Meditation 101: What to Do When you Meditate

what to do when you meditate

Today’s big idea is that knowing exactly what to do when you meditate helps empower you to actually do it. So let’s break down a basic formula for what to do during a meditation practice. There are infinite varieties of mediation and techniques you can try, but sometimes having a ton of options is paralyzing. This is my go-to meditation routine so let’s start at the beginning of what to do. 

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First, you have to decide what position you want your body to be in

Will you sit in a chair? Or on a cushion on the floor? Or might you prefer to lie down? There’s no right answer, but it is a choice that you need to make, so take the time to decide what appeals to you today. 

If you sit, whether in a chair or on a cushion on the floor, I want you to reach back and pull each of your butt cheeks back, one at a time, so that your butt is behind you. Pulling your butt bones back behind you gives you a broader base to sit on which makes it more comfortable and also helps put a natural curve in your lower spine, which makes it easier to hold your torso, neck and head up while you meditate. Just reach under there and grab hold of what you’ve maybe heard a yoga teacher call your sits bone and gently pull each one back. Honestly, if you did this every time you sat down, your back would be a lot happier. 

Once you’re situated, I suggest setting a time, so that you don’ have to do any wondering how long it’s been or if you should stop once you get started. 

Then purge whatever thoughts or feelings or activities you were just doing

Signal to your body that you’re embarking on something different by taking a few big deep breaths where you blow your exhales out of your mouth. 

(These are the last breaths you’ll do where you’re exhaling through the mouth, from here on out it’s all through the nose.)

And then gently close your eyes. You don’t need to squeeze them shut, just let them fall with gravity.  

Boom, you’re meditating.

OK, you’re sitting well (or reclining well), and your eyes are closed. Now what to do when you meditate?

I like to start with a quick body scan–just moving your attention from the top of your head down to your toes and getting a feeling for how you’re feeling, both in your body and in your mood and emotions. You know how a mom looks at her kid and can get a sense of how the kid is feeling? This is you doing that for yourself. This isn’t about diagnosis, it’s just about noticing, being receptive to your own experience, and accepting it. 

The body scan can be a few seconds total, or you can spend a few seconds with each part of the body, whatever feels right to you. 

When you’re done traveling through the body, land your attention on where in your body you can feel your breath. Just let yourself experience this thing you do all day every day but rarely pay any attention to for a few breath cycles

And finally, after a few rounds of breathing naturally, begin to count your breaths

Inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, exhale 4. When you get to 10, you start again. Keep doing that until your timer goes off. 

When you notice you’re on 17, start again at 1. When you notice that you’ve stopped counting altogether and are thinking about what you need to get at the grocery store, start again at 1. This noticing you’ve gotten off track and starting again is a major point of  practicing what to do when you meditate—learning how to witness where your thoughts have gone, being able to let go of a train of thought without a lot of drama or beating yourself up, and continually returning your attention to where you want it to be are just hugely helpful skills to have, whether you’re participating in meditation or out living your life. 

So, just to recap…

You set a timer. Then you sit well (or lie down well). Take a few cleansing breaths where you exhale audibly through your mouth. Close your eyes. Do a body and mood scan. Notice your breathing. Then count your breaths. And take a moment at the end to really notice how you’re feeling post-meditation. 

Of course, there are apps and YouTube videos that talk you through meditating too, and those are great. Headspace is a regular sponsor of this podcast, so they are paying me to run ads, but they AREN’T paying me to love their product, which I do. Whatever app you use, sometimes it’s so helpful to know that all you have to do is push play and you know you’re going to meditate, so if the thought of taking yourself through this simple set of instructions feels daunting or unappealing in any way, know that you have lots of options for having someone guide you through what to do when you meditate.

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to, as soon as this episode is over, go and set a timer for whatever form of meditation feels really doable and easy to you. Could be 10 minutes, 5 minutes, or even 1 minute. Move your  butt bones back. Do a few exhales through your mouth. Close your eyes. And count your breaths until the timer goes off. And then check in with yourself to see how you feel—steeping in how good you feel even after a short amount of time will help you lure you into doing it again. 

Come back tomorrow, when I’m interviewing meditation teacher Jess Naim for her best tips on getting into a meditation groove; she shared some stuff that I’ve already tried and really helped!!

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