By Manisha Melwani, Teacher and Speaker. Author of “So you’re a spiritual being—now what?”
Creating a peaceful outer atmosphere helps in preparing yourself for meditation but it doesn’t guarantee that you will be peaceful inwardly.
Your own mind poses the greatest challenge in meditation. The mind is a tremendously powerful force that generates 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day! Naturally it is difficult to calm it down.
How can you do it? Here are 6 simple and effective strategies to calm your mind for meditation.
1. Slow down your breathing
Your breath is intimately connected to your mind.
You may have noticed that whenever you are feeling anxious or stressed, your breathing is short, fast and erratic. Conversely, when your mind is peaceful, your breathing naturally becomes slow and deep
So, the simplest way to consciously quiet the mind for meditation is to slow down your breathing. (Read Why deep breathing calms the mind.)
Sit comfortably with your back and shoulders straight. Close your eyes; breathe in and out slowly through your nose (not your mouth). Make sure to fill in your entire lungs and that your exhalation is even with your inhalation.
Breathing in this way slows down your thoughts and calms you both mentally and physically.
2. Turn your inner gaze to the tip of your nose
Close your eyes and turn your inner gaze to the tip of your nose. Don’t strain any muscles, simply look in the direction of the tip of your nose in a relaxed way.
While doing this, watch your breathing. Observe the cool air entering your nostrils and the warm air leaving them.
This technique helps to quiet the mind because the mind goes where the eyes go. The mind that loves to wander off into the past or the future can be brought to the present moment by focussing your inner gaze at the tip of your nose.
3. “Not now—later!”
After you’ve made your mind relatively quiet through slow, deep breathing and by placing your gaze at the tip of your nose, you’ll notice that thoughts slowly begin to creep into your mind again.
This is because it is the nature of the mind to think thoughts. It especially loves to re-live past experiences or run ahead and make plans for the future.
Gently, but firmly tell your mind, “Not now—I’ll come back to this later.” Then turn your attention to your breath again.
It’s similar to when you are trying to fall asleep. When thoughts about your concerns or experiences come up, you brush them aside (“not now—later!”) and wait for sleep to overpower you.
Similarly, you would put all your concerns on hold until after your practice.
4. Set a timer
Think of your mind as being a little puppy that keeps jumping and running about. Disciplining it takes time and patience.
It can be helpful to tell your mind that you’ll only be sitting for meditation for a short time such as 5 minutes. You can set a timer to help you.
Knowing that you’ll only have to quiet your mind for a fixed few minutes makes meditation a little more doable.
You can then gradually increase your time for meditation to about 15-20 minutes.
5. Keep some paper or a scratchpad handy
You must be wondering why I would suggest that you keep some paper or a scratchpad handy when you’re trying to meditate.
This is because when you get a chance to sit quietly, creative solutions and ideas which were sitting underneath your busy everyday concerns, start coming to the surface.
When this happens, it may be easier to stop and make some quick notes to yourself that you can come back to later. Make sure to write the points in brief and quickly let them go. If you start dwelling on them, new channels of thoughts will emerge.
Interrupting your meditation to write down a couple of ideas is not “cheating” in meditation. It’s a simple way to empty the mind and keep it focused on the quietude.
It’s probably worse to force yourself to focus while your mind anxiously tries not to forget those ideas afterwards.
6. Synchronize your breath with a gentle affirmation
To keep the mind focused on the present moment and let go of the thoughts that come up, you may find it useful to synchronize your breath with gentle self-suggestions. You could mentally chant words such as peace, relax, or release.
For example, if you are using “Release,” breathe in deeply and mentally say “Reee . . .”; breathe out and say “leeease.” You could use the other words in the same way: “pe-eace,” and “re-lax.”
Gradually increase the space between the chants. Finally, taper off the mental chanting until there is only silence.
Your most important appointment of the day
Using these 6 simple strategies to calm your mind can help you prepare for a more serious and longer meditation practice.
Consider the time for meditation as your most important appointment of the day. It helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and keeps you in control of your own mind. These are two valuable skills that can help you maintain an inner peace when dealing with the usual busyness of daily life.
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