Previously we described for you some of the scientifically observed benefits that the athlete may get from meditation. In this article we will describe three different ways for you to meditate. Choose the one that appeals to you most, or try all three and decide which you like best; however, use each one separately for several weeks before making judgment on its particular worth.
First of all you need to plan a program, just as you would for effective physical development two sessions a day. One in the morning and one in the evening are best. Begin with 10 minutes for each session and gradually work up to 20 or even 30 minutes for each session. Some athletes have found that meditation right before physical exertion gives them a boost: divers say that meditation several hours before is what works best for them. This will be something that each individual must find out for himself. The important thing is that meditation sessions should be regular and you should not miss any.
A few other general guidelines for best results: don't meditate right after a meal; sit in an easy comfortable position; and be in a place where you won't be unduly disturbed. This last one will vary for individuals. Some people can meditate on buses, in gyms, during competition: others need quieter more private quarters. This again, may change as you develop proficiency with meditation: the better you get at it, the easier it is to do under any condition.
We're going to start with meditation on breathing. Assume a comfortable sitting posture in which the head, chest, and shoulders are held erect and straight. The pose must be comfortable so your body will remain still throughout the duration of the exercise. Pay attention to your breathing. Count slowly as you inhale: 1, 2, 3, 4. Now count slowly as you exhale: 1, 2, 3, 4. Each number you count should represent one second. You will find that your inhalation lasts about the same number of seconds as your exhalation The normal ratio of inhaling to exhaling is 1:1, and it takes you about 4 to 6 seconds each way. Now let's change that ratio to 1:2. Inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. Concentrate and count the seconds.
The reason for making the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation is so you can (1) get maximum control over your lungs, and (2) squeeze out all that old foul air. The tiny air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs hold a portion of the inhaled air from which the oxygen penetrates through the walls of the pulmonary capillaries. The blood takes up the oxygen and releases carbon dioxide gas generated from the waste products that have been gathered up by the blood from all parts of the system. Unless this carbon dioxide (or foul air) is squeezed out of the alveoli, no amount of strength applied in inhalation can bring in all fresh oxygen. In ordinary breathing we squeeze out only a small portion of air from the lungs.
As you are doing this meditation on breath, be aware of how you breathe. Use the whole respiratory system leaving no portion of the lungs unfilled with fresh air. The inhalation process should begin with the downward movement of the diaphragm into the abdomen. Next the chest is expanded, and finally the upper part of the lungs is inflated as the shoulders and collarbone are raised.
OK, now if you're breathing correctly and are able to do the 1:2 ratio of inhalation to exhalation, then you are ready for breath retention. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 16 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. You can gradually increase the seconds, but keep the ratio the same. The ratio for inhalation to retention to exhalation is 1:4:2. You can gradually work up to doing eight seconds of inhalation, thirty-two seconds of breath retention (holding your breath), and sixteen seconds of exhalation. The inhalation-retention-exhalation of one breath is called a round. Perform 15 to 20 rounds during each session. If you are able to do this easily, then you have excellent control over your lungs and your power of concentration is superb! These are two qualities every athlete can put to good use. Breath meditation will help you develop them if you haven't already.
End each meditation session by sitting quietly for a few moments, breathing normally, and experiencing the effects of this type of meditation. Many people feel relaxed, but feel they have an abundance of energy. Your mind may be ready for the next step in breath meditation - alternate nostril breathing.
Experts in yoga tell us that alternate nostril breathing will help maintain equilibrium in the anabolic and catabolic processes of the body. This is especially important for weightlifters. The anabolic process, as you well know, is the building up that goes on in the body; the catabolic process is the breaking down of organic compounds. To build bigger stronger muscles, your body must do both; first break down the old muscle tissues, then build up the new stronger larger ones. In addition to all the other benefits of meditation, this next step on breathing may aid your anabolic catabolic processes.
