Meditation : The basics of a meditation practice (or how to become enlightened in 24 days…give or take)

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Why might you choose to meditate, the basics skills, and even answers to frequently asked questions. (So if you’ve always wanted to know what to do when your dog starts licking your face while you’re breathing, stay tuned.)  And while you might not actually be enlightened at the end of these next 24 days, if you stick with us and tackle even some of the exercises, we promise, you will see benefits. Here we go…

Drew here…After many, many years developing my personal meditation practice and teaching meditation to students in both Tae Kwon Do and yoga, I’m excited to share my thoughts and experiences with a wider audience. I find there is often a belief that meditation is only for monks or yogis, or that you can only benefit if you can dedicate at least an hour a day, in complete silence or with gongs and chimes. Truth is that meditation benefits are often realized in as little as 10 deep breaths.

I’m often asked, “Why should I meditate?” People come to meditation for many reason.  Some are looking to improve focus or concentration. Others are looking for an outlet to the stress of everyday life, to manage pain, or resolve health issues. Some even begin meditation simply because they have to. Black belt candidates and yoga teacher candidates are required to meditate as part of their curriculum.

Unfortunately, seeking to understand benefits of meditation before starting a practice is often an exercise in futility.  A goal oriented approach narrows the focus to what you think you can or should get from a consistent and sincere practice.  In reality, the biggest benefits are often unexpected, deeply personal and surprising. My advice is to go into it with an open mind, a lot of courage and a willingness to change and be changed.

So let’s jump in. Where should we start? Well, that’s easy. Just buy a book, sit on a cushion, twist your legs over each other, chant (if that is your cup of tea) and once you have been doing that for some very nebulous amount of time, ding, you are enlightened.  Or not.

Mediation, like any other skill, involves a set of basic tools that are used to explore and learn. The acronym BRFWA (pronounce brif-wah) captures the first set of tools. BRFWA stands for Breath, Relax, Feel, Watch and Allow. And these are the concepts I’ll discuss over the next few weeks in these posts.

So, as with anything we begin at the beginning. For meditation, that is breath. Here is a simple exercise that will connect you to your breath and begin you on your journey. Later this week I’ll discuss why breath is the foundation of your practice.

Finding your Breath

Set a timer (I like the Timer+ for iPhone) for five minutes. Sit or lay in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and begin to count your breaths. Counting just the exhales count from 1-21. When you get to 21, start over again.  Do this 5 times in a row.  If you lose track of where you are, start over from one again.

Now, how many times did you start over?  Do you even remember?  Do you remember getting to 21 five times?  This exercise is a demonstration of the noise that goes on in our brains every second of every day.  As we stop and settle our bodies, our minds kick into over drive and that activity bubbles to the surface.  Our challenge is to manage that constantly in motion mind and redirect its activity towards more productive and charitable goals.

In the beginning, you may remember reaching 21 one or two times. Reaching 21 three times is great. Over the next few weeks, as you practice the exercises I lay out here, repeat this exercise once a week.  As you reach 21 five, six or even seven times you’ll realize that with a small amount of practice your ability to clear the noise and settle your mind grows.

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