Tips for Beginning Meditators

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Last week, I shared an interview with Joseph Mauricio who is a teacher at the Shambhala Center here in NYC. As a follow up to that blog post, I wanted to share some tips that Joe offered for beginning meditators.

AC: What’s the most common question you get from beginning meditators?

JM: How can I keep my back from hurting? How do I keep from falling asleep? Most of the questions are pretty mundane. There are people on the other hand that have very deep, profound questions.  But I find that until you do the practice meditation, it’s not as helpful to get into the deeper questions.

Because I’m a life coach, I look to meditation as a tool that can really help people wake up and begin to take some authority over their own lives. As we wake up and learn to pay attention, we actually begin to see our choices and start to learn how to make a difference in our lives.

Besides the everyday meditation practice, I encourage people to also meditate throughout the day. Keep coming back to the mind of meditation, especially during the day when their mind gets a little crazy, and before they start to think that something wrong with them or that they need to grab a cup of coffee or drink or yell at somebody or quit their jobs.  The first thing they can do is come back to their own heart, come back to their body and return to themselves. It doesn’t cure all the problems in life but it allows us to restart, recharge and see things with a fresh mind.

And what about the mundane questions?

The simple questions that people ask about how to deal with the back pain and to keep from falling asleep are practical and good.  It means they are actually paying attention to how they can sit up straight and wake up.

For back pain, I recommend gentle stretching before sitting down. Gentle spiritual yoga and stretching alongside meditation is also very helpful.  Opening up the body and being mindful of good body posture during the day is profoundly important in terms of changing the stress level of your day. Keep coming back to an open posture and good alignment.

And for falling asleep, I always encourage people to lift their gaze. Many people meditate with their eyes closed so I recommend that they open their eyes and lift their gaze a bit.  Also make sure to breathe and get plenty of oxygen. If they needed to stop and get a glass of water, it is better than caffeine especially for a short session.  There is no need to crank up on more caffeine. But drink a little bit of water, do a little stretching, then come back to the meditation practice.

When I first started meditating, my legs would always fall asleep!  I started to make the connection between where I was feeling physically and spiritually uncomfortable.

Yes. For some people, the pain is either caused or at least exacerbated by wanting to be good, wanting to do it right. For instance, some people are afraid if they move, they’re doing something wrong. It’s like yoga, if it hurts, stop. Stop and relax. It’s the same with meditation.  It’s okay to readjust oneself especially at the beginning. And at some point, if you’re squirming a lot, it’s not helpful either. You’re may be making the pain worse, so it becomes a balance.

So what I normally tell people is a 3-count process. If something itches or hurts, look at it, relax it, leave it alone but don’t move the first time, don’t move the second time.  But the third time it happens pay attention because there’s really something going on.  So go on and move, stretch, reset. Check in to see if the uncomfortability or squirming is really about the pain or about not wanting to settle down.

That’s why it’s amazing to stretch beforehand.  Sometimes meditators cut off the energy flow at the base of their thighs, sometimes they’re too high or leaned forward too much putting too much weight on their legs.  It’s helpful to have an instructor observe help adjust the posture.

Finally, what books would you recommend to anyone that wants to start meditating?

Turning the Mind Into an Ally or The Shambhala Principle both by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche are really good in terms of teaching meditation itself and how meditation works in life and then your life.  So these books are very practical and simple. 

by Anjie Cho