One of the major reasons people take up meditation is to help them relax. Somehow with the advancement in technology and sophistication in our modern lives, one would think we would have less stress and more free time, but instead we seem to be more and more busy. Much of this stress comes from the increasing expectations we have of ourselves and others, and also from the fact that we are constantly available via mobile phones and computers. We are often trying to juggle several things at once, rather than giving people or tasks our full attention.
Make Time To Relax
Relaxation does not always therefore spring naturally from our regular activities, so it is essential that we deliberately make time for it. Often we are rushing around but not necessarily getting much done. Watching television or chatting with friends can be relaxing in one sense, but for deeper and more powerful relaxation, it is good to set aside a certain time to do some simple exercises – either as part of the daily routine, or at times of increased stress.
Relaxation is not only a genuine goal of meditation, but also a precursor. If we try to dive into meditation straight after rushing home from work, or when our mind is crowded with recent conversations and lists of things to do, we will find it difficult to make that leap. If we first take time to relax a little, meditation will be easier.
Before You Begin
It is as well to take some basic outer steps towards relaxation before even beginning any relaxation or meditation exercises:
Take a bath or shower if you have been busy doing other things. The purifying, refreshing and soothing quality of water can help us feel like we are making a fresh start, washing away the tensions of the day
Decide on a certain length of time purely for these relaxation exercises. Switch off your mobile phone, television, radio and computer, take your landline off the hook, ask the people in your house not to disturb you during this time.
The mind can sometimes try to convince us that relaxation is not as important as other things. If thoughts are repeatedly bothering you in the biginning, just write them down and promise yourself you will deal with them afterwards. Are they really so urgent?
Put on clean, light clothing. Set aside a certain space and try to create a relaxing atmosphere, maybe with flowers, peaceful music, candles and fragrances.
Outer silence is often difficult to find in our modern lives. It can sometimes be tricky also setting aside time to meditate, especially once a busy day is under way. Silence can be very powerful and restorative though; even a few moments of silent meditation can feel like an oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic schedule, bringing perspective to the tasks ahead, and renewed energy to complete them. Perhaps ironically, taking a little time out to enjoy the luxury of silence can thus actually save us time, as it helps us regain concentration and focus.
At times when you only have a few minutes to spare, the Meditation Silence podcasts are a convenient way to top up on your inner peace. You can download them free from iTunes, so you can even carry them with you in your iPhone or computer for inspiration while travelling or between your daily activities. At around 4 or 5 minutes long, they introduce an aspect of meditation from the writings of Sri Chinmoy, followed by a clip of Sri Chinmoy in meditation. So wherever you are, you can just put on your headphones, calm and focus your mind by listening to the reading, and then reflect on it as you meditate in silence with the video: a quick and simple way to claim back your inner poise!
The following episode is called Silent Meditation. There are many other titles in the series, such as From Worry to Confidence, Feeding the Inner Life and Living in Joy.
“Silent meditation is the strongest force that can ever be seen, felt and executed. How do we meditate silently? Just by not talking, just by not using outer words, we are not doing silent meditation. Silent meditation is totally different. When we start meditating in silence, right from the beginning we feel the bottom of a sea within us and without. The life of activity, movement and restlessness is on the surface, but deep below, underneath our human life, there is poise and silence. So, either we shall imagine this sea of silence within us or we shall feel that we are nothing but a sea of poise itself.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Here is an exercise, based on the teachings of Sri Chinmoy. This is a very useful exercise for developing concentration – a valuable strength in its own right, and also as a prelude to meditation. Start by standing in front of a blank wall, and drawing a black dot at eye level. Stand about 10 inches (25cm) away from it.
Drilling a Hole
Begin with your eyes wide open, and focus all your attention on the dot.
Very slowly start to close your eyes, but not completely.
Repeat this process a couple of times.
Then with your eyes open, imagine you are drilling into and entering the hole with great determination.
After some time you will feel that some part of your consciousness – your soul-power – has passed through the wall, even though your body is still standing where it was.
In this way the body becomes increasingly aware of the soul’s capacity.
Breathing From The Dot
Try to feel that when you are breathing in, your breath is coming from the dot itself, and the dot is breathing in from you.
If you can concentrate in this way for ten minutes, again you will feel that a part of your consciousness has entered into the black dot.
