How to meditate: The traditional set-up

When we are under stress, we are like a mountain wrapped up in clouds. To meditate is to let the wind clear the sky and reveal the blue color.

What is meditation? From Zen to Tantra, from Yoga to Tai Chi… The mindfulness practices are quite varied. But they all share the same basic principles: a correct posture or movement, breathwork, and a mindful presence.

Because the field is so vast, we will focus on how to meditate in a seated, still position. It’s much easier to practice at home. Check out Yogilab‘s tips and recommendations to learn how to meditate and take care of your mind on a daily basis.

6-0110 (1) (1)-min

How to meditate: The traditional set-up

When we are under stress, we are like a mountain wrapped up in clouds. To meditate is to let the wind clear the sky and reveal the blue color.

What is meditation? From Zen to Tantra, from Yoga to Tai Chi… The mindfulness practices are quite varied. But they all share the same basic principles: a correct posture or movement, breathwork, and a mindful presence.

Because the field is so vast, we will focus on how to meditate in a seated, still position. It’s much easier to practice at home. Check out Yogilab‘s tips and recommendations to learn how to meditate and take care of your mind on a daily basis.

6-0110 (1) (1)-min

Focus on the breath

Breathing is the second pillar of meditation after the posture. The technique of Anapana suggests concentrating on the nostrils, and more specifically the triangular area that extends from the tip of the nose to the upper lip. It is simply a matter of becoming aware of your breathing. Let it be fluid, let it be shallow, let it be jerky. Don’t try to control it, just observe it.

In Zen, the focus is on exhalation. Efforts are made to push the breath towards the hands in order to fight against our tendency to breathe only from the top of the lungs. When the breath is diffused in the belly, it energetically dispels tensions and brings back a feeling of harmony.

This exercise of concentration on the breath helps to fight against the scattering of thoughts. As it calms the mind, it teaches us how to gather and strengthen it.

Focus on the breath

Breathing is the second pillar of meditation after the posture. The technique of Anapana suggests concentrating on the nostrils, and more specifically the triangular area that extends from the tip of the nose to the upper lip. It is simply a matter of becoming aware of your breathing. Let it be fluid, let it be shallow, let it be jerky. Don’t try to control it, just observe it.

In Zen, the focus is on exhalation. Efforts are made to push the breath towards the hands in order to fight against our tendency to breathe only from the top of the lungs. When the breath is diffused in the belly, it energetically dispels tensions and brings back a feeling of harmony.

This exercise of concentration on the breath helps to fight against the scattering of thoughts. As it calms the mind, it teaches us how to gather and strengthen it.

Observe and feel

Meditation is not about stopping to think, as many people believe. It’s about keeping your attention in the present moment and observing all signals around you, even the most subtle ones. It’s not about trying to clear your mind. Rather, you should let thoughts, sensations, and feelings pass by without dwelling on them.

There are two types of sensations:

  • Inner sensations: your feelings, thoughts, anxieties will flood your mind as you go along. Let these mental images come, note them down, don’t judge them, don’t judge yourself, and let them go.
  • External sensations: these are the sensory perceptions of your body and your senses (hearing, touch, taste…). Note the sounds around you, the movements of the air, the sensations of discomfort in your body. Note these sensations, don’t judge them.

Acknowledge all of them, and then let them go.

Observe and feel

Meditation is not about stopping to think, as many people believe. It’s about keeping your attention in the present moment and observing all signals around you, even the most subtle ones. It’s not about trying to clear your mind. Rather, you should let thoughts, sensations, and feelings pass by without dwelling on them.

There are two types of sensations:

  • Inner sensations: your feelings, thoughts, anxieties will flood your mind as you go along. Let these mental images come, note them down, don’t judge them, don’t judge yourself, and let them go.
  • External sensations: these are the sensory perceptions of your body and your senses (hearing, touch, taste…). Note the sounds around you, the movements of the air, the sensations of discomfort in your body. Note these sensations, don’t judge them.

Acknowledge all of them, and then let them go.

Get to really know yourself

The aim of working with the body, through posture and breathing, is to discipline it in order to better concentrate on the mind. Vipassana is one of the most ancient Buddhist techniques of India and literally means “the penetrating vision”. Its purpose is to find the true nature of the mind behind all illusions and unconscious conditioning.

