A Simple 7-Step Meditation Routine to Inspire Your Own
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What you can do before, during, and after your session for maximum joy
There are a lot of meditation routines and techniques out there. Perhaps there can be as many meditation routines as there are people. Since meditation deals with the nature of one’s own being, it cannot but be individualistic.
While individualism helps people to follow their own path, it can also be confusing, if one doesn’t know what to do. Thus, it’s helpful to have a structure to establish a meditation practice.
A structured practice doesn’t bind you but minimizes decisions for you. You don’t have to think every 5 minutes — “what should I do now? Should I focus on the breath, the nose, or something else?”
When I started meditating, I had no structure. And while that felt freeing, it also required a lot of willpower to decide consciously, every few minutes, what to do next.
Every day I followed a different guided meditation from YouTube or meditation apps. But none of them taught me how to meditate on my own. I was always dependent on someone else to guide me, which let’s be honest, is not the goal of meditation. The goal is to train the mind to achieve deeper states of stillness and consciousness.
For all the aforementioned reasons, it’s imperative for each of us to have a structure to start with. Once we practice according to a structure, we can experiment with various aspects of it as guided by our intuition and experience.
Before discussing the structure, you should know that meditation can be broken down into three stages — relaxation, concentration, and expansion.
First, we relax the body and the mind to free itself of worries and preoccupations. Then we concentrate the mind on an object, usually the breath. And after we’ve practiced all the techniques, we sit in silence to enjoy the peaceful after-effects of our practice.
The structure I’m going to share with you keeps all these stages in mind. Let’s see what it looks like.
Step 1 — Energization
Meditation is not a state of drowsiness like sleep. Instead of letting the mind drift into the subconscious state, we want to lift it to the superconscious state. This is a state not of dullness but alert, yet relaxed awareness.
For the mind to be alert, the energy in our bodies needs to flow without obstructions. This is not our default state though. We all carry stress either in our minds or in different parts of our bodies.
And so it’s important to loosen up and let the energy flow without a blockage. The more energy reaches your brain, the more alert you will feel.
This is especially important since a common time for meditation is either early morning or late evening after work. Both times, the body is either coming out of sleep or wants to go to sleep.
To avoid that from happening, move your body around. Do a few yoga postures to stretch your spine. Add postures for specific body parts that you might feel are tensed.
You can also practice what my guru, Yogananda, called “Energization Exercises”. They are a set of 39 exercises that energize the whole body, from head to toe (literally), within 10 minutes.
The act of moving your body also makes us aware of them. Due to the nature of our jobs, most of us aren’t doing physical work and feel disconnected from our own bodies. No doubt then, the first step in meditation is to be aware of yourself and your energy.
Step 2 — Prayer
A lot of people around the world have made mindfulness too mechanical. Meaning, the emphasis is more on the technique than on the virtues of compassion, kindness, and love.
These practices, when introduced by saints, sages, and religions were not meant to be productivity hacks to make us more efficient. They were in fact ways to transcend our little egos and expand our sympathies to the world around us.
You can pray for depth, guidance, and intuition in your meditation. Yet, try also pray that everyone around you and in the world, receive the same peace that you do after your practice.
It opens up your heart to love. And without love, no spiritual progress is possible.
Step 3 — Chanting or Affirmations
Chants are nothing but prayers put to music. The melodies of certain chants touch our hearts and bypass our intellect. Music has the potential to instantly change our consciousness which makes chants an effective tool.
Chanting also takes the mind away from our preoccupations and gives it something to focus on. No matter how swamped I am at work, reciting a chant or two can quickly bring me back to a calm state of mind.
You can also choose to practice affirmations to affirm the virtues you want to develop. Affirmations also focus your mind on higher realities and plant the right seeds of thought that will manifest in your life.
Step 4— Relaxation
Relaxation is not only a benefit of meditation but also a prerequisite. Sadly it’s also by far the biggest hurdle in meditation for most people. Simply because it’s difficult to create a psychological distance from our lives when we sit for our practice.
However, without relaxation, you can never experience all the wonderful benefits meditation has to offer. If your body isn’t relaxed, you’ll be preoccupied with legs aching, nose itching, or back hurting.
That’s the first thing we need to take care of.
A quick way to do this is to squeeze and tense the whole body gradually until it vibrates with energy and then relax it. Tensing the body acts as a means to send energy to all body parts. It ensures that the flow of energy (prana or qi) is ubiquitous and removes blockages in the form of stress. Repeat these 3–5 times.
If you feel the need to relax a specific body part, you can tense and relax that specific part as well.
Then practice diaphragmatic breathing by expanding your belly on the inhalation and contracting it on the exhalation. This gives your lungs enough space to expand and fill themselves with oxygen. More oxygen equals better focus and more energy. You can do this 6–15 times.
Step 5 — Concentration
Once the body and mind are relaxed, it’s time to relax the mind further and focus it single-pointedly. There are a lot of meditation techniques that choose a different focal point.
However, the breath is a good point to start (and the best one in my humble opinion). Here’s why. Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita says to Krishna in chapter 6 verse 34:
“The mind is very restless, turbulent, strong and obstinate. It appears to me that it is more difficult to control than the wind.”
This verse is not a testimony to how difficult it is to focus the mind. In fact, it gives us meditators the supreme clue — that to control the mind, we need to control the wind. Arjuna is not talking about the wind literally. He’s talking about the wind in our bodies — the breath.
As you focus on the movement of the breath in and out of your nostrils, the mind begins to relax. As the mind relaxes, the breath slows down. Since the number of breaths reduces, the mind begins to slow down even further. Thus, the breath and the mind feed off of each other.
Personally, I use the Hong-Sau technique of concentration which involves mentally saying ‘Hong’ (rhymes with ‘song’) on every inhale and ‘Sau’ (rhymes with ‘saw’) on every exhale.
Regardless of the mantra, focusing on the breath will get your mind and the breath itself to slow down — you can test it from your experience.
As that happens, the pauses between your breath will lengthen and the frequency of breathing will reduce. These pauses are extremely peaceful because the mind is completely still. Try to notice and enjoy these pauses in your practice.
Step 6 — Expansion
Now, we finally come to the last stage of meditation. It’s good to leave a quarter or more of your meditation for this stage. Yogananda said that this is where we grow spiritually and develop intuition, love along with all other good things.
Don’t get off the mat as soon as you’re done with the technique. Remember, as we said above, that meditation is not only the technique. It’s more about our hearts than our minds.
In this stage let go of all techniques and sit in silence, enjoying the peaceful after-effects of your practice. Try to make those benefits real in your heart. If you experience a tiny sliver of peace, try to expand it as much as possible.
This stage is individual so let your intuition guide you. If your mind begins to wander, you may choose to practice your concentration technique for a while and then again, sit in silence.
Step 7 — Sharing is Caring
Whatever benefits you receive, share with everyone mentally. See them experiencing the same peace, calmness, or joy that you’re feeling.
This is also an excellent time to send prayers and good thoughts to someone who is in need of physical, mental, or spiritual healing. Hold them at the point between your eyebrows and see them full of health and vitality.
Sharing the blessings also ensures that we don’t expand our egos trying to keep everything for ourselves.
After you’re done with your practice, don’t plunge into “life as usual.” Try to carry the peace you felt into all activities. Let it spill over in your work, relationships, and conversations.
Walking meditation is also a good way to train ourselves to maintain that balance between inner peace and outward busyness. If you can’t do that after your meditation, try to take things slowly, one at a time, with full concentration.
This is how meditation will actually change your life. But if you leave it at the yoga mat, it will merely be a practice.