Ten Meditations for Focus and Relaxation

Here are ten meditations that provide a range of different practices for you to sample — from elaborate visualizations to basic mindfulness techniques. With regular practice, they offer a taste of the meditative experience.

Exercise for practicing relaxation

To reduce your stress and reap the other benefits of relaxation, try practicing this simple exercise for 15 or 20 minutes each day.

  1. Find a spot where you can sit quietly and undisturbed.

    Sit in a position that you can comfortably maintain for the duration of your meditation.

  2. Choose an object to concentrate on.

    This "object" can be a visual symbol (such as a geometric shape) or a special syllable, word, or phrase, known as a mantra, that you repeat again and again. As much as possible, keep your attention focused on this object; when you get distracted, come back to your focus. (If your object is internal, close your eyes.)

  3. Maintain a receptive attitude.

    Let thoughts, images, and feelings pass through without trying to hold or interpret them. Resist the temptation to evaluate your progress; just gently bring your attention back when it wanders.

Meditative practice of following your breath

This basic meditation practice develops concentration and uses the breath to teach you how to stay present from moment to moment, no matter where you are or what you may be doing.

  1. Begin by finding a comfortable sitting position that you can hold for 10 or 15 minutes.

    Take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Without trying to control your breath in any way, allow it to find its own natural depth and rhythm. Always breathe through your nose (unless you can't for some reason).

  2. Allow your attention to focus either on the sensation of your breath coming and going through your nostrils or on the rising and falling of your belly as you breathe.

    Although you're welcome to alternate your focus from one session to the next, sticking with a single focus for the entire meditation is best. Eventually, you're better off using the same focus each time you meditate.

  3. Give your full attention to the coming and going of your breath.

    Pay attention to your breath the way a mother tracks the movements of her young child: lovingly yet persistently, softly yet precisely, and with relaxed yet focused awareness.

  4. When you realize that your mind has wandered off and you're engrossed in planning, thinking, or daydreaming, gently but firmly bring your mind back to your breath.

  5. Continue this simple (but not easy!) exercise for the duration of your meditation.

    With repeated practice, you may find that your mind settles down more quickly and that you're more present and focused in other areas of your life as well.

Meditation through walking

A time-honored technique that's practiced in monasteries and meditation centers throughout the world, walking meditation is a great way to discover how to translate the focus you learn on your cushion or chair to the ordinary world of movement and activity.

  1. Begin by walking at your usual pace, following your breath as you walk.

  2. Coordinate your breathing with your walking.

    For example, you can take three steps for each inhalation and three steps for each exhalation. If you want to change the speed of your walking, just change the number of steps per breath. Maintain the same pace each time you walk.

  3. In addition to your breathing, be aware of your feet and legs as you lift and move them.

    Notice the contact of your feet with the ground or floor. Gaze ahead of you, with your eyes lowered at a 45-degree angle. If you find it too complicated to follow your breathing and be aware of your feet at the same time, just choose one focus or the other and stick with it. Be relaxed, easy, and comfortable as you walk.

  4. Enjoy your steady, mindful walking for as long as you want.

    If your attention wanders or you start to hurry, gently bring your attention back to your walking.

Mindful eating as meditation

Here's a meditation for paying attention to what you're putting into your mouth. You enjoy your food as never before, and mindful eating will facilitate your digestion by reducing the tension or stress you bring to the table.

  1. Before you begin eating, take a few moments to appreciate your food.

    You may want to reflect on the earth and the sunshine that gave life to this food and the people and effort that brought it to your table. Or you can simply sit silently and feel grateful for what you have.

  2. Bring your awareness to your hand as you lift the first bite of food to your lips.

    You can experiment with the custom in certain monastic traditions of eating more slowly than usual. Or just eat at your usual speed, but be as mindful as you can.

  3. Be fully aware as the first morsel of food enters your mouth and floods your taste buds with sensations.

    Notice the tendency of your mind to judge the flavor: "It's too spicy or salty" or "It's not what I expected." Notice any emotions that get stirred up: disappointment, relief, irritation, or joy. Be aware of any ripples of pleasure or warmth or other physical sensations.

    If you talk while you eat, notice how the talking affects you.

    Do certain topics cause you to tense up or give you indigestion? Does the talk take you away from the enjoyment of your meal, or can you have both?

  4. Stay mindful of each mouthful as you gradually eat your meal.

Cultivating meditative lovingkindness

This meditation helps you open your heart and initiate a flow of unconditional love (also known as lovingkindness) to yourself and others.

  1. Begin by closing your eyes, taking a few deep breaths, and relaxing your body.

  2. Remember a time when you felt deeply loved.

    Spend a few minutes dwelling on this memory and allowing your heart to respond. Notice the gratitude and love that arise for the person who loved you.

  3. Allow these loving feelings to overflow and gradually suffuse your whole being.

  4. When you feel complete with yourself for now, imagine extending this lovingkindness to a loved one or dear friend, using similar words to express your intentions.

    Don't hurry. As you extend the love, allow yourself to feel it as much as you can, rather than merely imagine it.

  5. Extend this lovingkindness from your heart to all your loved ones and friends.

  6. Extend this lovingkindness to all people and all beings everywhere.

Softening your belly

By consciously softening your belly again and again, you can let go and open to the tender feelings in your heart.

