Yoga: A Meditation and Relaxation Guide

First posted in June, 2004

Why I posted this

Through conversations with my friends, I've noticed that as much as some of us joke and laugh and appear to be happy, many of us are really tense, really under stress. I often mention to people that one of the things that really helps me to stay calm is meditation. Many of my friends have expressed interest in meditation, but often add that they dont't really understand how to do it, and are a little afraid to try. So it was suggested that I post something. This is the result.

What meditation is

Meditation is just a way to clear the mind of all those excess thoughts. Some folks find this easier to do that others, but with a little work, you can you achieve great results. I find that clearing my mind just a few minutes a day allows my mind the break it needs. I've also included some basic stress relieving tips that I picked up from yoga that go well with meditation. Try them. Use what works for you.

Just read through this page a couple of times, pick up the main points, then go try it. The first few times it will be very difficult, but it gets easier with practice.

How to start

To begin, find a comfortable seated position. Some people prefer to lie down, but I feel that it's easier to loose your concentration if you're too relaxed, so I suggest sitting. I like to sit with my legs crossed, hands gently resting upon my knees. Sit however you'd like, so long as it's a position that you can stay in for a few minutes without distraction - if your legs begin to get soar, they'll start to nag at you, and it will break your concentration.

Make sure that you're not sitting on your tailbone, but on what's frequently referred to as the "sit bones." If you're sitting on your tailbone, this will curve your spine. Shift your weight so that you're sitting on the bones of the pelvis instead, and you'll find this improves you posture - this will help later, trust me.

Let's begin

Close your eyes. Start to breath very deeply, preferably through the nose. Loosen the abdomen, and allow the diaphragm to drop fully with each incoming breath. Imagine filling your belly with air, then your mid chest, then your upper chest. Exhale in the opposite manner - release air from the throat, then chest, and finally the belly. Use all of the space in your lungs. This is called a three-part breath, and by focusing on it, you start to move the mind away from other distractions.

Next - Really clear the mind

Concentrate on this three part breath. Imagine following the flow of air as it moves through your body. If a thought about work, family, or a noise outside the house starts to creep back in, simply note it, and set it aside for later. Go back to breathing deeply, fully, and concentrating on that breath.

If this isn't enough to concentrate on, here's a couple of other things you can try:

  • You can count the breaths (one and two and... very slowly)

    ~ or ~

  • You can think "exhale, inhale" as you breathe. I find this one works best for me. If you think about breath in the opposite fashion than normal (i.e. inhale then exhale) it takes a bit more concentration.

Some people continue the deep breathing, but instead of focusing on the breath, they focus on a phrase, a mantra, a prayer, something that centers them and makes them feel better. I find that thinking of nothing at all (except the very basic act of breathing) works for me. Experiment - see what works for you.

Other stress relieving techniques

I would suggest starting with a minute or so of meditation. Work up from there. Once you're done with this first exercise, keep your eyes closed, and do the following:

  • Again check your posture, make sure you're sitting up tall - this allows for the best, deepest breath, and for the best stretch. Keep reading...

  • Exhale and drop the chin to the chest. Inhale as deep as you can, and feel the stretch between your shoulder blades. Hold this stretch for as long as you'd like... keep breathing deeply.

  • Still keeping your eyes closed and your focus inward, roll your head up to one shoulder, back down in front of the chest, and up to the other shoulder. Don't roll the head back - this hyperextends the neck and will do more harm than good. Take these head rolls slowly... pause anywhere you feel you need a better stretch.

  • Bring the head back up to center. Drop the head to the left, and just let it hang. If you want a deeper stretch, consciously drop the right shoulder a little. Repeat on the other side.

  • Okay - this is a good one - continue keeping the eyes closed. Bring the hands together in front of the chest, and rub them together vigorously, until you've generated some heat. Place your hands on your face, fingertips upon the eyelids. Let the heat soak into the muscles of your face. Eventually, let the hands wander... rub your temples, your jaw, your neck, your shoulders... whatever your body is asking for at that moment.

To facilitate all of this

  • Make sure the room you're in is the right temperature. If it's too hot or cold, this will distract you.

  • Experiment with sound - everything from complete quiet, to nature, to gentle music.

  • Wear comfortable clothing.

If this appeals to you

If all this appeals to you, perhaps you could go rent a tape on meditation or yoga, or take a class. Try different things - not all tapes or classes are right for all people. You might go to a class or two, take what works for you, and do it at home in private.

Another thing that works well is guided relaxation, in which you give yourself over to someone else's voice. It's not hypnosis, nothing subliminal, but merely allows for an extra element of letting go. I've recorded some relaxation MP3s that are freely available for download.