May is National Meditation Month. I wanted to write an article about meditation since I started this blog, so this is the perfect opportunity. I started meditating about three years ago. It made me calmer and less reactive to stressful situations. It shifted my perspective and brought gratitude to daily moments. Soon after I established my practice, I began a meditation group for my clients.
At first, I read scripts printed off the internet while playing relaxing music. I came to realize some of the scripts were difficult for my adolescents to grasp. The ideas were good, but I knew I had to cater to the language and understanding of my clients.
I started improvising guided meditations. All the guided meditations I personally used, the books I read, and what I learned became a subconscious library. I pulled bits and pieces and molded the meditations until they were appropriate for my clients.
While meditation experience is helpful, it isn’t necessary. I recommend trying meditation for your own benefit, but that’s a topic I’ll cover in another article. There are key techniques common to many meditations. I outlined them in three easy steps.
Before You Begin
To make the meditation experience successful, there are some points you may want to discuss before beginning. It will help them get in the right mindset and set their questions at ease.
Points I typically address:
- Your mind will wander. It is perfectly natural, especially for beginners. Do not get frustrated. Once you realize your mind has wandered, let the thought go and gently come back to the experience.
- Don’t worry about doing it right. Experience your meditation without judgement. Everyone will have a different experience. Know whatever you feel or imagine is fine and working for your benefit.
- Correct Posture. It is best to be in a comfortable position with your spine straight. This will help with breathing. If you are sitting, try to have your feet flat on the floor. If you are laying, try to keep your body aligned.
- You are in complete control at all times. This is a guided meditation, but you are in complete control. This is not hypnosis or mind control.
- If you get uncomfortable, quietly exit. Some people have difficulty sitting quietly for a period of time. Some may get the urge to laugh or have a sudden burst of emotions. If the mediation isn’t working for you, please exit the room quietly and go to an appropriate location.
- It’s okay to fall asleep. Meditation has a relaxing effect on the body and mind. Lots of people use meditation to help them sleep. If you drift off, it’s okay.
Ready? Let’s Meditate
Start by having the participants take a few deep breaths and settle into relaxation. The next three steps are simple, common techniques I found worked well with inexperienced meditators. You don’t have to go in this order, and you don’t have to use all three steps in a single session. See what works with your clients. Happy meditating.
Mindfulness of Breath
Pay attention to your breath. That’s mediation. It’s that easy. Once you try it for a few minutes, you quickly realize it’s not that easy. Thoughts bombard your mind. Itches or aches come out of nowhere. The urge to do something, anything, begs for attention.
Meditation take practice and focus. Focusing on the breath anchors one in the present. The endless chatter of the mind stubbornly recedes. One finds bliss in the simple, but necessary, act of breathing.
Have the clients choose where they want to focus on their breath. Typically it is the rise or fall of their chest or the air entering and exiting their nostrils. Have the clients decide on one of those areas and stick with it for this step. If they jump from technique to technique, they are more likely worried about finding the best one. The focus becomes about doing the mediation right and not being in the moment.
There are several awareness of breath techniques to help increase focus.
Here are a couple I use regularly:
- Counting Have the clients count their breaths. As they inhale they mentally say 1. Exhale…2 Once they reach 4, or whatever number they choose, have them restart.
- Inhale/Exhale As the client inhales, have them mentally say “inhale.” As the exhale, they mentally say, “exhale.”
- Short mantra Have the client choose a couple words they find meaningful. Then, just like the inhale/exhale technique, they mentally say those words while focusing on the breath. For example, they could use “peace/calm” or “relaxed/happy.”
If the clients are new to meditation, do this technique for a minute. Gradually increase the duration as the clients get more practice.
The body scan is another mindfulness technique. Instead of focusing on the the breath, the body scan is a check-in to each area of the body. This gives the participant a snapshot of how he or she feels at the present moment. It is also a great way to progressively relax the body into a calmer, more meditative state. Like mindfulness of breath activities, there are various techniques.
