thoughts that aren’t so good. And this is why I say that meditation isn’t always relaxing. You start to notice the thoughts that, in fact, are really negative. Sometimes you have anger come up. Sometimes you have grief come up. Sometimes you have resentment or the voice of your inner critic. These are all signs that your meditation is working.
So, the idea again, is you’re training yourself to be the captain of your boat. You can decide, with a lot of practice, which thoughts stay and what should go. But to begin with, what is really important is to keep coming back. Whatever you choose, you can come back to your breath. You can come back to a mantra, you can be tuning into your body. Some people are visual, and they like to look at a candle flame. Drifting does not mean you are doing it wrong. Just come back. The practice is coming back every time you drift. You noticed you drifted, and you came back! Yay!! Noticed. came back! Yay! Noticed. came back! Yay! That’s the meditation. The recommendation is actually to start with just two minutes and gradually increase the time.
You will sometimes start to have bad things come up. And the reason meditation is used in so many religions is because it allows you to sit with whatever that pain is. And notice that it will eventually go. So you don’t have to run away from it. You sit with it. In fact, they’ve documented that really strong emotions can come and go in 90 seconds. 90 seconds feels like forever if you are in anger or grief. But if you train yourself to sit with it for 90 seconds, then the idea is that you can start to sit with impatience or resentment. And it no longer comes out as yelling at your kid, or numbing your feelings with food or shopping, or any other maladaptive coping strategies. So that’s why meditation is really important.