Silencing your mind long enough to experience meditation is the most difficult hurdle to meditation. Some people might say it’s the only hurdle. Regardless of how long you have meditated, there are still frustrating days when you just can’t quiet yourself enough to reach a meditative state. It helps to have a suite of tools you can use to calm mind chatter.
I’ve accumulated a large collection of “shut myself up” tools over the years. I have assorted meditation technology cds on my nightstand, downloaded guided meditation and relaxation podcasts on my ipod, mantras that are bookmarked in various books and manuals, and breathing techniques. I learned the breathing techniques during a 2005 Himalayas trip while at a personal meditation lesson, so I have a special place in my heart for them.
Which “quiet your mind” technique do I use? And more importantly for you, which one should YOU use? No one can answer that question but you. Meditation is meant to be experienced. Try out different techniques and find which one works best for you.
Pranayama is the science of breathe control. I find pranayama exercises to be very effective in quieting my mind. Not only that, I will often drop into a very deep meditation without even realizing it. It costs nothing and it can be done anywhere. There is a lot to like about using pranayama to silence the mind and enter meditation.
If it’s so great, why don’t I simply use pranayama each time I meditate? Sometimes I can’t shut my mind off from thinking regardless of what breathing techniques I try. Or I might be lazy and just want a meditation technology CD to do the work for me. Perhaps I have a specific meditation application that requires a guided meditation script read to me by my favorite teacher.
My point – there are many meditation paths and techniques, even for the same person. So try out the pranayama techniques below – you might love them, you might not. I would suggest attempting them more than once if they don’t work at first try, but it’s your path – do as you wish!
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-AH-gee) is the breathing used during ashtanga (pronounced ash-TANG-gha) yoga and for many pranayama exercises. To perform Ujjayi breathing, prepare by opening your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and start to take a deep exhale. While still exhaling, put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and then close your lips. Notice that the air is bypassing your mouth and flowing up your throat and out your nose. Keep your tongue position and lips closed while you inhale. The reverse sensations will be noticed while the air flows back in through your nose and you’re your throat into your lungs. That’s the Ujjayi breath. It can be somewhat noisy but if it is, that is an indication of a strong Ujjayi breath. But it doesn’t matter what it sounds like.
If that doesn’t work for you, deep breathing with your mouth open might provide a somewhat less appealing alternative. I was taught Ujjayi and prefer it even though I have mild asthma.
Pranayama Technique # 1 – Simple focused inhale and exhale. Close your eyes while doing Ujjayi breath. Inhale at a natural comfortable pace while focusing your attention on following the air flow. Feel it hit your nostrils, back of nose, down throat, into lungs, expanding stomach. Exhale naturally and feel belly lower, air come up lungs, flow past back of throat, up and out nostrils. Continue doing this without any counting or anything else until you no longer feel like doing it.
Sometimes I can be off into a deep meditation just from technique #1. Sometimes I’m not. If not, on to the next technique.
Pranayama Technique # 2 – Inhales and exhales with paused delay. In this pranayama technique, you will breathe as you did in technique #1. However, your inhales and exhales will be a 5-count in length. Count 1001,1002,1003,1004, 1005” while inhaling and exhaling. This may take some practice to correctly measure out your breath.
Once you are able to focus on your count while breathing, add a 3-count hold of your breath at the top of your inhalation. So in your mind, you are now counting while deep breathing as follows: Inhale “1001,1002,1003,1004, 1005”, hold “1001,1002,1003”, exhale “1001,1002,1003,1004,1005”.
This will become methodical and rhythmic. Now add an additional 3-count breath hold at the bottom of your exhalation. Breathing is now: Inhale “1001,1002,1003,1004,1005”, hold “1001,1002,1003”, exhale
“1001,1002,1003,1004,1005”. Hold “1001,1002,1003”, Inhale…keep repeating.
I personally find that I can get lost in this one for quite some time. I suggest using an alarm clock and trying technique #1 for 5 minutes and technique#2 for 10 minutes.
Add these pranayama techniques to your meditation toolkit for silencing the inner chatter of your mind. Next month I will show you some additional pranayama techniques you can use when the need strikes.
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