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A Short Meditation Session – Minute-by-Minute

I thought I would describe here a short meditation session and how it looks like on a minute by minute basis. I hope to give people a good idea about the big picture and also the minute details of a regular meditation session. This is the same whether your goal is just full concentration on the breath, or even going into Jhana.

20 Minute Meditation Session Breakdown

Prior to Meditating

Before you even sit down to begin your meditation session for the day, you should be doing a self-check to see if your body and mind are ready for a productive session. After all, the more productive a session is the better. It’s important to keep your motivation at a high level, and productive sessions will help with that.

There’s nothing worse than forcing yourself through a session that doesn’t feel good.

Pre-Meditation Session Preparation

Before you do anything, and at various points throughout the day you should look forward to your meditation session as a way to relax and treat yourself to some quiet time. I always meditated well after dinner but before I was tired enough for sleep. This gave me all day to think about relaxing in my session.

Look at meditation as nothing more or less than a way to treat yourself to some peace and quiet. Don’t look for outrageous experiences. Don’t look for some amazing breakthrough. Look only for the chance to sit and relax and bring some peaceful moments to your day.

This way, you win every time. Every session gives you something positive.

Find a cool place that is comfortable. Remove all jewelry, remove your glasses, remove long sleeves if possible. Wear loose fitting clothing. Eliminate as much ambient noise as possible. Wear noise-cancelling headphones if you need them and can afford them (the lighter in weight, the better). If not, use very soft foam earplugs.

Don’t eat within 90 minutes of your meditation session, it will dull your mind. Don’t drink coffee within 2 hours of your session – or more if it really affects you.

Exercise an hour or half-hour before your session. This will free up your mind and get your body in the state where it wants to relax. Shower first and sit.

The better your session, the longer you will continue along the path and reach real gains.

First 1-5 Minutes

For the first part of your meditation session, you’ll just sit down and get comfortable. You can sit in a chair, on the edge of a couch, on a stool, on a step, or on the floor in a cross-legged, full lotus, or half lotus position. To be honest, there’s nothing gained to be looking like a yoga master in a full-lotus, but if you can do it comfortably, then why not?

I began sitting on the floor in a half-lotus and stuck with that for my first year. Had I known better, I’d have chosen a chair or stool. (hindsight!)

The first five or so minutes of every meditation session will be to relax the body and calm the mind.

Relax the body first. Sit as comfortably as possible.

Starting with the feet, tense tightly the muscles in the toes of both feet for 3 seconds. As you let them relax, concentrate on the nice feeling that relaxation brings in the muscles of the toes. Concentrate on letting go of the tenseness in your toes and entire body.

Flex your feet muscles. Do both ways, toes down for 3 seconds flexing, then relax and focus and let go. Then toes up and flexed and then the relaxation and letting go.

Do this with every muscle group you can think of on the way up the body. When you reach the head, tense your neck. Then tense your jaw muscles. Squeeze your eyes shut hard.

I usually do one round of this, but of course you can do 2-3 or more if you need to. The important thing is that the muscles of your body are relaxed and it has also affected your mind and brought it down a level or two.

6-10 Minutes

Keep in mind, these time estimations are flexible. It may take you longer to complete a section, it may take less time. No matter. Aim for short sessions of 30 minutes or so, ideally. Long sessions can break the spirit and meditation can begin to feel like a chore instead of a way to relax.

At this point you’re still sitting in a comfortable position, back straight, forearms resting on your thighs, hands upturned and not touching anything. I usually let the back of one hand rest lightly in the palm of the other hand. Which is which, doesn’t matter at all.

The next few minutes will be dedicated to calming the mind down some more. The physical tensing/releasing of the muscles helps a lot, but this will bring you down further and prepare you to do the work of meditation which is the focus on the breath at the nose.

Choose something to focus on for the next five minutes. Close your eyes if you will focus on the breath. Watch the full in and out-breath cycle. Feel the chest expand, the abdomen rise and fall, feel the breath in the nose.

Just sit and focus here lightly for some minutes.

Some people use a visual object. When I first began meditating, with my eyes open I focused on the lit incense stick on the floor in front of me. I sat in the dark and the orange glow was an easy object that was easy to pay attention to. I remember thinking that the smoke was my thoughts rising up and dissipating into the air.

For me, this worked well.

A bonus is that the incense stick only lasted about ten minutes so it went out on it’s own when it wasn’t needed anymore. The smoke also stopped and the smell weakens quickly.

You can choose anything to focus on. A lit candle dances around too much. Make it something small, not moving hardly at all, or rock-steady, and something visual.

Please don’t use mantras, or anything else audible. Your mind tends to replay those over and over in your head when you don’t want them to bother you.

11-20 Minutes

After your body and mind have calmed down to a level where you think you are ready to begin (you’ll know with experience), you can begin focusing on the breath at the nose where you feel it the most.

Start to sense where in the nose you feel the vibrations of the air most strongly. Here’s a hint, it is where your nose hairs are at the end of your nose. Rather, the base of those hairs. It’s funny, but it’s important not to cut your nose hairs any further up than where your nose holes end. If that makes sense.

