How To Spice Up Your Meditation Practice
Some unusual ways to stay on track
Meditation is not seen as something to ‘spice up’. In fact, it’s something you do turn the spice down if you know what I mean.
After all, our lives offer a lot of stimulation as is. Meditation then helps us to interiorize our attention and elevate our consciousness by retracting it from the world.
But tell me if this sounds familiar. You wake up one morning, ready to meditate. You’ve read all about the benefits of meditation and finally made up your mind to start a practice.
The moment you sit down, you start focusing on the breath. Ten seconds into it, you think “Ah, it’s easy. I can focus on the breath for ten minutes for sure!”
After ten more seconds, you think, “*I can do this! That article mentioned really cool benefits. I mentioned when will they happen for me. I’ll read more articles to find out how long it takes.” *And this trail of thought goes on for five more minutes when you realize you’ve been focusing on your thoughts for too long.
This makes you uncomfortable. Just a few minutes back you had it all figured out and now you can’t focus. The uncomfortable sensation manifests itself in your body.
You start to get itchy, perhaps open one eye and look at the clock. “I’m getting late for work, I should get up already,” you think.
This goes on for a week. At this point, you’re either tired of it or simply bored.
You manage to do it for a couple of days more since you promised yourself you’d stick to it this time.
But enough is enough. You can’t take it anymore, and so you quit.
This long story is not something I made up, it’s happened to me time and time again.
That is part of the reason I write so passionately about meditation — I understand the pain and pitfalls of starting and maintaining a practice.
But over the past year, I’ve realized that starting a practice is not enough. If you have to stick with it for a long time, you need to make it fun. I don’t mean that in the usual sense. Yet you should feel joy and calmness when you meditate instead of restlessness and confusion.
Most articles on the Internet would recommend changing your practice when you get bored. And yes, that can work but this should only be an exception, not the norm.
Because if you keep switching your practice often you’ll not be able to master one technique — and depth is more important in meditation than the number of techniques you know.
At the end of the day, any technique can take you to Enlightenment or anything else that you want to achieve. But you’ve got to have the patience it takes to stick with it and let it show its magic.
That said, if you’ve failed to start your practice or want to be more regular with yours, here are some ways you should explore to spice it up a little.
Often we believe that to experience stillness and mindfulness, we need to stop moving. And while that is true, stillness doesn’t always mean the cessation of movement.
You can move and be still at the same time. The stillness we’re after is deeper than your physical state.
Walking meditation unlocks a different state of consciousness, especially after a sitting session.
Since the coronavirus lockdown has ensued on the world, we all have found more time on our hands than we know what to do with.
I’ve used this time to inculcate a much-needed practice of an evening walk. I walk without headphones for at least ten minutes after which I am free to take calls if I have to.
By far, this has been the single-most effective investment in keeping me fit and creative and help me embrace boredom.
There are other reasons too why you should try walking meditation. You see, most of your time is spent rushing from place to place. We all are preoccupied with what is to be done next.
Researchers have found that most mind-wandering in our brains is related to the next 24-hour period. Hence, we’re not really experiencing every moment, rather thinking about how to live the next one.
Walking is perhaps one of the most automatic activities we perform.
You don’t think about placing one step in front of the other or shifting your weight from the heels to the toes, every time you take a walk. It just happens.
So while doing a walking meditation, the goal is to reverse this cycle — from automaticity to awareness.
This can increase our enjoyment of our own physical bodies, nature and the surroundings in general — all the things we tend to miss out when we live on autopilot.
From a larger perspective, it helps us be aware not only about where we place our feet but also our emotions, and actions — for the mindfulness you experience while walking percolate to other areas of your life as well.
A meta-analysis of 20 studies found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) which includes an 8-week training program including walking meditation, improves symptoms and psychological wellness of participants suffering from a variety of illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and depression.
Here’s a simple way to do it today, or even right now:
Find a spot where you can pace up and down for roughly 15–20 steps. It can be indoors or outdoors.
Start walking for 15–20 steps, and stop and breathe for as long as you like when you’re done. When you’re ready, turn, and repeat.
- Think deliberately: As we discussed, you need to cultivate hyper-awareness about movements you otherwise do automatically. Particularly, you can focus on:
- Lifting one foot
- Placing the heal of the next foot in the front
- Placing the toes on the ground
- Shifting of weight on the front step as the heel of the previous step lifts
- Lifting your back foot off the ground You can continue this for as long as you like. Feel free to add on other elements like walking barefoot on grass and feeling the surface. There’s no limit to awareness, when you think you’ve gone deep, go deeper still.
Walk at a natural speed — don’t try to control it too much
Keep your hands and arms the way you like — at the side, front, back, etc.
- It’s definitely an acquired taste — you may not like it at first, but it grows on you the more you practice.
Accept a Higher Power
The second step of the 12-step addiction recovery program says, “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This is one of the most important steps because addiction is not only a psychological problem but also a spiritual one.
It is also not a coincidence that saints and sages of all religions have a higher power in which they believe. The reason is simple — if you believe there isn’t something bigger than you in this world, how can you ever grow? If you think humans are at the peak of their existence, there’s nothing for you to look forward to.
Accepting this truth has been the single most important thing I’ve done in the past year. It has helped me stick to my meditation practice to the point of meditating an hour, twice a day.
Devotion is everything. Swami Kriyananda, a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda (the author of the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi) writes,
Once Yogananda told me, “You will be fine, but don’t lose devotion.” It is the only important thing. Don’t worry about your weaknesses — everyone has them, otherwise they would not be here on earth — but don’t lose your devotion. We need to realize that we are children of God.