  1. Begin by sitting comfortably and taking a few deep breaths.

  2. Allow your awareness to settle into your body.

  3. Allow your awareness to descend to your belly as you gently soften this area of your body.

    Consciously let go of any tension or holding.

  4. Allow your breath to enter your belly.

    When you inhale, your belly rises. When you exhale, your belly falls.

  5. With each breath, continue to soften your belly.

    Let go of any anger, fear, pain, or unresolved grief you may be holding in your belly.

  6. As you continue to soften your belly, notice how your heart responds.

  7. After five minutes or longer of this soft-belly meditation, open your eyes and go about your day.

    Every now and then, check in with your belly. If you notice that you're tensing it again, gently breathe and soften.

Healing with light meditation

Here's an exercise for directing the life-giving power of light to the places inside your body and mind that cry out for healing:

  1. Begin by sitting down and meditating in your usual way for several minutes.

    If you don't have a usual way, simply sit quietly, close your eyes, and take a few slow, deep breaths, relaxing a little on each exhalation.

  2. Imagine a luminous sphere of white light suspended about a foot above your head and slightly in front of you.

    Like a sun, this sphere embodies and radiates all the positive, healing, harmonious qualities you most want to manifest in your life right now. (You may want to be specific at first, such as imagining strength, clarity, peace, and love; eventually, though, you can just flash on the light.)

  3. Imagine yourself soaking up all these qualities with the healing light as though you were sunbathing.

  4. Imagine this sphere drawing to itself the energy of all the benevolent forces in the universe that support your growth and evolution.

  5. Visualize this positive, healing energy shining from the sphere like the light of a thousand suns streaming down through your body and mind.

    Imagine the energy eliminating all negativity and tension, darkness and depression, worry and anxiety; and replacing them with radiance, vitality, peace, and all the other positive qualities you seek.

  6. Continue to imagine this powerful, healing light flooding every cell and molecule of your being, dissolving any contractions and stuck places you may be aware of, and leaving you clean, clear, and calm.

  7. Visualize this luminous sphere gradually descending into your heart, where it continues to radiate this powerful light.

  8. Imagine yourself as a luminous being with a sphere of light in your heart that constantly radiates clarity, harmony, and purity — first to every cell and particle of your own being and then, through you, to every other being in every direction.

    You can carry the feelings and images this exercise evokes throughout the rest of your day.

Grounding into the Earth

When you're feeling scattered or spaced out and you've lost touch with your connection to the earthly plane of existence, you may find it helpful to use the following meditation to ground you.

  1. Begin by sitting quietly, closing your eyes, and taking a few slow, deep breaths.

    If possible, sit on the ground, with your back relatively straight.

  2. Focus your awareness on your lower abdomen, at a point about 2 inches below your navel and 1-1/2 inches inside your body.

    Martial artists call this area the t'an t'ien (or hara) and believe it's a focal point for life energy, or chi. Explore this area with mindful attention, noticing how it feels.

  3. Direct your breath into this area, expanding it when you inhale and contracting it when you exhale.

    Consciously and deliberately breathe into your t'an t'ien for five minutes or more, allowing your awareness and your energy to concentrate there. Notice how your center of gravity shifts from the upper part of your body to your t'an t'ien.

  4. Continuing to breathe with your t'an t'ien, imagine that you're a tree with roots that go deep into the earth.

    Feel and visualize these roots originating in the t'an t'ien and growing down through the base of your spine into the ground, spreading through the soil as far down as you can imagine.

  5. Feel and visualize these roots drawing energy up from the earth into your t'an t'ien on the inhalation and feel the energy spreading down through the roots on the exhalation.

    Continue to feel and visualize this circulation of energy — up on the inhale, down on the exhale — for five or ten minutes.

  6. When your t'an t'ien feels charged and strong, you can get up and go about your day.

    Every now and then, remind yourself to breathe with your belly again for a minute or two.

Practicing a half smile

Contemporary scientific research agrees that smiling relaxes hundreds of facial muscles and has the same effect on the nervous system as real joy. Besides, smiling encourages others to smile and be happy as well.

  1. Take a few moments to form your lips into a half smile.

    Notice how other parts of your body respond. Does your belly relax? Does your back naturally straighten a little? Does your mood change in subtle ways? Notice also if you have any resistance to smiling when "you don't really feel like it."

  2. Hold this half smile for at least ten minutes as you engage in ordinary activities.

    The next time you feel your spirits sagging, practice this half smile for at least half an hour and notice how you feel.

Peaceful place meditation

This simple meditation relaxes the body quickly and easily and can be used to help facilitate healing. It's also a kind of inner monastery or refuge that you can escape to when you're feeling threatened, unsafe, or stressed out.

  1. Begin by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and taking a few deep breaths.

  2. Imagine yourself in a safe, protected, peaceful place.

    It may be a place you know well (a place in nature, for example, like a meadow, a forest, or a beach), a place you've visited once or twice before, or simply a place in your imagination.

  3. Take as much time as you need to imagine this peaceful place as vividly as you can, in all your senses.

    Notice the colors, the shapes, the sounds, the light, the feeling of the air against your skin, and the contact of your feet against the ground. Explore this special place to your heart's content.

  4. Allow yourself to rest in the feelings of comfort, safety, and tranquility this special place evokes.

  5. Spend as much time here as you want.

    When you're done, gradually return to the present moment and open your eyes, while continuing to enjoy the pleasant, positive feelings this exercise evoked.

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