I have a confession to make: I don’t have extensive experience in meditation. I haven’t tried lots of different types under the guidance of Zen priests and mindfulness masters. I don’t have endless stories about attending meditation groups and retreats, absorbing the calming atmosphere of mass focus and relaxation.
My meditation experience involves sitting cross–legged in my living room, focusing on my breath, and opening my eyes when my phone alarm starts vibrating, 15, 25, or on rare occasions, 30 minutes later.
That being said, I’ve always wanted to learn more advanced meditation techniques—which I look forward to doing once I settle into Los Angeles.
In the meantime, I enjoyed reading Relaxing into Meditation, by Buddhist Lama Ngakma Nor’dzin.
The author starts by highlighting the importance of achieving relaxation before attempting meditation. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling resistant to stillness, spontaneously developing restless leg syndrome as your thoughts spiral into chaos, you know the challenge of meditating when you’re feeling tense in your mind and body.
Throughout the course of the book, Ngakma Nor’dzin offers a variety of breathing practices and meditation techniques to calm even the most agitated person.
The explanations are clear and detailed, providing step-by-step instructions, complete with (somewhat crude) visuals.
I especially enjoyed the section on singing as a relaxation technique. As a karaoke junky with a well–worn shower brush microphone, I’ve always found singing relaxing. It never occurred to me to maximize the meditative benefits.
I also appreciate that the author suggests starting with just 10 minutes a day to create a sustainable habit that doesn’t seem discouraging from the get–go.
Ngakma Nor’dzin’s goal isn’t to get us meditating for an hour in both the morning and evening. It’s to help us develop a greater sense of awareness and compassion, fostered through meditative practices that are as diverse as we are as individuals. As someone who mistrusts one-size fits all solutions, I value her sensitivity to our unique needs.
Throughout the book, Ngakma Nor’dzin provides a small window into the experience of meditating in a classroom. By interspersing short anecdotes from her experiences teaching, Ngakma Nor’dzin gives you an idea of what it might feel like to be part of a group.
I’ll be honest—I’ve never been fond of closing my eyes within a sea of other people, except for the few moments in savasana after a yoga class. (And even that I sometimes rush).
But this book got me thinking about my resistance to letting go within a group atmosphere. Knowing the benefits of meditating on my own, I imagine it would be freeing to fully relax in a less controlled environment.
Of course that’s not a requirement for meditation. All you need is a small daily time commitment, a willingness to actually do the exercises outlined in the book, and patience with your mind and body. Sometimes it takes a while to settle into relaxation. As I outlined in my recent post Why Positive Thinking Didn’t Work for Me, the benefits justify the short-term discomfort.
If you’re just starting your practice, looking for a reprieve from life’s daily stresses, you’ll likely find Relaxing into Meditation simple, informative, and highly useful.