We all need to have this devotion to something bigger than us. This is what often gives meaning to our meditation practices and ensures we don’t feel dry.
When you think about meditation as just trying to focus on the breath, it can get boring very quickly. But when you realize that it’s about uplifting your consciousness to experiences higher realities, it becomes fun because you have something to strive for.
Try it for yourself. Swami Kriyananda further writes,
In this scientific era when we test everything, why not also test the teachings of the great masters? Test for yourself if it is true. With a little experience you will see results, as scientists do with experiments. Practice the spiritual experiment of trying to hold onto this love, above everything else you do. This is the art of living, the art of life, and when everything you do initiates from the heart you will see that everything goes well.
When you live from the heart and not your mind, your life can flip upside down, for the better. You cannot take one step on the spiritual path without opening the natural love of your heart.
Chanting & Mantras
The yogis have been telling us this for a long time — the right mantra when chanted continuously, silently, or out loud, can instill a higher state of consciousness and calm.
One of the obvious reasons chanting a mantra helps is that it frees the mind from the incessant background chatter and focuses attention at one point.
During such states, the default mode network in our brain, which is responsible for mind-wandering, shuts off, or becomes less active.
It’s also easier to focus on a sound or a word chanted mentally than it is to focus on subtle sensations like the breath or a body part.
In a study published in the [Journal of Cognitive Enhancement](https://www.springer.com/journal/41465), *researchers from *Linköping University, in Sweden measured activity in the default mode network while practicing mantra meditation.
They asked a group of subjects to take part in a two-week Kundalini Yoga course that included six 90-minute sessions over the course of two weeks. Each session started with yoga exercises and finished with 11 minutes of mantra-based meditation. The subjects recited the “Sat Nam” mantra (roughly translated as “true identity”) while placing their hands over their hearts.
The same group also performed a finger-tapping control condition — in which they were instructed to perform a slow-paced button pressing on a four-button keypad.
The more the subjects practiced mantra meditation, the lower their activity in the default mode network was. This was definitely better as compared to the finger-tapping control condition.
The word “mantra” is made from two words — manas (mind) and tra (tool). It literally means, “a tool for the mind.” One of the most popular universal mantras is Aum — which is the vibration that exists before any creation.
From this, other mantras have emerged which you might have also heard. One of them is “Om Namah Shivay” (I bow to Shiva, the True Reality) which Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love first received from his Guru.
I start every meditation with a chant or a mantra and if you’re having trouble focusing or find your meditation dry, you should too.
First, it captures the monkey mind and gives it a tool to focus on.
Second, it can be a great way to show your devotion towards a higher reality which most of us call God.
Lastly, a mantra doesn’t have to be in Sanskrit. You can simply chant ‘God, God, God’ over and over again and find the same benefits. (Though there are different subtle vibrations each mantra provides, it’s for another article).
In tandem with using a mantra, you can use beads or a “mala” as well. Here’s what they look like.
The purpose of using beads is similar to using a mantra. Just like chanting a mantra gives us a sound to focus on, beads give us a physical sensation to focus on.
Beads and mantras are often used together. As you move your finger through each bead, you chant your mantra. A mala usually has 108 beads and it can take you anywhere from 2–5 minutes to get through it depending upon your mantra and speed.
You can also replace the mantra with breathing and use the beads to keep track of how many breaths you’ve taken.
Beads also come with a different structure after every 12th or 27th bead so you can keep count easily and opt for shorter meditations as well.
Carry Your Mindfulness
The best way to make meditation interesting is to carry the mindfulness with you.
Don’t rush to get up just after you finish your practice. Open your eyes, take the air in, and get up gracefully. If possible, sit for an extra five to ten minutes to appreciate the beauty of the practice and experience the after-effects.
Once this experience of stillness has percolated through your psyche, you can apply it to your work.
Mindfulness can happen anywhere — in a meeting, in a conversation, while working, doing the dishes, cleaning the floor, driving a car, standing in a line, etc.
There are no limits to it. And the more you do it, the more you want to do it.
As you become aware and mindful of what’s happening around you, you’ll automatically start to crave your meditation practices. And when you look forward to your practice with enthusiasm rather than a task you have to do, the results are magical.
Don’t Take Stereotypical Postures
If you’re sitting in a posture that makes you uncomfortable, no wonder you’re not liking meditation.
There’s no need to sit cross-legged on a zafu cushion. You can get the same benefits by meditating on a chair as well.
You can’t suck at meditation. No one can. The reason people feel they’re not doing well, is they think meditation is about emptying the mind or the cessation of thoughts.
Though that may be the goal of meditation, it doesn’t mean that you’re bad if you’re not able to achieve it. It can take years to do that! It’s called a meditation ‘practice’ for a reason.
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.” — Bhagavad Gita
I know it’s tempting to judge yourself but this will only suck the enthusiasm out of you. Instead, if you go in with an attitude of detachment, you’ll find yourself much more satisfied.
It’s Alan Watt’s Backward Law — “The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
The more you chase a higher state of consciousness, the more elusive they’ll seem. But if you gladly accept where you are and practice without attachment, you’ll get what you want and much more.
Don’t let a few setbacks in your meditation practice snatch away something so precious from you.
If you feel stuck, here are some ways you can spice up your practice for greater satisfaction in the long run:
Try walking meditation
Embrace and accept a higher power to uncover the natural love of your heart
Use chanting, mantras, and beads to capture the monkey mind
Carry your mindfulness to your life even after you’ve meditated
Don’t take stereotypical postures, and finally
Don’t judge your progress your compare it with others
And if you still face any problem, feel free to get in touch with me.
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