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Medication? Meditation (Part 2)

Maaheem Akhtar
Jan 16, 2014 at 3:20 PM PST

Now that I have gotten you stoked about the prospect of meditation (hopefully!), here’s what I tell people who ask me how to meditate. Quite simply…

1. Prep yourself – Give yourself no excuse to get up once you’ve finally settled into a meditation. Listen to mom’s advice and go to the bathroom, drink water, eat a light snack, wear comfortable clothing (yoga pants/ sweat pants, etc.; not tight jeans and a corset). Do not eat a huge fatty meal because you will sleep, not meditate.

2. Exercise (yoga is a fantastic segue into meditation) – You will be sitting very still for a while so let loose any ants in your pants. Set a gentle alarm if you need to restrict time. There are plenty of meditation apps to help. Don’t startle yourself into consciousness with loud, sudden sounds; that defeats the purpose of relaxation. The best duration is around 20 minutes—not too much, not too little (though your perception of time can vary each and every instance!). But you can meditate for as little or as long as you damn please. As mentioned above, breathing techniques are amazing and simple ways to ease you into zen mode.

3. Keep your back straight – This can be uncomfortable to begin with because we’re a species that loves to slouch, but hang tough the first few times and you’ll even begin to see a change in your daily posture. Do your best—otherwise, soon you’ll be drooling on your shirt and sleeping, not meditating. Big difference. Use a backrest, pillow or wall. If you can without a wall, you’re already semi-enlightened… oh wait, this is about being UNDERenlightened. Scratch that.

4. Sit symmetrically – This means both feet on the ground, seated on a chair, or cross-legged on the floor. Essentially, both left and right sides of your body should look the same. Palms facing up (preferred personally, but try both) or down on your lap.

5. Set the mood to be relaxed and comfortable – You can’t meditate if your body is not where it wants to be. Snuggle up in a blanket, don’t sit cross-legged if it’s not comfortable, turn off or dim the lights. Keep your cellphone on silent or locked in a safe on top of the fridge.

6. Pay attention to your body and breath – Literally what those words mean. We often don’t even realize how much tension we carry physically. I often have scrunched up brows or tightly pursed lips or my shoulders are up to my ears. When you stop and just be with yourself, you’ll start to notice these things, trust me. It’s wild. Loosen up those parts taking deep breaths.

7. Here’s where you can go two ways: you can continue to just be mindful of your thoughts and body, and every time you get too wrapped up in your head, remind yourself to bring yourself back to the breath and focus on that. No need to get mad at yourself for your brain wandering. It’s got a PhD in it! Or, alternatively, when you feel calm and settled after step 5, you can walk yourself through all your body parts gently and take deep breaths as you do so.  To give you an idea of an order to follow, this is what I do (you can say this in your head slowly as you go along): Take your attention to your right foot, right knee, right thigh and hip. (Follow that with the same on left side, and don’t forget to keep breathing; also, if needed, feel free to pause and stay on any body part as long as you wish.) Abdomen, stomach, chest, right shoulder, right arm and hand. Left shoulder, arm and hand. Neck, face, cheeks, top of the head. Throughout, you can be as detailed as you like. And finally, just take your attention to your whole body.

Now. ‘Take your attention to’ does not mean ‘pay attention to.’ You don’t need to focus like it’s two hours ‘till that O Chem exam you’ve stayed up all night cramming for. It’s just a gentle awareness, like, “Hey foot, how’s it hanging? Say hi to your mother for me, alright?” It’s really more of a “Oh, that’s my foot. Deep breath.” And if you feel like moving on to your next bit… swell. If not, just listen to what your body is asking you to pay attention to.

NOTE: You may experience tingling, lightheadedness, have a movie of thoughts, or even the dreaded… nothing. Nirvana wasn’t achieved in one day. Practice is key to going deeper. Even if you do it 5 minutes a day, the quality will begin to shift. Even if you don’t experience a life-changing shift right away, maybe you’ll see a change in your energy levels or mood. Give it a fair chance before declaring yourself a meditation squib (inside joke for you Harry Potter junkies).

8. Once you’re far away in Blissville or Zenlandia, you have two more options… to stay there or to lie down on your back (bed, floor, whatever is closest and requires the least movement) until you’re happy to get back to the real world or until your alarm goes off. Or you may just fall asleep and wake up 8 hours later.

9. Repeat steps 1 – 8 as often as possible. There are apps to remind you of these too. I use a free basic meditation insight timer.

And there you have it! I like to say that meditation is my medication—my cure-all. I sure you hope you try out a dose or two to see if it’ll change your life like it did mine. If you do, I’d love to hear about it.

Your first step toward enlightenment is now complete. Your first step toward UNDERenlightenment is understanding irony. May the force be with you.

Originally published by the UNDERenlightened at

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Maaheem Akhtar

Maaheem Akhtar

Mak Akhtar is a Research and Outreach Associate at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University and a Contributing Writer at the UNDERenlightended. Seva. Ice hockey. The Joker. Coachella. Maynard J. Keenan. Sustainability. Thom Yorke. Jedi mind tricks. German Shepherds. Mr. Magpie. These are a few of her favorite things.
Maaheem Akhtar

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