written by Melissa Sokulski, L.Ac. of The Birch Center for Health
Meditation is essentially about two things: a quiet mind and a relaxed body.
To quiet the mind, we select a focus, or a place to put our mental focus to take it out of the thinking realm.
Focuses can be anything: the breath, the body, a sound, a word, an image, an area of the body, a candle... the list is almost endless. The purpose of the focus is to quiet the mind.
My three favorite focuses are the breath, the body, and the sound “ah.”
- The Breath: The breath is probably the most common focus of meditation because it is always present. More that that, once you become aware of the breath and comfortable in that awareness, you can use it anytime, wherever you are. In a stressful situation: become aware of the breath and immediately you will relax and calm down. If you are waiting in a grocery line or anywhere, instead of becoming frustrated use that opportunity to become aware of the breath and meditate.
In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle says (p. 245) “Even if you meditated on your breathing for two hours or more, which some people do, one breath is all you ever need to be aware of, indeed can ever be aware of.”
A recent example for me occurred just after I had lost a lot of blood. I was up too soon and doing too much, and I began to pass out, which has never happened before. I put my head down but it wasn’t enough; I was quickly losing consciousness. Luckily a friend was here who knew to get me lying down with feet up, but she had to practically carry me from the table to the couch. I focused totally on my breath and was able to maintain a pinpoint of consciousness and not pass out completely. Once I was down with me feet up, my consciousness came back fully. Had I not been so used to using my breath as a focus, I’m sure I would have passed out.
- The Body: Sitting in meditation, close your eyes and become aware of how your body feels. Begin at your feet and work your way slowly up to the muscles of your face and scalp, releasing any tension you feel. Once relaxed, see if anything calls your attention - any areas which feel tight, achy, hot, cold, sore, etc. If so, place your attention there. Don’t try to do anything to change it, simply watch the area. If it shifts, find another area which calls to you. If none do, focus on the places that are supported by the earth: your bottom, legs, feet, and relax into those areas. Once here, I usually naturally switch my focus to my breath.
- The Sound, “Ah”: “Ah” is a universal sound. It is often a sound in the word for “God” in many languages: God, Allah, Rama, Buddha. It is easy to make this sound and it causes no stress in the facial muscles: simply drop the jaw slightly (which is a more relaxed position that having the mouth closed) and release, “ahhhhhhh” with the exhale. Repeat all the way through each exhale and feel the vibration in your body. After however many repetitions or a time you’ve chosen (5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc) then quietly sit and feel your body. I like to repeat “ah” six times, then focus on the feeling in my body. (It usually feels quite tingly and alive.) Eventually my focus shifts naturally back to my breath.
While I sometimes shift focus from body to breath and back, it is never because I am bored. Becoming bored with a focus is a sign that you have gone back into your thinking mind: only then could you feel “bored.” My focus sometimes shifts naturally if an area of my body calls to me: becomes stiff, achy, tingly, etc. Wordlessly I shift focus there and observe, without trying to change anything. It may shift or not, and eventually my focus simply switches back to my breath, which is sort of my “home base” in meditation.
Next week: How to build a meditation practice and the 5 minute meditation.