The idea of sitting still and trying not think originally seemed equal parts foolish and intimidating. To overcome my unease I tried a variety of meditation techniques that could help develop my habit. I have them listed below in order of personal preference.
I learned walking meditation (kinhin) at Dharma Field. Standing with your hands in the shashu position focus on your breath, and on your exhale take a half step forward. At first it seemed like too much to concentrate on: following my breath; walking at the right time; not taking a normal stride, but after a few minutes I got the hang of things. The additional focus on my posture and speed really helped me to stay in the meditative state and when my ending bell sounded I felt relaxed and refreshed.
I will be incorporating this in my regular practice by doing walking meditation at the end of my sit. This will be a great way to bring myself back to an awakened state gradually, and it will allow me to extend my sessions by incorporating different techniques rather than sitting for longer.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
I tried two different hand poses for alternate nostril breathing, and I preferred the one with the index and middle finger folded down (bottom picture). When I had those fingers resting between my eyebrows I found it hard to relax and not to press them into my skin. Once I settled into the timing of movement the time flew by! I was focused and my mind seemed to wander less because I was aware of my breath and body.
This is an easy technique to pick up, and I would suggest that everyone give it a try! I will be starting my daily sits with 1 minute of alternate nostril breathing before a 10 minute session. This will afford me better focus as I start my sessions.
Tai chi is a form of moving meditation similar to yoga. Since I suck at yoga I was glad to find an alternative. Tai chi is low impact, and much better aligned with my fitness and flexibility levels. I found an excellent tutorial video, but it has a lot of pop-up adds. I have not counted the time watching the video and practicing tai chi toward my daily habit because I don’t feel like I am in a meditative state while learning.
I am hoping that once I learn some of the basic forms I can take a class on tai chi or find a meet up group. I know I’ve seen groups of people practicing in the park, now I just need to find them. This is definitely a technique I am interested in pursuing.
I had a lot of fun ideas for my mantra, like Stuart Smalley’s positive affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me” or “let that shit go.” Ultimately, I decided to stick with my goals and picked “salud.” It means health in Spanish and is a toast my grandmother always makes.
I repeated my mantra silently on my exhale for the first half of my sit, and then switched to chanting it during the second half. I had a neutral experience. It wasn’t overly distracting, but it didn’t seem to help me focus any better than sitting silently. I thought that since my love language is “words of affirmation” I would really benefit from a mantra, but this not a practice I will stick with.
The first time I tried candle staring I used a guided meditation. There was an interesting point during the session where you close your eyes and focus on the negative image of the candle, but overall this technique did not seem particularly helpful. I felt more distracted and had trouble letting my thoughts pass.
I tried this method a second time without the guided meditation. It was slightly better than my first attempt but at the end of my session I spilled hot wax on my hand and that was the end of my foray into candle staring. All the angry cursing probably negated the benefits of that session.
I’m glad I expanded my horizons and tried various techniques. I am sure walking meditation, alternate nostril breathing, and tai chi will help me grow my meditation practice.
Have you tried any of these techniques before? Please share your experience in the comments!