Once again, meditation is about letting thoughts arise without forcing or holding them back, without condemning or approving them. Just observe what comes up like the images of a movie appearing and disappearing.

Let your dark side invade your consciousness for a while, like the pus coming out of a wound. Accept the pain, anger, fear, or shame. Try to learn from it, invoking the antidote to what ails you (compassion for hate, joy for pain, etc.). Soak it in. If the exercise is too painful, refocus on your breathing until your mind is ready to continue its healing quest.

Get to really know yourself

The aim of working with the body, through posture and breathing, is to discipline it in order to better concentrate on the mind. Vipassana is one of the most ancient Buddhist techniques of India and literally means “the penetrating vision”. Its purpose is to find the true nature of the mind behind all illusions and unconscious conditioning.

Once again, meditation is about letting thoughts arise without forcing or holding them back, without condemning or approving them. Just observe what comes up like the images of a movie appearing and disappearing.

Let your dark side invade your consciousness for a while, like the pus coming out of a wound. Accept the pain, anger, fear, or shame. Try to learn from it, invoking the antidote to what ails you (compassion for hate, joy for pain, etc.). Soak it in. If the exercise is too painful, refocus on your breathing until your mind is ready to continue its healing quest.

Use mantras to regain focus quickly

Your thoughts are chaotic, confused, or hold false views? To help overcome these mental processes, the yogic tradition uses mantras. Mantras are the repetitive recitation, whispered or silent, of a sound (the famous “om”) or of a sacred formula (“Shri Râm, jaï Râm”) during meditation.

The mantra is pronounced with the longest possible exhalation. Its symbolic charge and its vibratory power contribute to empty the consciousness to leave a feeling of peace. The mind is quickly relieved of its daily agitation. It’s not used in combination with the Vipassana method described above. But it can work if the purpose of your meditation is to calm down, gain focus quickly, or cope with overwhelming anxiety.

Use mantras to regain focus quickly

Your thoughts are chaotic, confused, or hold false views? To help overcome these mental processes, the yogic tradition uses mantras. Mantras are the repetitive recitation, whispered or silent, of a sound (the famous “om”) or of a sacred formula (“Shri Râm, jaï Râm”) during meditation.

The mantra is pronounced with the longest possible exhalation. Its symbolic charge and its vibratory power contribute to empty the consciousness to leave a feeling of peace. The mind is quickly relieved of its daily agitation. It’s not used in combination with the Vipassana method described above. But it can work if the purpose of your meditation is to calm down, gain focus quickly, or cope with overwhelming anxiety.

When is the right moment to meditate?

As for the best time to meditate, it all depends on what you hope to achieve with the practice. You can meditate in the morning to start the day in a better mood. You can meditate in the evening to get rid of accumulated tension. Or you can meditate at noon to recharge your batteries halfway through the day.

Once you have understood the process, you can meditate anywhere (in the subway, at the office, etc.) and anytime (while eating, walking, etc.). Basically whenever you feel the need to gather yourself.

The ideal is to choose a specific time and duration and try to stick to it, for example, just before breakfast, for ten minutes. Don’t cut your sessions short if they are painful, and don’t extend them when they are more pleasant. Learning discipline and consistency is part of the process.

When is the right moment to meditate?

As for the best time to meditate, it all depends on what you hope to achieve with the practice. You can meditate in the morning to start the day in a better mood. You can meditate in the evening to get rid of accumulated tension. Or you can meditate at noon to recharge your batteries halfway through the day.

Once you have understood the process, you can meditate anywhere (in the subway, at the office, etc.) and anytime (while eating, walking, etc.). Basically whenever you feel the need to gather yourself.

The ideal is to choose a specific time and duration and try to stick to it, for example, just before breakfast, for ten minutes. Don’t cut your sessions short if they are painful, and don’t extend them when they are more pleasant. Learning discipline and consistency is part of the process.

How to create the right environment to meditate?

Try to always meditate in the same place, preferably in a quiet room, where you can sit and face a wall. As a general rule, try to avoid anything that might distract your eyes or fuel your thoughts.

