About a decade ago when I was doing my first 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training, I was required to meditate for 10 minutes per day, every day for about nine months. It was easily the worse part of my day. Yes, you read that right: The. Worse. Part. Of. My. Day.
The way that I was originally told to meditate was to sit and try not to think about anything. Don't move, even if you have an itch, practice in absolute silence and just stick with it for the full 10 minutes.
I often failed.
Over the past decade of trying and failing to meditate, I have come up with a few different methods that work for me. And this is what I mean by "work for me:" they allow my mind to slow down, my breath to come deeply without effort and for my body to feel less tense. And, yes, once in a while, I may feel ecstatic.
1. Move your body for at least five to 10 minutes before sitting to meditate. This helps release tension from the body and increases the blood flow to increase your comfort while you sit. I like to do a few Sun Salutations and hip openers.
2. Make sure that your body temperature is comfortable. Often as we relax, the body temperature drops so as you enter meditation wear a shawl or sweater or have it within reach as your body temperature drops. Conversely, if you run hot perhaps have a fan on in the room to keep you cool.
3. Your seat, your way. I prefer to sit on a low stool, rolled blankets or my yoga mat. I once heard from a teacher that you always want a barrier between yourself and the earth when you meditate so that the earth won't absorb what you intend to send up to heaven, so that's my reasoning. Yours may be different, you may feel more relaxed with direct contact (or with only the barrier of clothing) between you and the earth and that's ok too. Also, don't feel compelled to sit on or near the floor/ground at all. It is perfectly fine to sit in a chair and meditate. To feel grounded, however, I do recommend placing both feet on the floor and sitting on the edge of your seat if that's available to you. The goal here is to be comfortable and grounded.
4. Begin with a focus. When I first began meditating, I discovered that in order for me to even attempt to meditate, I needed something on which to anchor my mind. In the beginning, I would choose a song that appealed to me on a spiritual level and once the song ended I was often able to be in stillness and relaxation for a few minutes after. Others find a visual focus, such as a flower, yantra or candle to be helpful and others still find that focusing on the breath is a great bridge to carry them over to meditation.
Currently, I find that using the breath is the most useful bridge for me.
5. Let go of any expectations of how you feel the meditation experience should be. This brings me to the title of this post. There are endless ways to meditate with endless desired outcomes, in my humble opinion. To some, the outcome is to cease thought. To some the outcome is to enter a state of ecstasy. To others it is simply to relax. None of these is wrong. All of these are right. And many, many more are also right and your result will vary with each practice.
6. Start small. One to two minutes, slowly increase at your own pace and as your schedule allows.
7. If you are uncomfortable, move your body as needed (maybe from the floor to a chair or even standing). Scratch your nose if you need to. Stretch again if you need to. Do not torture yourself.
8. Yes, thoughts will come and that's ok. Choose to or choose not to sit with your thoughts. Some thoughts come up because they represent a problem that needs our attention and sometimes through meditation, the solution can come to us. Other thoughts may be memories that are painful that we can release even for a few minutes and some memories are beautiful but maybe we should release them as well in order to move forward or stay a little longer to once again experience that joy.
9. After you've closed out your meditation, give yourself time for reentry. Take a few deep breaths and stretch as needed. Don't rush to stand, just be for a few moments more.
10. Don't give up. Like Asana, Meditation is a practice that takes time to cultivate.
By no means is this an exhaustive list and I will more than likely tackle this subject again from a different angle. Please let me know in the comments if you find this list to be helpful and what other information about meditation you would like to have.
Peace Be With You.