- Check in This involves the leader saying each body part. The clients bring their focus to these parts and notice how they feel. Encourage them not to judge the feeling, just accept the current state of the body.
- Tension/Release Again, the leader names each body part. Instead of just checking in, the clients will tense up each area for a few seconds and then release. This allows the body a more active way to reach a relaxed state.
- Breathing into areas As the leader says each body part, the clients will imagine their breath reaching the area of the body. The breath brings a calm, relaxed feeling to the body part.
Body scans are effective with those that know their body parts. For some it may be easier than mindfulness of breath, because the focus continually shifts throughout the body. The scans are great for facilitating whole body relaxation, and also helpful in using the mind to help ease clients with chronic pain. Knowing your clients and the appropriate pacing of the scan will make these exercises much more effective.
Creative Visualization/Guided Imagery
Creative visualization or guided imagery involves the clients imagining a scenario, preferably after completing the previous techniques. Creativity and knowledge of the clients makes this step more effective. By knowing the needs of the clients, the leader develops a visualization specific to them. Always assure the participants not to worry if they are visualizing correctly. Just be in the moment.
The most important aspect of leading a successful guided imagery experience is to encourage the participants to use all their senses during the exercise. For instance, if a participant is imagining a beach, encourage them to feel the ocean breeze and the sand beneath their feet. Smell the ocean air. Guide them to hear the waves or seagulls overhead. This makes the experience more vivid and effective.
There are countless variations of guided imagery. Here are a few suggestions:
- Returning to a pleasant memory Guide the participants to think of a time when they were perfectly happy. Let them re-experience it with all their senses. Focus on the internal feelings the client had while living this memory. Use it to decrease anxiety or stress.
- Finding a safe place Like the previous example, have the participant visualize a place where they feel completely safe. This could be a real or imagined place. As the image materializes for the client, have them mentally look left and right. Let them know whatever comes to mind in this safe place is exactly what the client needs.
- Accomplishing a goal If the clients are working towards a certain goal–walking, sobriety, going somewhere without anxiety–have them visualize accomplishing that goal. Encourage them to feel the rush and joy of attaining the goal. Remind them not to focus on the obstacles, just the satisfaction of the goal being met.
- Positive Affirmations Have the clients create their own positive affirmations starting with the phase, “I am.” For example, “I am strong,” or “I am in control of my emotions.” As they mentally repeat this phrase, have them imagine what that affirmation looks like to them. Allow them to feel the success of achieving the affirmation.
- Surrounded by Light Guide the clients to imagine a bright light surrounding them. Let them pick the color with the most meaning to them or suggest a bright white light. Have them visualize this light penetrating every cell of their body. Taking away what is not useful to them. For example, negative emotions, pain, self-defeating thoughts, anxiety, or cravings. Allow them to sit with the power of that light for awhile.
Guided imagery is appropriate for most clients that have the mental facilities to focus on their imaginations for a period of time. It is not suggested for those with uncontrolled schizophrenia or those prone to hallucinations.
Closing the Meditation Session
Allow a short period for closure. Instruct the clients to thank themselves for taking the time out of the day to meditate. Have them observe their physical, mental, and emotional mood now that the session is complete. Encourage them to wiggle their fingers and toes. Have them feel their bodies and points of contact with the chairs or floor. When they are ready, have them open their eyes. Some clients may need a glass of water or a little time to get orientated back into the room.
Discuss what techniques helped and where there were struggles. Make a plan for the next meditation session.
Meditation is a powerful, non-pharmaceutical, tool to help clients. Creating a safe, non-judgemental environment will increase relaxation and allow the meditations to be more effective. If you are interested in meditation as a healing modality, let this article be a starting point. There are so many resources and ideas that couldn’t possibly be addressed in one article. Explore. Try things out.
After rereading this article, I feel like I still have so many ideas to share. That’s for another time and place, though. What do you have to say?
Do you practice meditation with your clients? What methods do you find most useful?
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