Simple Meditation Techniques For People Who “Can’t Meditate”
As a yoga teacher, there’s several things I hear all the time.
“I’m not flexible, yoga isn’t for me.”
“Can you put your foot behind your head?”
“So how do I know what my life’s purpose is?”
“I can’t meditate, my mind is just too all over the place.”
“I don’t need to meditate, I’m pretty chill already.”
I’ll stop there for now, haha. (But… yoga teachers, am I right?)
The last two regarding meditation are what we’ll be dispelling in this post. Everyone can meditate. Everyone should be meditating. Including you!
Meditation, which just means deep, unwavering concentration, changes the chemical makeup of the brain. With regular practice, it shrinks the amygdala (the primal region responsible for fear and emotion), and the electrical activity in the brain switches from the normal beta state (our analytical, thinking mind) to slower alpha and eventually theta waves. Essentially, meditation is like a reset button for your mind. You can treat it much like you would plugging in your computer or phone to charge.
It should be part of daily human maintenance like taking a shower or brushing your teeth. If that’s intimidating to you, rest assured, it is much less complicated than your mind makes it out to be!
Meditation is of course a very personal practice, which means there are more techniques and methods than we will ever know about. The two main types that are scientifically studied and classified however are concentrative and contemplative meditation
Concentrative (mindfulness) meditation is the act of focusing the mind on one specific stimulus-internal or external- and to refocus on it as many times as necessary and whenever focus is lost for an extended period of time.
Contemplative meditation, on the other hand, asks us to just sit back and watch the contents of the mind, like we’d watch a movie. The goal is to become more aware of where the mind goes, what thought processes it comes back to and what story lines it plays out.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Let’s warm up.
Not so bad, is it?
The first step toward stillness is being able to observe and control our attention, and the easiest way to do that is through the breath and 5 senses. I’ve selected a few simple meditation techniques to heighten awareness in each of your senses. Give them all a try; even if you have just 2 minutes, take that time to unplug.
If you find it difficult to sit down and close your eyes to meditate, there are a handful of popular techniques with the eyes open that could be extremely effective for you.
Candle flame meditation. This technique has been around since humans first built fire for warmth, and there’s no denying the trance that staring at a fire can put one under. To practice, light a candle and sit eye level with it about 2 feet away in a traditional meditation seat. Close your eyes about halfway, like the half sleeping Buddha, so your temples relax. Focus your attention on the flame. Your mind of course will get drawn away into wherever it wants to go; just continue to choose the hazy relaxed eyes on the flame for as long as you have.
Crystal gazing. Hold a crystal in your hand and observe it at all angles, inspecting every crevice, reflection and revelation. Allow yourself to get lost in it until your mind melds into its object. My favorite crystals for this meditation are clear or iridescent ones like crystal quartz, apophyllite, and rainbow moonstone.
Sound is believed to be the source of all creation in all major religions and schools of thought. Sound has a powerful effect on our brain waves and can be a shortcut to meditative state. Sound can also aid in controlling the internal noise, which is an important way to retrain the brain toward positivity and peace. Turn to a sound technique in moments of doubt, criticism, or other internal dialogues that aren’t serving you.
Listen to binaural beats. Insight Timer is a meditation app that has heaps of free content, including awesome binaural beat tracks.
Recite mantra. Mantra is a sound or phrase repeated to aid in concentration. Ancient yogis passed down many simple Sanskrit mantras that have beautiful meanings when translated to English.
My favorites are:
Lokah samastah sukino bhavantu - May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all. Listen to it on Spotify.
Ong namo guru dev namo - I bow to the guru within. Listen.
Jai Ganesha Pahimam - I bow to Lord Ganesha - The one who protects me from the negativity. Listen.
OM - the most sacred mantra and the source of all creation.
Observe sounds in nature. One of my favorite ways to meditate is of course outside in nature. Next time you find yourself in the great outdoors far away from civilization, have a seat and close your eyes. Focus on the most distant sound you can hear. Keep your ears there. If it stops, notice. Observe when it returns. Then move to the closest, most present noise. Stick with it and return to it. You can also try this in a public area, if you feel comfortable closing your eyes. It’s nice at the beach, observing life bustling around you with just the ears.
It’s commonly known that smell is associated with memory, which shows us the potency this sense has on the brain. Smell is also one of the biggest triggers of emotion, with different scents casting different effects. Try incorporating relaxing essential oils to aid in meditation- I love cedar wood, rose, lavender and frankincense. Place a few drops in your hand and rub together to tune the oil to your frequency, and then take a deep breath into your palms. Allow the scent to linger and without chasing, keep your attention with it. The more you come back to a scent in meditation, the more meaning it will take on in your life. Burning palo santo or sage is another great way to literally clear the air and bring your focus to the here and now.
Most people would agree that taste is one of the most pleasurable things about life; yet why is it that we move through our days without savoring much of anything? Every time we eat (or do anything) is an opportunity to have a meditative experience. The next time you sit down for a meal, really take it in. Start by expressing gratitude for where your food has come from, who has dedicated their time and energy to get it to your plate. Witness which tastebuds are active, observe the texture of your food in your mouth, let your teeth chew your food thoroughly, and feel the subtle sensations as you swallow. Turn mealtime into a mindful eating experience.
Skin is the largest organ on the human body, making it the first layer of contact to the outside world. We clean our skin everyday when we shower, yet personally this is a time where I think up blueprints for yoga classes or cool off from the annoyances of the world. Taking a mindful shower and bringing present awareness to the act of cleaning your body is one of the most powerful meditation tools out there. Again, simple, but not easy. Bring acknowledgement and gratitude to every part of your body as you cleanse.
Also consider a japa mala meditation to ignite your sense of touch. Hold your 108 bead mala and repeat your mantra 108 times as you touch the surface of each bead, starting and ending at the guru bead.
Let me know what techniques you try out in the comments! And if you’re looking to ramp up your meditation practice, check out this article on how to create a daily sadhana (spiritual practice).