You can create a more soothing atmosphere by placing a mat, lighting a candle, or burning incense. Choose loose, comfortable clothing that you will wear for each meditation session. And don’t forget to take off your shoes. You can also choose some quiet background music without lyrics.

How to create the right environment to meditate?

Try to always meditate in the same place, preferably in a quiet room, where you can sit and face a wall. As a general rule, try to avoid anything that might distract your eyes or fuel your thoughts.

You can create a more soothing atmosphere by placing a mat, lighting a candle, or burning incense. Choose loose, comfortable clothing that you will wear for each meditation session. And don’t forget to take off your shoes. You can also choose some quiet background music without lyrics.

What to do when the mind gets overwhelmed with thoughts?

When you are overwhelmed by emotions and worries, your brain resumes its usual whirlwind of thoughts. In that case and especially during meditation, follow these easy steps:

  • Don’t judge yourself, don’t feel guilty, it’s perfectly normal to be carried away by thoughts
  • Note down these thoughts mentally
  • Let them go
  • Pay attention to your breath to help you refocus your attention on the present

At first, you will often get carried away by your thoughts. But don’t get discouraged. As time goes by, you will be able to focus your attention better and better.

What to do when the mind gets overwhelmed with thoughts?

When you are overwhelmed by emotions and worries, your brain resumes its usual whirlwind of thoughts. In that case and especially during meditation, follow these easy steps:

  • Don’t judge yourself, don’t feel guilty, it’s perfectly normal to be carried away by thoughts
  • Note down these thoughts mentally
  • Let them go
  • Pay attention to your breath to help you refocus your attention on the present

At first, you will often get carried away by your thoughts. But don’t get discouraged. As time goes by, you will be able to focus your attention better and better.

How to get ready for a meditation session?

Before entering into meditation, you can begin with a moment of relaxation. Lie on your back, stretch, yawn. With your eyes closed, breathe through your nose, calmly and deeply. Relax your belly, let it inflate when you inhale, and push the air out when you exhale. Become aware of your supports (heels, calves, buttocks, shoulder blades, back of the head, elbows, palms…) and their weight on the ground.

Concentrate on your toes, imagine how they unfold, feel their tensions, release them. Do the same for each part of the body, going up the legs, the kidneys, the back to the nape of the neck, then down the arms to the fingers. Let your joints and tissues relax. Feel yourself floating. When you are ready, open your eyes and look up at the ceiling with a clear gaze.

How to get ready for a meditation session?

Before entering into meditation, you can begin with a moment of relaxation. Lie on your back, stretch, yawn. With your eyes closed, breathe through your nose, calmly and deeply. Relax your belly, let it inflate when you inhale, and push the air out when you exhale. Become aware of your supports (heels, calves, buttocks, shoulder blades, back of the head, elbows, palms…) and their weight on the ground.

Concentrate on your toes, imagine how they unfold, feel their tensions, release them. Do the same for each part of the body, going up the legs, the kidneys, the back to the nape of the neck, then down the arms to the fingers. Let your joints and tissues relax. Feel yourself floating. When you are ready, open your eyes and look up at the ceiling with a clear gaze.

What do we want to achieve with meditation?

The awareness that you sharpen during a meditation session can be broken down into three core elements:

  • The widening of your focus and attention span: You’re able to be fully present with everything around you, without getting easily distracted by events, thoughts, emotions, sounds, and bodily sensations.
  • The disengagement of the tendencies to judge and control both your inner and outer circumstances: You’re able to fully accept your experience without reacting to it or seeking for validation.
  • Non-elaborative consciousness: You’re able to let go of things without engaging in analysis or putting them into words. You observe and experience them instead.

What do we want to achieve with meditation?

The awareness that you sharpen during a meditation session can be broken down into three core elements:

  • The widening of your focus and attention span: You’re able to be fully present with everything around you, without getting easily distracted by events, thoughts, emotions, sounds, and bodily sensations.
  • The disengagement of the tendencies to judge and control both your inner and outer circumstances: You’re able to fully accept your experience without reacting to it or seeking for validation.
  • Non-elaborative consciousness: You’re able to let go of things without engaging in analysis or putting them into words. You observe and experience them instead.

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