The secret to meditation is understanding how it works. For years I tried to meditate unsuccessfully because the instructions did not tell me what I needed to understand. As a trained meditation guide, I love to share with others how meditation works so they can achieve the bliss state without the frustration that comes with being told to focus on your breath and empty your mind and eventually you will get it. The steps below explain what is happening when you are getting into meditation so you can understand and apply it in a way that works for you.
Step One: Understanding The Role Breath Plays
Deep slow breathing is how the body activates what is known as the relaxation response, the opposite of the stress response. Because we hear much more about the stress response, we are naturally biased to accept it. Most people believe that their stress is beyond their control, however the simple technique of breathing deeply and slowly brings your body into a relaxed because it activates your vagus nerve. Before I learned this, I did not understand the role that my breath played or that I even had a vagus nerve that also holds the secret to longevity in life.
When you stimulate the vagus nerve, you’re sending a message to your body that it’s time to relax and de-stress. In 1921, German-born pharmacologist and psychobiologist Otto Loewi discovered the vagus nerve released a calming, tranquillizer-like substance directly into the cardiac muscle cell synapses, which slowed the heart rate. This, in turn, leads to long-term improvements in mood, well-being, and resilience. When you breathe slowly and deeply you activate your vagus nerve, which will help you relax. This helps you get to the to theta brainwave that is active when you are falling asleep and waking up (also active during tasks that are so automatic that you mentally disengage from them like showering, brushing your teeth or hair, or taking long familiar drives). This half-sleep theta state was used by both Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison as they received their big ideas. Have you noticed how your best ideas come to you when you are on a holiday and fully relaxed?
Practice slowing and deepening your breath by expanding your diaphragm fully when you inhale and emptying it slowing on your exhale. Breathe in slowly at a comfortable pace, inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of three. This results in a ten-cycle-per-minute breath pattern. Once this feels natural, raise it to a count of five on the inhale and exhale for a count of five, expanding your lung capacity and breath cycle. This results in a very healthy six-cycle-per-minute breath pattern. Scientific research has proven deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It helps you feel safe and physically relaxed, reduces anxiousness, restlessness and stress. It improves your energy, enhances mental clarity, and strengthens emotional resilience.
Step Two: Understanding Your Personal Gateways Into Meditative Bliss
While you are practicing your deep breathing, I want you to explore your natural gateways into meditation. There are at least 112 ways to enter a state of meditation, so I want you to think about the times in your life where your mind is happy and not filled with worrying thoughts. This might be something from your childhood like lying on the grass and watching the clouds go by. Perhaps it is when you are at the ocean listening to waves, or sitting by a fire hearing the logs crackle. It could be beautiful scenery that quiets your mind, walking in a forest, or cuddling a baby.
I encourage everyone to start meditation by first exploring their natural meditative states. Here are some examples.
- Walking in nature
- Runners high
- Listening to music
- Holding a newborn baby
- Gazing at someone you love
- Staring at a candle
- Star gazing
- Watching the northern lights
- Petting your dog
- Cuddling your cat
- Curled up with a good book
- Art, doodling, colouring
- Swimming, floating
- Quiet reflection
- Baking Bread
Which of these resonate with you? Can you add any others?
I discovered meditative moments as a child, but did not know it. On weekday mornings until I went to school, my mom would take me to pick up Grandpa, then in his 80s, to drive him to his office. We lived in Winnipeg. He worked daily until noon. We would drive downtown across the bridge that accidentally introduced me to vibration and meditation. In the back seat of the big old Pontiac Parisienne, I anticipated the moment we would reach the bridge. The pavement gave way to a metal grate surface. The car started to vibrate. I would close my eyes and hum along. All the way across the bridge, the vibration resonating through my body with the help of my humming!
Being aware of the times you naturally slip into a relaxed state helps you recognize how intelligent and easily adaptable your body is. Count these meditative states as fact that you are successful at meditating. Do more of them when you can.
Step Three: Understanding the Role Your Heart Plays
Did you know that your heart has 40,000 neurons that can sense, feel, learn and remember independently of your brain? These neurons make your “heart brain” and this brain communicates with and influences your cranial brain. Research scientists made this discovery in 1991. Prior to this it was believed that only the brain sent information to the heart. Your heart has a magnetic force 5000 times stronger than the brain. It sends more signals to your brain than your brain sends to your heart, and your heart’s electromagnetic field is imprinted by your emotions. It does this through your vagus nerve.
How you are feeling affects your heart rhythm patterns. When your heart rhythm is coherent, your body, including your brain, begins to experience all sorts of benefits, among them greater mental clarity and intuitive ability, including better decision making. Coherence places your body in a state of safety and allows you to access your heart and brain for the answer that is true to you. The best way of measuring coherence and vagal tone is with a Heart Rate Variability (HRV) test. This isn’t the same as heart rate. HRV measures the time between consecutive heartbeats (in milliseconds). While resting heart rate is best when it’s low (fifty to seventy beats per minute), you want your HRV to be high. A high HRV indicates more adaptability.
You can practice this heart coherence meditation anytime, anywhere. It is a great energy shifter.
- Focus your attention on your heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out through your heart or chest area, and breathe a little slower and deeper than usual.
- Activate and sustain a positive feeling such as appreciation, care or compassion. Care is powerful; it inspires and reinforces our connection with others. Compassion is feeling what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Appreciation uplifts your energy, attracting more uplifting situations to your life. Your energy attracts like energy. A proactive approach to appreciation includes consciously appreciating the good things in life while actively and consistently looking for new things to appreciate.
- Radiate that feeling to yourself and others. As you practice coherence, you generate positive feelings and energy. Your heart then sends a coherent electromagnetic wave into the local environment. This facilitates social coherence in the home, workplace, classroom or while sitting around a table. Your energy directly affects those with whom you interact. This is a great practice before you have conversations that may be challenging, or when you are going to speak in public.
Step Four: Putting it all together.
Each of the three steps on their own brings you to a meditative state. Combined they can bring you bliss. I encourage you to practice them separately and when you are ready to combine them. It may happen naturally one day without any effort!
Meditation is instinctive and intuitive. When you understand these mechanics you can achieve the state more easily than wondering what you are supposed to be doing. Meditation tunes your vibration to the frequency you desire to be on. I meditate daily to stay connected to something greater than myself, and I often use it to get an answer to a question I am pondering. You can learn more about how to do this here.
Remember, meditation does not have to take place sitting still. You can meditate lying down, walking in nature, or sitting if that feels best to you. Getting into a meditative state is more important than trying to meditate like a monk. It is the small steps you take daily that change your behaviour - so practice 5 minutes a day and work up to twenty minutes. If your body wants more than that, it will happen naturally, you don’t need to force it.