Since the quarantine started (due to COVID-19), I’ve had a lot more free time. I don’t really like to sit still (ironically) so I’ve given some thought as to how to best use this time to do things I haven’t had time to do in the past.

I’ve been playing around with a meditation program off and on for years, but haven’t stuck with it long enough to ever get very far down that path. To be sure, it’s helped me become more aware of how my mind goes on auto-pilot, how my thoughts control me rather than the other way around. It’s helped me to control my emotions and relax tension during periods of anxiety as well. But I haven’t experienced the profound life changes that so many people speak of who have developed a solid meditation practice.

So now that we’re all quarantined I’m spending more time around the house. I can’t goto Jiu Jitsu, I can’t go out with friends, I can’t go see music, so I guess this is as good a time as any to give meditation a solid run.

My Meditation Routine

I’m a big fan of the book “The Mind Illuminated” by Culadasa John Yates. The way he explains meditation really makes sense to me, and I highly recommend this book as a starting point.

I also follow some of the advice found on the site “Advanced Yoga Practices“. The forums on that site are helpful, as it’s good to hear what other people are experiencing and how they’re breaking through barriers. And it’s good in general to know what to expect, what the goal posts are.

So here’s what my current routine is. It’s very simple:

  1. Stack pillows against a wall and sit on them. I like to sit against a wall so that my back has something to lean against. I don’t want to get distracted by my back getting sore or tired while meditating for extended periods.
  2. I close my eyes and start breathing in and out through my nose.
  3. In the beginning of my meditation I focus on breathing deeply into my lower back. This is how you fully fill up your lungs. I breathe in and out through my nose.
  4. I repeat the mantra “I AM” for about a minute or two.
  5. I then do what’s known as “Spinal Breathing” for about 5 minutes (more on this below).
  6. Then I start meditation by just focusing on the sensation of breathing, the feeling of the breath coming in and out of my nostrils. If my mind wanders off, if I start thinking about bills, or vacation plans, or anything else then I simply note it, and bring my focus back to the breath. That’s it.

It’s the practice of gently bringing your thoughts back to the sensation of the meditation object (in my case, the breath) that is the work of meditation, at least as far as I’ve learned.

I do this for 20 minutes a day, usually around lunch time. My plan is to bump this up to 20 minutes twice a day.

What is Spinal Breathing?

Spinal breathing is a method where you practice feeling “energy” traveling up and down your spine as you breath. It is a form of “pranayama” (controlled breathing) that is performed by imagining the feeling of energy moving through your spine from the base of your spine up to the point between your eyes when you breath in, and tracing that energy back down through the point between the eyes, back down the spine all the way to the base as you breath out.

I’ve read many different reasons why we would do this to begin meditation, but I don’t have first hand experience yet of the results that people claim to get, so I won’t re-iterate them here. I will say that it helps me to get into a deeper state of focus more quickly if I do the spinal breathing for a few minutes before I start.

My Current Experiences with Meditation

So what has meditation done for me? A few people have asked me this and I’ve struggled to put it into words. Though I’ve meditated off and on for years I’m just now getting to be very consistent with it. A few things I’ve noticed since doing this:

  • I’m “identifying” less with my thoughts. This is hard to explain. Though it can probably be intellectualized to be understood, unless you experience it it will be hard to understand how weird/cool it is. To put it in simple terms I may have a thought like “I forgot to pay the water bill, how could I forget to do that, I’m an idiot sometimes”, and then immediately there’s another part of me that realizes that it’s not “me” who feels like an idiot. That sounds very simple, but it’s more profound than that if you experience it. I still struggle to put it into words, it’s so much more than that.
  • I’m typically a somber person, and have dealt with depression a lot (who hasn’t, right?), but I now find myself being interested in things I may not have noticed in the past. The other night I got up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, and I was struck by how quiet the house was, and how pleasant it was to be at the sink, getting fresh water in the quiet of the night. I was very aware of the pleasurable feeling of breathing and standing there in solitude. The “experience” of just being in that moment was much more intense than I have ever felt.
  • I’ve been more creative. I’m a musician, and I write, and ideas have been flowing more freely, with less judgement on my part. I’ve been enjoying the process of creating, it doesn’t feel as laborious as it usually does.
  • I find that there’s a split second between my emotional reaction to something and my awareness of that emotional state rising up. This has made it much easier for me to maintain an emotional equilibrium. I am not as controlled by emotional state as I have been in the past and I’m able to act more rationally.
  • I’ve also experienced some weird involuntary body movements during meditation. My spine wants to move around like a serpent, and it feels like my body is trying to push something up and out, from the base of my spine upwards. When I say “involuntary”, that doesn’t mean to say that I couldn’t control them. I could stop them, but my body has this need to move during certain times of meditation.
  • I occasionally emit a deep humming sound, again involuntarily, during certain points of meditation.

So that’s my progress so far. My goal is to document this experience as I go along, both for my own reflection and in case it helps anybody else.

If you have any experiences yourself I’d be very interested in hearing about them.