Light Watkins is a Santa Monica–based meditation practitioner who has been teaching for the past eight years. This week, we’re sharing Watkins’ expert techniques for coping with anxiety and stress. To learn more, check out his mindbodygreen class, Meditation for Anxiety: Guided Sessions to Halt Panic Attacks & Feel Calmer Every Day.
Ever wonder what you are supposed to be doing in meditation, or if you're even doing it correctly?
There are actually several ways to meditate on your own. Generally speaking, the more structure you have, the better your results will be. Meditation is a practice that becomes exponentially more effective with consistency.
Here are some of my favorite beginner techniques for those wanting to begin a regular meditation practice. It's preferred to meditate around the same time each day, but you can also use your technique strategically. For instance, if you have a big presentation, competition, speech, blind date, or any experience where you want to perform at your highest level, practice your meditation technique right before.
Try each one of these three simple techniques for a few days, and stick with the one you feel relaxes you the most.
1. Mala Beads
Go to a Hare Krishna temple, a spiritual book store, or an Indian-themed outpost, and get a string of mala beads to use as your counting device. Malas traditionally have 108 beads, which is an auspicious number in the ancient Indian (Vedic) culture from which meditation originates.
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and with your mala beads in hand. There’s usually a tassel on every string of malas. Start by holding onto the one bead that is attached to the tassel, and take a gradual breath in and out. Then advance your fingers to the next bead. After each exhale, keep moving your fingers along the string to the next mala bead, until you return to the tassel.
This meditation will last about five minutes, or 108 breath cycles, and you should feel mentally and physically recharged by the end.
2. Japa Meditation
Japa is a fancy way of saying mantra repetition. Pick a mantra that resonates with you. It could be “Om Shanti,” “Love,” “Peace,” “Jesus,” “Buddha,” “One Love,” or whatever sound appeals to you as you think it softly to yourself.
Next, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and begin repeating your chosen mantra to yourself, almost as an afterthought. Try not to focus on your mantra. Just think it easily.
If your mind wanders off to unrelated thoughts, it’s OK. Just start softly repeating your mantra again when you remember that you’re meditating. Meditate like this for about 5 to 10 minutes. By the end, if you refrain from focusing too much, you should feel mentally refreshed.
This is the simplest and most well known of the three forms of meditation presented here. Again, you sit somewhere comfortably, close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breathing. Begin to gradually breathe in a little deeper and then breathe out a little more than usuall. Fill up the lungs, and then empty the lungs.
Do not strain or make yourself uncomfortable. Keep your body relaxed. And if it feels good to do so, take a tiny pause in between breath cycles. Expect your thoughts to drift away from your breath from time to time. And when you become aware of it, just return to your breathing. Do this for about five minutes, and afterwards you’ll feel like you’ve had a powerful mental reset.
Again, try all three techniques and stick with the one that you like the most for the long-haul. Resist the temptation to switch back-and-forth between techniques because you grow bored of one.
You'll have periods of time where your technique seems ineffective, but if you go without skipping any days, you'll break through to an even deeper experience than before.
Overall, have fun with meditation, keep it light, and stay consistent. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.