In our society, we don’t grow our nose hairs down to our chin, right? No worries, just don’t cut them way up into your nose because you’ll severely restrict the feeling of the breath in your nose since the hair is what is responsible for it.

You have long hairs IN your nose and you have tiny hairs on the outside of your nose.

Both of these help you sense air moving in and out while breathing.

My typical breaths while beginning this stage look something like the following.

I take a 2.5 second in-breath, followed by a 5-6 second outbreath.

Yours will be different. It doesn’t matter. Don’t control your breath to match mine, or do anything to interfere with how you breathe in and out naturally. Just watch the breath, don’t change it.

Focusing on the In-breath

You will feel the in-breath most strongly at the beginning. In my 2.5 second in-breath, I feel the breath strongly for about the first 1.8 seconds. After that, it tapers off very quickly and by 2 seconds into it, I feel absolutely nothing at the spot where I initially felt the sensation of breath.

Focusing on the Out-breath

It’s similar with the out-breath. I feel the outbreath most strongly as it begins, and the feeling lasts about 3 seconds, then rapidly disappears. For the final 2-3 seconds I don’t feel anything in my nose from the air that is very slowly passing over it.

This is all normal. This is the way meditation goes.

The Problem with Meditation on the Breath

There is a problem here, right? How can you focus 100% on a full in and out-breath in the nose when sometimes that feeling is completely gone?

This is the biggest problem with meditating on the breath as a meditation object – it isn’t 100% constant sensation.

Out of an 8 second long breath cycle there is zero feeling for 3 seconds of it.

What to do during that feeling of non-perception of the feeling?

Nothing.

Don’t move the mind.

The mind must stay exactly as it was during the periods where you DID feel the sensation.

Do this little exercise to illustrate the point.

Finger Tapping

With your eyes open right now, tap your finger on the table, on your leg, wherever. Just watch that one finger tapping up and down on something. Watch it intently, with your whole mind focus. Keep your eyes rock-steady and not moving. Stare at one place on one finger and tap for 3 seconds. Then stop.

After three seconds, keep staring intently. Change nothing about your focus and eyes. Don’t blink. Just watch the hand as it is still for 2 seconds. Then tap again for 3 seconds. Then stop for 2 seconds.

All the while, your eyes and mind are focused ONLY on the hand.

This is what meditation looks like.

Whether you FEEL the sensation of the breath, or cannot feel it, no matter. Your mind stays right there on that spot where sometimes you feel it and sometimes you don’t.

Your mind is focused 100% on the feeling of the breath, the sensation you perceive of the breath in your nose.

When you cannot perceive it because it lightens up so much – NOTHING CHANGES.

Your mind is rock-steady on that spot.

Your mind perceives the breath again in a short while and focuses the same on that feeling 100%.

Does that make sense?

Sustained Focus on the Spot in the Nose Where You Perceive/Don’t Perceive the Breath

Just continue this exercise in your mind as you meditate on full cycles of the in-breath and out-breath.

Though your eyes are closed, the direction your eyes are pointing is important. Just as you locked on to the fingers tapping, you will lock on to the area of the nose where you feel the tingling of the breath.

The focus of your mind, and your eyes, will not change. Your eyes shouldn’t be moving around at all under your eyelids. Your eyes are closed, yes, but they are also looking down toward the nose under your eyelids.

For 5-10 minutes, just focus on stringing together as many breaths as possible in complete 100% attention to that tiny spot where you sometimes feel the breath.

When you can do this for many breaths (8-10) without the mind interfering with the perception of other things (dogs barking, coughing, planes overhead, cars whizzing by, doors shutting somewhere) you will begin to have good concentration on the breath.

Samadhi.

Once you can do this fairly consistently in your meditation sessions, and reach 50 to hundreds of breaths watched in perfect concentration, you will be ready for the next step.

To be honest, this rock-solid concentration can take a while to develop. For most people it takes months of effort.

I think with the right approach above, it can take less for some people.

Keep in mind, that your mind may be more active than other people. Just stick with this good plan above and do what you can.

Look at each day you get to meditate silently as a gift to yourself. A free time where you can relax without any responsibility.

Don’t meditate too long on the breath at the nose. There’s no reason to do hour-long sessions unless you’re naturally inclined to and you really love to sit that long. Most people don’t love to sit that long and it becomes a burden rather than a reward.

Keep meditation as a reward every day. If it gets tiresome, cut down the length of your sessions. Most of my sessions were only 20 minutes long.

If you are not ready to meditate because you’re too stressed or anxious, do some exercise before you sit and focus on the first 10 minutes of the meditation session only.

Don’t force yourself to meditate on the tiny feeling on the breath at the nose on those days that the mind is obviously not ready. You’ll create more stress.

Instead, sit for 20 minutes and focus on calming the body and mind only.

Forget about the tight focus on the breath during those days.

In the Big Picture, it’s so much better to keep going with your meditation practice long-term!

(Try this and let me know how it goes in the comments.)

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