"I want to meditate, but I am struggling with it."
I hear this often as a relaxation coach—people reach out to me about their struggles with meditation. They've tried to do silent meditation, and become frustrated when they lose focus, have trouble getting comfortable, and, worse yet, begin to ruminate on negative thoughts. Since meditation is meant to be relaxing and virtually effortless, I find guided relaxation techniques can help ease a person into meditation.
I like to begin with guided breathing exercises, because it is such a natural way to prepare the mind and body for relaxation. Here is a simple breathing technique you can use:
Place your hands on your belly, so you can feel the rise and fall as you breathe fully and deeply. Inhale through your nose, bringing the air down into your belly, and feel your hands move as your belly expands. When you have taken in all of the air you comfortably can handle, hold the breath for a brief moment. Next, exhale, letting out all of the air, feeling your belly deflate like a balloon. Repeat this pattern 5 or 6 times, or until you develop a slow, easy flow of breathing. Imagine you are breathing in comfort and relaxation, and breathing out tension and stress.
The next relaxation technique I find useful during guided relaxation training is muscle relaxation. These exercises can be particularly helpful in releasing tension from the body and settling into a comfortable position. When your body is fully relaxed, the mind can focus on positive images, feelings and sensations. Muscle relaxation is a perfect segue into guided imagery and meditation. Here is a brief muscle relaxation technique that you can practice to help settle into a deeply relaxed state:
Settle yourself into a comfortable position, breathing slowly and deeply. Become aware of your body: notice areas of tension and also notice areas of relaxation that you are beginning to feel. The goal of this exercise is to allow those areas of relaxation to spread throughout your body, bringing you to a calm, thoroughly relaxed state. As you inhale, tense your hips and glutes, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, press your knees together and hold all of this tension for the count of 1...2...3...4...and release! Exhale and let go of all of that tension you created in your muscles and let them release and relax, feeling the tension drain out of your body like water draining from a hose. Enjoy the sensations of your muscles relaxing for several seconds, breathing calmly and deeply. Next, inhale as you tense your lower legs by flexing your feet, make two tight fists with your hands, press your shoulder blades together as if you were trying to squeeze a pencil between them, scrunch up your facial muscles and hold all of this tension in your body for a count of 1...2...3...4...and release! Exhale and allow your hands and shoulder blades become loose and free, allow your facial muscles to soften and smooth out, and gently roll your ankles a few times to encourage your lower legs to relax. Spend a few moments enjoying the feeling of relaxed muscles, breathing fully and deeply. To end this muscle relaxation, imagine warm waves of relaxation flowing through your body, washing way every last trace of tension, and feel them cleansing, soothing and relaxing your whole body as you drift deeper into relaxation.
Now that your body is relaxed and your mind is becoming calm, it is time for some guided imagery. I like to think of guided imagery as a guided daydream that engages all of your senses—touch, sight, smell, taste and sound—and focuses the mind on positive images, feelings and sensations. Guided imagery goes beyond simple visualization, so if you don't happen to notice visual images during the exercise that is O.K., because you might be a person who experiences other sensations that will lead you to the same goal of opening your mind to positive thoughts and feelings. Here is a brief guided imagery exercise:
Imagine yourself in a place where you feel safe, relaxed and happy. It can be indoors or outdoors, you can be alone or with others. Choose a place that is comfortable and pleasant for you, where you can be yourself and express your thoughts and feelings freely. Notice all of the details of this place using all of your senses—sight, touch, smell, taste and sound. What colors, textures and things do you see? How does the air feel on your skin—is it warm or cool? What scents are around you? Breathe in, and a delightful aroma brings back a wonderful memory. You can almost taste what you are smelling, and the happy memories intensify. Perhaps you remember a fun outing with a good friend, or a time when you felt so confident and at ease within yourself. You can hear a favorite sound, maybe some music, a light breeze rustling the leaves of a tree, or distant waves crashing onto rocks, or the sigh of a sleeping baby, kitten or puppy. Whatever sound that brings you a sense of well-being. As you take in your surroundings, you become more and more relaxed, more and more at ease with yourself and the world. Spend some time in your own special place, knowing that nobody is wanting anything, nobody is expecting anything, and there is absolutely nothing whatsoever for you to do except to relax. Before you leave your own special place, I want you to remember this feeling of peaceful relaxation, and bring it with you into your daily life. In this relaxed way of being, you can feel confident and hopeful, with a renewed focus and an ability to achieve all that you with to achieve.
After these three relaxation techniques—breathing, muscle relaxation and guided imagery, I believe the mind and body is ready for some meditation. In my guided relaxation training practice, I end the session with some version of the loving kindness meditation. I choose this type of guided meditation because it is so universal and it fosters a feeling of kindness and friendliness towards oneself and others. Here are some excerpts from a loving kindness meditation from my album "Uplifting Guided Relaxation":
Please put your attention on your breath for just a few moments. Move your focus inward, centering on your chest area, your "heart center". With each breath, feel your chest expand, opening your heart, filling your heart with warmth, light, and loving kindness. And as you continue breathing, feel yourself settle deeper and deeper into a place of wellbeing, a place of safety, a place of love.
Think of the good things you have done in your life: kind words you have spoken, caring acts you have offered, and good intentions you have sent out into the world. Remember them now, and feel warm and loving towards yourself. Appreciating the goodness in yourself. Imagine all of these caring thoughts, good deeds, and kind words as a beautiful stream of light, circling around the universe, and then returning to you.
So now turn your focus toward a person who is near and dear to you. Think of the good things that person has done in his or her life: kind words, good deeds, a warm smile. As you think of that person, your heart is filled with appreciation, love and respect. Imagine the light that is pouring out of your heart, surrounding that person in warmth and goodness. Together, you and your loved one bask in the radiant glow of loving kindness.
Think of people everywhere, near and far. See children and adults living in the cities, towns and countryside around the world. All of them looking for happiness. All of them having goodness in their hearts. Feel that goodness within them—connect your heart to their hearts. Let your compassion, your warmth and your care, for all these human beings, flow from your heart, giving them a feeling of being safe, happy, at ease.
And now allow your focus to return to yourself. Your heart is filled with joy and peace after extending your warmth, light and love to so many other people. Each time you share your gift of light and love with the world, your heart is replenished. You have the ability to make the world a better, more compassionate place by intentionally sending your love toward others. You exist in a place of love and generosity. May your heart be filled with appreciation, love and respect for all of the good you have done and will continue to do in your life.
May beings everywhere be filled with loving kindness.
How does it feel for you to sample these guided relaxation techniques? If it is difficult to get a sense of the techniques just by reading them, perhaps you can ask a friend or family member to read them to you. I recommend choosing someone who has a voice you find relaxing. Notice how these techniques might help you find your path to meditation. Or you can use guided relaxation to refresh your meditation practice if you feel off track.
If you are interested in learning more about guided relaxation training, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or browse my recordings to listen to samples from my guided relaxation albums.
May you experience more relaxation and true contentment in your life.