This month you will be challenged to incorporate meditation into your daily routine. There are many benefits to practicing meditation regularly, including reducing stress & anxiety, promoting mental clarity & focus, as well as increasing your self awareness. We could all use a little bit more of these benefits in our lives, so let’s get started!
The act of meditating carries with it an intention: to transition from a state of thinking, to feeling, and then to being. This is achieved through entering a place of stillness found within the present moment, connecting with the higher self, and being receptive to inspiration or creative guidance.
We find our way to these places by exercising meditation techniques. Tools that can be used to facilitate your meditation include focusing on your breath, repeating a mantra, or utilizing a guided meditation to direct your awareness. These are highly effective methods to begin meditating, but are there additional ways to enhance your experience? Absolutely!
In the following paragraphs several suggestions will be made to help you deepen and expand upon your meditation practice. Integrating any of these enhancements are simply suggestions to further your journey, but are by no means required. FInd what resonates with you, practice it, and dwell in the joy it will bring.
5 Techniques To Help You Get The Most Out Of Your Meditation Session
- 1) Pranayama: Enhancing the breath
- 2) Incorporate Mudras (hand gestures)
- 3) Yoga Nidra
- 4) Chanting
- 5) Movement
1. Pranayama: Enhancing the breath
Breathing is a central part of any meditation practice. Beginner techniques will have you bring awareness to your breath as a means to guide your attention away from residual thoughts. Expanding on breathing techniques for the purpose of yoga or meditating is referred to as pranayama.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit term which basically means manipulating the breath to introduce more prana into the body. Prana is a life force energy. Our breath regulates this source of energy; therefore, altering your breathing can maximize the intake of prana into the body. Here are two techniques to try:
Pausing at the top and bottom of the breath
Become aware of your breath and notice its quality. Equalize and expand the length of the inhales and exhales (counting can help with this process- “inhaling 1-2-3-4-5, exhaling 1-2-3-4-5).
How long you are able to inhale or exhale is a personal determination. Longer isn’t necessarily better. Find a comfortable length, and stick with it. You may find that with practice, your capacity may increase.
Once you have settled into this pattern of breathing, introduce a pause at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale. This pause is like holding your breath.
Try this pattern: “Inhaling 1-2-3-4-5, Hold 1-2-3, Exhaling 1-2-3-4-5, Hold 1-2-3.”
It is possible that your holding time may not be as long as the in or out breath.
This pranayama exercise is very energizing and is an easy addition to any breath based meditation.
Alternate nostril breathing
This style of breath work is a relaxing technique, and has been known to decrease anxiety. To begin, bring your right hand in front of your face. You will be using your fingers to block off one nostril, while breathing through the other.
Start by taking a deep breath in, then exhale fully through both nostrils.
Then, follow this pattern:
- Using your little finger close the left nostril, inhale through the right nostril
- Using your thumb close the right nostril, exhale through the left nostril
- Inhale through the left nostril
- Using your little finger close the left nostril, exhale through the right nostril
- To complete the practice, release your hand, and take several deep breaths through both nostrils
Initially, this breathing exercise will require quite a bit of mental concentration. Eventually, you will fall into a rhythm and the alternating will become natural.
Try to make the length and quality of your in and out breaths the same. It is very common to feel that one side is easier to inhale or exhale through. With repetition you will notice an equalization between the two sides.
2. Incorporate Mudras (hand gestures)
Mudra is a Sanskrit word which means “seal” and is a hand gesture that completes an energy circuit, or seals it.
Mudras can supercharge your meditation experience by enhancing your mind/body connection. The gentle sensation of your hands or finger tips touching stimulates the mind to focus on that connection. Mudras are powerful facilitators of transitioning from a thinking state to a feeling state.
Without realizing, you are probably already familiar with many different mudras, including the ones listed below:
Anjali Mudra (also known as “prayer pose”)
Place the palms of the hands together at your heart center. This mudra is a centering pose and an expression of gratitude. Most yoga classes end with the anjali mudra while simultaneously bowing and speaking the word “Namaste” (meaning “my internal light acknowledges and respects the light with you”).
The act of placing your palms together connects a flow of energy within, and you may feel a gentle tingling sensation occurring between your palms as a result.
You can keep your hands in this mudra for the duration of your meditation,or just at the end of your practice for a few breaths.
To find this hand position simply touch the tip of your thumb with the tip of your index finger, then rest the backs of your hands on or around your knees while sitting cross legged.
Typically, this mudra is sustained through the entire duration of your meditation. The gyan mudra enhances concentration and promotes the acquisition of knowledge.
3. Yoga Nidra
If you prefer guided meditations, yoga nidra is a must try for you! Yoga nidra translates to mean “yogic sleep.” The effects of this practice calm the nervous system to the extent that a 30 minute practice has been likened to approximately 2 hours worth of sleep.
Your instructor will gently shift your awareness to different parts of your body and provide vivid visualizations to help you stay engaged, relaxed, and present.
Yogic sleep sessions typically last anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Yoga nidra is practiced in a reclined position, so get comfy!
- Do NOT lie down in your bed. The purpose of yoga nidra is not to fall asleep. It is ideal to remain in a very relaxed, but conscious state. Being in your bed will send a signal that it is ok to sleep.