Get into position. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with right ring finger and little finger. Remove your thumb from your right nostril and exhale through that nostril. This is a half-round. Without pausing, inhale through the right nostril. Then close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale through the left, this makes one full round. Begin again with inhaling through the left nostril. Try to keep the proportion of inhalation to exhalation 1:2, as we did in the previous exercise. It may seem to be a little tricky to get it all going, but with practice it's really easy. Work up to 20 rounds for each session. End each session by sitting quietly with eyes closed for a few moments. Experience the benefits of breath meditation.
There are a number of forms of meditation on breathing, most of which are variations on ancient techniques. The ones we just described are derived from a system of breathing used in yoga called pranayama. Zen also used meditation with breathing techniques, and martial artists (the best ones) often master these techniques. If you wish to pursue yoga or Zen, you need an instructor or master. There are also many hinds of yoga ranging from the stretching poses of hatha yoga to the nearly violent physical activity of hundalini yoga. Yoga originated in India, while Zen comes by way of Japan.
Let's go on to another technique of meditation, called visual meditation. This technique has long been a traditional part of yoga, and has also been used by American Indians for inducing meditative or other altered states. Our example of candle gazing may bring you the benefits of extra energy and increased concentration - two things that athletes can really use.
Get a candle and matches. Sit in an easy position where you won't be disturbed. If possible, have the candle at a level of your head 2 or 3 feet away. Light the candle, settle back, and gaze at the flame. If thoughts pop up, let them fall away and bring your attention back to the flame. Your eyes may dart around the room: bring them back to the flame. After several minutes, close your eyes. You will "see" the candle flame in your head. Keep looking at it. If it starts to slide off your mental screen, just bring it back to the center. If you lose sight of it altogether, open your eyes and gaze at the flame for several minutes, then close your eyes again and study the flame on your mental screen. Let your first session last for 10 minutes. Gradually work up to 20 minutes.
Visual meditation should feel relaxing to your eyes. If it doesn't and you should feel eyestrain, reduce the meditation time by half. If the eyestrain persists, choose another form of meditation. If, on the other hand, you should find this relaxing, then proceed by slowly increasing the meditation time. Keep in mind that you do not need to force anything to happen. Remain relaxed, but focused. If you put forth this effort, then the meditative state and its benefits will come.
The third type of meditation is called mantra meditation. You rhythmically repeat a sound, which traditionally comes from the ancient language of Sanskrit. The sound is usually nasal and tends to reverberate in your head the sound should also have no particular meaning, because you are not to think about it, you are only to say it in your mind over and over in a rhythmic fashion.
The most well known mantra is "om". Begin by saying it aloud in the following way: take a very deep breath, shape your mouth into an "O" shape, and exhale through your mouth saying "oh". About halfway through your exhalation, close your lips so that the "oh" turns into an "m" sound. You will feel the "oh" part in your chest and the "m" part in your head. Now inhale deeply again, and repeat. After practicing aloud several times, sit quietly and make the long "om" sound in your head without actually saying it aloud. As with visual meditation, you may find yourself thinking about things rather than meditating. When you have this realization, let go of the thoughts, and begin again with your mantra. Eventually the mantra may fall away, you will not be having thoughts, and you will find yourself in the meditative state.
Start out with 10 minutes per session and gradually increase to 20 or 30. There are many other mantras. Here are two others you may wish to try: rahm and ah-nahm. A Boston cardiologist named Dr. Herbert Benson has done much valuable research on meditation and has developed his own technique. He found that using the word "one" for a mantra brought about the same physiologic changes as the traditional Sanskrit mantras. You may try the word "one" for your mantra if you like.
We've now given you instructions for three types of meditation: breathing, visual, and mantra. Another notable type is moving meditation, which uses physical activity to achieve meditative states. You may have heard of the Whirling Dervishes who have their own wild dancing form of meditation, which requires special instruction. However, if you expect to have energy for power lifts, you might not want to be a Whirling Dervish.
If you are really developing an interest in meditation and want more specific instruction from a master - well, they're out there. One word of caution: beware of anyone who asks for huge amounts of money or tells you to give up your worldly possessions! Some of the best instruction in meditation doesn't cost anything at all except our willingness to learn and to put forth effort.