Preparation for Meditation
All meditation practices aim at calming the mind so it can concentrate on the object of meditation. It is difficult to calm the mind just by willing it to be calm. Successful meditation practice needs some preparatory steps to be followed which help relax the body and mind and making the mind more conducive to meditation. Here are some such steps that can help in this.
· Timing and regularity: Meditation needs to be done regularly, at least once daily. Anytime during the day or night is fine, however it is best to do it early in the morning shortly after waking up, before the events of the day have started impacting your mind. It is best to have a fixed time for your meditation practice so that your body and mind automatically get ready for meditation when the time approaches. Dawn and dusk are considered excellent times to meditate. Washing your face with cold water or taking a shower before meditation will help remove sleepiness and make you feel fresh. Meditation should be done on an empty stomach, not after a snack or a meal.
· Place: It helps to have a fixed place for your practice. This can be a corner of your room or a separate room itself. The place needs to be clean and well ventilated. If weather permits, you can do it outdoors also, as long as you avoid direct sun and ensure the place is not too windy. In either case, the place should be quiet and without external distractions.
· Posture: At the initial stages of meditation practice, posture is not very critical. The only thing to ensure is that you should be sitting with your spine straight. Meditation will induce good energy to flow up the spine and keeping it straight avoids obstruction to the energy. Lying down is not advisable. (Specific postures like the lotus position are only for the advanced practitioners of meditation). The key is to ensure that your body does not distract your mind during meditation, which will happen if you adopt an uncomfortable posture. Your posture should be comfortable enough to enable you to sit still for the duration of your practice. You can sit in a chair as long as it will prevent you from falling off if you fall asleep. Your legs should rest firmly on the floor. Slouching is to be avoided, but the body should not be tense either.
· Relaxation of the body: Sit in a comfortable posture and relax all your muscles. This can be done by first tensing your body and then letting go. Yoga practitioners can do ‘Shavasana” (corpse posture) prior to meditation. A relaxed body is less likely to distract from the meditation practice.
· Breathing: Breath has a direct link to the state of mind. When the mind is disturbed, breathing is quick and shallow and when you are calm the breathing is slow and measured. It works the other way also. You can induce calmness in the mind by taking slow and deep breaths. There are advanced breathing practices that can alter your state of consciousness, but those should only be practiced under guidance of a teacher.
· Mood Music: Soft mood music helps to calm the mind and it also drowns out distracting background noises. Once the mind is reasonably calm, the music should be stopped to allow full concentration on the object of meditation.
· Incense: This is not for everyone, but many folks find that burning incense helps induce calmness. Maybe it is just that after some time, incense acts as a Pavlovian trigger to calm the mind, like sticking to a specific time does. Whether it is the fragrance or the mental trigger, as long as it helps, it’s worth using.
· Ethical and moral life: It helps if you are leading a moral and ethical life according to your convictions. The important thing is that you should not be troubled by your actions. It is also helpful to resolve outstanding conflicts in your life, as any unresolved conflicts will frequently impinge on your thoughts during meditation. Anger and strong emotions are not conducive to meditation.
Once you have taken the preparatory steps, you are ready to start meditating.
There are many ways to still the mind. Most methods advise focusing the mind on one thing so it is not distracted by other thoughts. The focus can be on your breath, or on reciting a mantra or on an external object or image. This will keep you focused for a short while, but soon your mind will start wandering. As soon as you become aware of your mind wandering, you should bring your mind back to the original object of focus.
The Indian sage Patanjali advises starting with observing your thoughts as an unattached observer. This helps to bring your thoughts under control and precedes focus on a single object of meditation. Whatever meditative practice you follow will be aided by preparing for it as described above. You can find a step by step guide to meditation in this article.