- Laying on your back is preferred. To make yourself more comfortable try propping a pillow underneath your knees, and underneath your head (if needed).
- Cover yourself with a blanket to avoid the distraction of feeling cold.
- An Eye Pillow can facilitate the calming effects of this technique and it removes any temptation to open your eyes
If you become distracted due to discomfort, MOVE! Dwelling on discomfort is a thought web, and getting lost in it will not benefit you. Slight shifts or transitions are okay so long as you move mindfully.
Utilizing your voice for a meditative purpose raises your vibrational energy and introduces prana/breath into the body. The most common misconception about chanting is that it cannot be meditation because it is not silent. Stillness of mind can occur simultaneously with sound. In fact, many guided meditation practices do incorporate soft music.
Here are some suggestions on how to incorporate chanting into your meditating sessions:
Om is known as the universal sound. It creates a physical vibration that travels from the base of our spine all the way up through the top of our head.
At the end of your meditation try chanting Om a few times. There is no right or wrong amount of repetitions. Allow this to be an intuitive process. Keep repeating Om until it feels like you should stop.
Extend the sound to be longer than one quick syllable: “Aaaaaaaauuuuuuummmmm.”
The effectiveness of this chant relies on your voice. Chanting in your head silently does not create the reverberations needed. Release any feelings of self consciousness and allow your voice to project. Eventually you will realize how good it feels to chant and your voice will grow stronger.
Sanskrit mantra chants
Most often, this practice is done in a ‘call and response’ style, and the repeated mantras are set to music. Trust me, you don’t have to be a good singer to love this experience!
I highly recommend listening to Krishna Daas. As mentioned above, most of his songs are performed in a call and response style.
Let go of any worry regarding not knowing the words or the pronunciation. It is anxieties like this that you are trying to release with meditation. Instead, focus on connecting with the music and enjoy the sound. The mantra will be repeated enough that eventually you will catch on to the linguistic nuances.
In time, your inhales and exhales will sync with the music, and you may intuitively find yourself swaying or moving with the sound. This is a natural response while chanting. Do not try to restrict it!
Moving signifies the transition from thinking to feeling, and repeating the mantra will aid in blocking thoughts that exist outside of the present moment.
You may have assumed that most meditation practices are performed in stillness. There is a distinction between physical stillness and stillness of the mind. They are not dependent on each other!
Slowing the mind can be achieved by integrating movement. If your body feels restless while meditating in a seated position, here are a few suggestions on how to incorporate movement into the process
Select a location that is rich in the beauty of nature and is familiar to you (such as a park or trail). The purpose of your walking is not speed, it is synchronizing your breath with your steps.
Determine how many steps you can take in the course of one inhale, and do the same for your exhale. As you walk coordinate your breath with your steps. Achieving unity with breath and steps will require awareness and concentration—the exact recipe we need to establish a meditative state!
If you prefer to be guided, walking meditations are easily searchable online and will provide instructions on how and where to direct consciousness during your walk.
Yin yoga is a slower paced yoga practice which entails holding floor based postures for extended periods of time (2-5 minutes). This practice is very restorative, and will often utilize props (such as blankets, pillows, and blocks) to ensure comfort in each pose.
Yin is one of my favourite types of yoga to practice, especially since I started to incorporate my mantra meditation with it.
While holding each pose it is counter productive to let the mind roam free. Instead, take the opportunity to connect with your breath or your mantra.
I have studied yin yoga with Biff Mithoefer, author of The Yin Yoga Kit. This book is a great resource, and provides guided practices. The Yoga with Adrienne YouTube channel also has some great practices you can follow along with as well.
Kripalu Yoga is a gentle yoga practice which places its focus on breath work, meditation, and compassion. This practice is often referred to as a meditation in motion and promotes self observation without judgement. This is an amazing premise and gateway into a meditative experience.
What initially drew me to Kripalu Yoga was the flexibility within the practice. It is encouraged to be gentle with yourself, and to move in and out of postures in a way that is comfortable to you.
Many beginner yogis feel like they have to be very rigid in yoga poses. This can cause discomfort in the body, and ultimately manifest discomfort in the mind as well. Kripalu Yoga facilitates gentle movements within the poses to keep your body at ease. This inturn allows the mind to rest.
I am certified in Kripalu yoga, and I can personally vouch that I have had some of the most amazing meditation practices while engaged in yogic movements. I once meditated for 20 minutes while alternating back and forth between cat and cow pose!
Just as you may get lost in the sound of music while chanting, it is also possible to get lost in the act of movement as well. Using yoga poses as a loose guide and intuitively moving is a sure sign that you have transitioned from a conscious to subconscious state.
In this article you have been given many tools and techniques for how to enhance your meditation practice. You may feel drawn to try certain suggestions, and not others. That is okay. Cultivating a daily meditation practice is a highly personalized journey. Only commit to the techniques that resonate with you the most and bring you a sense of joy and ease.
Your meditation practice does not need to be lengthy to be successful. It does not need to be devoid of thoughts or distractions to be effective, nor does it need to be complex to be perfect for you.
Author: Cheryl Tobin
A yoga instructor (RYT-200), spiritual enthusiast, and wannabe morning person. Relies heavily on coffee and oracle cards to get through the day. Author of the blog Spiritually Premeditated.
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