In this way, with practice, we can gain some perspective on a deeper part of ourself.
You Are All Eyes
Another variation is to draw a small black circle at eye level, with a dot inside it. This time stand about 1 metre (3.5 feet) away.
Keep your eyes half open and as relaxed as possible, concentrating on the circle.
For three or four minutes feel that your concentration is coming from the centre of your forehead.
Then open your eyes completely and imagine that you are all eyes – your whole being is only vision.
Then concentrate on the dot, and make your focus smaller.
Feel that you are as tiny as the dot, and at the same time that the dot is actually another part of you.
Enter into the dot with your concentration, and imagine you can look back at your body from the other side of the wall.
“Once you are successful with this exercise, the mind can never act like a naughty child. At that time, the mind becomes a most faithful servant of the soul and concentration becomes quite easy.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Concentration is an excellent practice, especially as a precursor to meditation. Setting aside time for concentration exercises can also help concentration during everyday life. The mind is like a muscle: by attaining some discipline over our thoughts the mind will be of better service to us, in the same way that the body’s fitness helps us with physical activities.
Regular daily practice for a short time is better than trying to force or strain the mind for long stretches of time. As with any exercise, try to build up gradually. If you find you get distracted, try not to be frustrated or to give up, but just go back to what you were trying to focus on. Remember this is not an easy thing you are trying to achieve, but over time you are sure to see the improvements and reap the benefits.
Here is an exercise, based on the teachings of Sri Chinmoy…
Exercise: The Candle Flame
Light a candle in a safe place, and focus your attention on the flame. You can either choose the whole flame, or just the tip.
Imagine nothing else exists except that flame. Try to tune in to all its qualities, such as brightness, warmth, upward movement. Take note of the colours and the quality of the light.
Then close your eyes and try to imagine a flame inside the centre of your chest – a warm flame that will not harm or burn you.
Then imagine the flame is illumining your mind. Bring the flame into your mind and try to see a streak of light there.
Go back to the outer flame and again concentrate on the tip or on the qualities. You may now find it easier to concentrate than the first time, having allowed the flame to illumine your mind.
Practice every day for a few minutes and feel the flame inside you getting stronger each time. It may be small or flickering at first, but try to see it growing brighter and more steady each day.
“When you concentrate, whether you are in your mind or in your heart or in your entire being, think of the whole world as smaller than the smallest. Just feel that the entire world is tinier than the tiniest. Then your mind will not act like a vagabond or a stray dog. If you take the world as something very vast, then your concentration can never, never be effective. But if you take the entire world as a tiny thing, absolutely as small as your fingertip, then your concentration will be most powerful.”
Often the muscles become strained because of the tensions of the mind, which in turn keeps the mind on edge. It is therefore good to start by relaxing the body as much as possible, while remaining alert.
Sitting in a chair, or cross-legged on the floor, try to keep the spine straight, but not too rigid. Keeping the body poised will help you focus your mind, and avoid falling asleep.
Starting at the top of the head and working down to the toes, focus on each part of the body, noticing and releasing any tension. This often builds up in the neck and shoulders without us realising.
Spend some time relaxing the muscles more and more deeply, while remaining poised, balanced and upright.
2. Breathing Techniques
Focus all your attention on your breath. Do not try to hold the breath or to breathe unnaturally, but see if you can comfortably and gradually make the breathing deeper and slower.
Often we use only the top part of our chest to breathe, especially if we are tense. Try to breathe in fully, allowing the lungs to extend freely.
Try to keep the breathing quiet and peaceful. If it helps, you can imagine that someone has placed a thread in front of your nose, and you are trying not to disturb it. Just let it come naturally; never try to force the breath.
Then feel that you are breathing in through the different parts of your body. Imagine that each part is a door through which you can breathe fresh energy into your your whole being.
If you still feel restless, imagine with each in-breath you are breathing in peace into your whole being, and with each out-breath you are releasing all the restlessness out of your body and mind.
3. After The Exercises
You may feel either sleepy or energised after the exercises; either way try not to rush into any stressful activities again straight away, or start watching something chaotic on television for example. Spend some time quietly, either just resting, or reading, listening to music, or maybe taking a walk in nature, so as to absorb and assimilate what you have gained through the exercises.
You are bound to feel
An inflow of creative energy
And constructive enthusiasm.”