More Simple Steps to Start Your Meditation Practice

Posted by – May 23, 2016
Categories: Health & Healing Psychology & Personal Growth

Freedom from AnxietyLast week, we covered some of the basics of meditation. Now that we have the foundations down, let’s get started. What follows are five techniques from Marcey Shapiro’s book  Freedom From Anxiety, that will help you get in the zone during a seated or walking meditation:

Following the Breath

This common technique involves little more than mentally watching and following the breath as it flows in and out, in and out. There is no force or changing of the breathing pattern, except when it occurs naturally. When there are thoughts, gently let go of them and return to focus on the breath.

A subtype of following breath is to focus only on the out breath. Let the inhalation be neutral, but observe the exhalation. This out-breath meditation focus is common in certain schools of Vipassana meditation and in Continuum movement. Some people find this variation useful in letting go of attachments.

Listening to Your Heartbeat

In a silent room or space, tune in to the gentle rhythm of your heart. Place your awareness in the center of your chest. Listen inside, connecting with the rhythm of your heart. This type of meditation is simple where it is quiet but can be impossible in a noisy environment.

A subtype of this meditation is to feel the rhythm of the heart rather than listening for it. This can be performed by feeling the pulse at thumb side of the inner wrist, or by placing one’s hand on one’s chest. Connecting with the heart via either of these methods can be quite calming.

Breathing Words

With this technique the practitioner matches breathing with thoughts of a word or simple phrase. Love, peace, freedom, and ease are commonly used words for breathing, as are short phrases like ease and flow, well-being abounds, all is well, and it’s all okay. So, for example, one might breathe in love, and breathe out love, thinking the word “love” on both the in-breath and the out-breath. Again, breaths do not have to be deep or shallow; the normal rhythm of your breath is perfect. As for choosing words or phrases, the ones above are just a few suggestions. Find words that suit you at the time of meditation.

Auditory Meditations

This involves listening to something external, usually a repetitive sound, and focusing upon that. The basic tenets of meditation apply. Many different sounds can be selected for meditative listening.

One of my favorite ways to meditate is to listen to the sound of the rain. I find this quite peaceful and relaxing during the winter rainy season here in Northern California. Gentle repetitive music is also a good choice, as is the sound of waves by an ocean, or a recording of waves, or listening to waters in a fountain or the babbling sounds of a river rushing. But one could just as easily listen to the hum from an air conditioner or the sound of the dishwasher running, if you find those soothing. I have known patients with tinnitus who have embraced that, and they now listen to the high-pitched whistle in their ears to good effect. But ideally, any sound that you find soothing is best for an auditory meditation focus.

Mantra Meditation

This is the mental or verbal repetition of a simple sound or phrase. The word mantra is from Sanskrit and connotes a sound, syllable, word, group of words, or phrase that can produce spiritual transformation. Repetition of the mantra can be linked with breath, or it may be purely a repeated thought, without attention to breath. Many mantra meditations are associated with various religious and spiritual groups, but there is nothing inherent in the use of these tools that requires a religious affiliation. Beginning meditators may find it useful to repeat the mantra out loud, with the outbreath.

Here are some examples of mantras I learned in my own journey. My first experience of meditation practice was at age sixteen, when I learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) and was assigned the mantra Hay-Ying. I did not know what it meant, or even if it had a meaning, but I did find it soothing to repeat it in my mind. I did this without focus on breath. Years later, I took a class from the Ananda Marga organization and was given another mantra, Ham-So. Now and then I still use either of these mantras.

Common mantras not associated with a particular faith or organization include OM (or AUM), said by some to be the original sound of creation, and So-ham, from the Sanskrit, meaning “I am that.” A common Sanskrit phrase mantra is Om Mane Padme Hum. This is the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion. Many languages have a common mantra such as Shalom in Hebrew and Salaam in Arabic, both words meaning “peace.”

Chanting is a subclass of mantra meditation whereby a syllable, word, phrase, intention, or sound is repeated aloud for a few minutes or an extended period. This is sometimes done in groups, particularly religious groups, but (again) it can be used as desired. Chanting OM can be a good place to start if one is attracted to chanting but has no experience with this form of meditation. It can help tame a monkey mind to say something out loud and focus on that.

Tags: Marcey Shapiro Trauma & Anxiety
About the Author

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2007, Julia was delighted to find out that “professional book recommender” was a job. She has been working in marketing and publicity with independent Bay Area publishers ever since. She joined North Atlantic Books in 2014. She lives with her husband and two very nice cats in Oakland.