As the years have grown since my first attempt at meditation, a handful of fundamental meditation principles has helped guide and shape a practice that is purposeful and significant to me today. Here I share with you five of those principles. I hope they are an aid to you in your own path of meditation discovery and growth.
1. Breath as a point of focus
There are many things you can place your attention on during meditation, including a part of your body, distant sounds, the space around you, a mantra or an image. But perhaps the most grounding focus in meditation is awareness of the breath. The wonderful thing about your breath is that you take it with you everywhere you go. It’s present at every moment of everyday. Your breath is something you can always call upon to bring you into the present moment and instantly calm your mind and physical body.
In many guided meditations, you will start your practice with a few rounds of purposeful inhalation and exhalation. This is a proven way to activate your parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ nervous system, which is necessary to enter into a deep meditative state. You will then allow you breath to return to its normal rhythm while maintaining your focus on air coming into the lungs and then leaving the lungs. When meditating on the breath, the point is not to watch the breath with your mind, but rather to connect to the feeling of breathing.
2. Observer of thoughts
Thinking is a part of a healthy mind. Even skilled meditators can experience the beginning of a thought during practice. Meditation is not about stopping all thoughts, or even about pushing thoughts out. It is simply about learning to detach from thoughts. When you are meditating and a thought pops into your mind, simply acknowledge it then return to your point of focus e.g. your breath.
Furthermore, when thought creeps in, try not to allow an emotional response such as frustration or annoyance. Simply remain detached. As you improve you will find it much easier to recognise the presence of thought early on and move on from it easily.
3. Intention setting
Consideration and planning is an element of most successful endeavours in life. In keeping, meditation can too be more fulfilling if you contemplate the feeling or state of being you wish to experience. This may change from day to day, or it may be something that you have always wished to experience more of.
At the start of your practice, see if a word or phrase comes to you that embodies your deepest longing in that moment. Some examples include acceptance, surrender, liberation, abundance, love or peace. Once you have captured your intention, hold it in your conscious awareness for a few moments before letting it go. You may like to repeat your word/phrase in your mind or out loud a few times to purposely solidify your intention.
4. Surrender expectations
While having an intention for your meditation makes the practice more meaningful, it is important that you surrender any thoughts you may have about what the meditation will bring once you get started. Holding on to expectation will activate your analytical mind, which is the part of the mind we wish to unplug during practice. If you are attached to an outcome, the mind will constantly search for it.
Open yourself to a new experience without knowing what that experience will be. With all the science supporting meditation practice, you can reassure your rational mind that your practice will only bring about positive change; and it will likely be in an unexpected way!
5. Acknowledge and accept emotion
Emotions, much like thoughts, can come to us naturally and spontaneously. When confronted by emotion, we have a choice in how we react. But first, it is important that we can recognise what we are feeling so we can respond appropriately. Meditation can put us more in touch with our emotions by paying closer attention to our body’s physical ques. For example, when we experience frustration we might frown, fidget or experience a sensation of tightness in the chest. When we experience joy we may smile, laugh, feel lightness and ease in the body.
You may choose to reflect on emotion during meditation. Think about a moment in your day so far that provoked an emotional response. Did you process the emotion before responding? Can you recall what sensations you felt in your body? Did you like or dislike how it felt?
Once you have identified the relationship between an emotion and the feeling it created, hold compassion for yourself. It is never wrong of you to feel an emotion. By recognizing and accepting what you are feeling, you are able to dissolve emotions that feel unpleasant and grow emotions that feel good. And you are able to press pause on reacting and create a response that your inner parent approves of.