Has focusing on the breath or a mantra brought you to a plateau in your meditation practice? Maybe you even gave up completely from the frustration of not “getting better." Here is a list of tools that you can use to re-engage with your meditation practice, or give it a tune up.
1. Soften your hands and feet
My favorite advice for meditation I’ve ever received was when I was at Kripalu. Dina Bandhu told us to focus on softening our hands and feet before we even begin to focus on the breath. This is a great check in, because when we start to get antsy and our “monkey” brain begins jumping all over the place, the first physical signs are that our feet tighten, and our hands begin to clench. If we can consciously soften and open our hands and feet, the rest of the body naturally opens up, readying us for meditation.
2. The breath as a solid
Each day, our breath comes in and out with different cadence and space of our lungs, depending on how tight our muscles are. Imagine the breath coming in and out as a solid object floating in and out of your nose, throat, and lungs. Another way to think about this would be to focus on the water (breath), filling and taking space in your glass (lungs), rather than focusing on the glass (lungs).
3. Strong determination
Try not moving. I mean not an inch. It’s hard. You have an itch, sit with it. “Man this sucks, my leg is cramping!” Great. You are meditating! That kind of thinking is moment to moment, and it is the reason we meditate, right? To show up for conversations and the experience of the body and senses, rather than the “thinking mind," which projects us into the future or past.
4. Breathe life into an object
Try one-pointed concentration on an object. When you can hold firm to your object, you can begin to “breathe life” into your object, using your object as an oxygen tank. Focus each exhale sending breath to the object, and feel the inhale filling you up with prana or life force!
For many of us, this is a better anchor than the breath, because an object is static, non-moving, while breath is dynamic and always changing. So to begin meditation, this can be an easy way to maintain a point of focus.
5. Tickling your nose
Imagine the breath is a feather tickling the nose hairs just inside the opening of your nostrils. Focus intently on the breath passively filling your nose, and the movement of those little hairs. Then maintain this focus intently on one aspect of the breath. Perhaps it’s the split second the breath rushes in to fill the lungs after you completely exhale. Or maybe it’s paying attention to emptying the entire contents of your lungs and feeling that sensation on the nose hairs throughout. It’s fun to play with different parts of the breath. See what works best for you!
Lastly, it doesn’t matter if you do any of this during meditation, what's important is that you take it off the cushion. Continue to play with new methods of meditation in walking life. What insights do you have from your meditation practice, that keeps you plugged into your practice and source…