Back and Neck Pain

Meditation to Get Into the Groove, Part IV

Author| Barry Kerzin, MD

From the Dalai Lama's personal physician

Meditation is training the mind to be more focused in the present moment. It is training the mind and heart to be calmer, happy, and positive. A deeper type of meditation explores who we really are.

‘Mind’ here means all of our experience, including perceptions, thinking, feelings, emotions, intuition, and even other subtler minds.

Mind and consciousness mean the same thing. Meditation cultivates a calm mind, reducing the chatter. It trains the mind to focus and concentrate in the present moment. So distraction is reduced, so naturally, multi-tasking is reduced. Thoughts arise when the mind is in the past or future, and not when the mind is in the present. This type of meditation is called shamatha (Pāli and Sanskrit), or mindfulness, calm abiding, or concentration in English. The most common object is the breath that I’ll talk about below.

There is also a type of meditation that is dynamic, cultivating insight into reality.

This is called Vipassanā (Pāli), and lhag mthong (pronounced, ‘lak tong’ – in Tibetan), and insight or wisdom in English. It is a contemplation or analytical type of meditation exploring and investigating the nature of reality of the world and ourselves.

Concentration meditation on the breath is done this way: First sit on a cushion or chair with your back straight. Keep your head straight with your eyes open, glancing down in front of you. Maintain a soft gaze not staring at what you see. Close your mouth and breathe normally through your nose, concentrating on of the base of your nose at the top of your upper lip. If you notice the air as it passes at this point, concentrate on that sensation. If not, just concentrate on the base of the nose. Place your hands with the left palm up and the right hand on top with its palm up. Touch your thumbs forming a triangle. Let the hands rest in that position in your lap. Relax your shoulders. Meditation involves balancing the mind between alertness and relaxation. Too much alertness causes a “monkey-mind” that gets too wild. Too much relaxation and we fall asleep. So try to balance alertness with relaxation. This takes time, so please be patient. In fact, we try to balance alertness and relaxation in whatever we do, say, or think in life in general.

When your mind strays away from the base of the nose, gently but firmly bring it back to the base of the nose. You may have to do this many times. Please don’t worry. This is the actual training of the mind to become more focused and less distracted. That is precisely what meditation is, or what mental training is all about.

Do this every day at least once. The best time is first thing in the morning after you get up. I do a short meditation sitting in bed before I get up. Then I wash, brush my teeth, and use the restroom. After that, I sit on my cushion. Only later do I eat breakfast. When you meditate, you don’t need to set an alarm or observe your watch. These only create distractions, thinking, “when is my session going to end,” making us think about the time and not concentrate on our breath.

More important than how long we meditate, is the regularity.

So meditate every day, at least once for about 10 minutes at the beginning of the day. Pick a comfortable place in your home or room and use the same place and cushion or chair each time. Gradually over weeks or months as you gain familiarity you can lengthen the time of meditation. Please do not push yourself. We have that tendency in our lives, so let’s not bring our bad habits into meditation.

Continue to Part V