Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Relax First, Meditate Second

I have been enjoying Andrea Fella's recent talks on 'concentration'. There is much wisdom there, and great practical advice regarding how to be during sitting meditation. One point in particular has been informing my sittings as of late. Andrea talks about the need to relax first if one is to concentrate during meditation. This is so important!

Here are relevant notes from Andrea's talk:

When we think of how to concentrate we typically try to willfully stay with experience in order to get concentrated . . . There is this kind of grasping, holding on to something in effort to get concentrated . . . 
Relaxation is one of the best support for concentration. We are setting up the container of our meditation through learning how to bring attention to our experience in a relaxed way. Learning to find a way that will support this mind and this body to be relaxed and yet attentive . . . Starting with relaxation is a good beginning . . . Very ofthen my mind has habit of holding on to the breath. As soon as I see the mind trying, I go back to relaxation. I do this over and over again. At some point the attention figures out how to stay connected to the breath without tightening. We use relaxation to support the settling down of the mind and body. As soon as you feel the tension, you can release and relax it. We can add a little agenda to the relaxation too, an we have to watch that we don't get tight around that as well! . . . What does it mean for you to be relaxed and attentive? You need to explore and figure out way that works best for you. This is different for everyone . . . This is a mindfulness practice.

Through experience, I am finding my own ways of bringing ease into meditation. First is using the breath to dissolve the tensions. Breathing in, breathing out through the tightness, can go a long way. Then, there is the overall attitude I bring of gratitude for the practice, something I learned from Ayya Khema:

Loving kindness is another support that allows me to feel safe and to let go of unnecessary tightening. And last, there is focusing on sounds. Hearing meditation is one of the easiest doors for me to access concentration.

How do you relax when you sit? Please share . . . 


  1. Great post.

    I hardly have trouble with being relaxed in my meditation. I would struggle more with being too relaxed in many instances, causing sleepiness.

    I normally start with mindful prostration, followed by walking meditation and then sitting meditation. This order helps me to become focused and relaxed but brings my energy level up just enough to where I can sit with deep concentration for an hour perfectly. Sometimes more. Sometimes less, but an hour is about average for me now. Except on Uposatha days (Full Moon & New Moon) where my goal is to sit for several hours at a time.

    Also, Mahasati is a meditation technique I use that is also very effective when one starts to feel too relaxed. It is a series of mindful rhythmic hand movements which can increase your energy level and help to maintain and increase concentration. I rarely use this, but have found it to be effective at times I feel drowsiness coming on.

    You can see the technique at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOcIhTOJQjo

  2. I smile. When I sit I smile and let the whole body feel it, I get goose bumps most oft these days as I prepare to sit for meditation...happens!

  3. Oh! Pooja, you got a smile out of me! :) Beautiful . . .

  4. RIchard, thank you so much for sharing, and telling us about the other side! Different personalities, different problems . . .

    I rarely get too relaxed! Tired yes, but too relaxed to the point of drowsiness, no. I have been enjoying practicing Mingyur Rinpoche's sleeping meditation, in places where I am tired but can't fall asleep, like airplanes for instance.

  5. Thanks as always for your posts.

    For myself, relaxation often comes as a by-product of the mindfulness practice itself!