Meditation and relaxation downloads
The Student Counselling Centre provide a range of MP3 downloads to support relaxation, meditation, mindfulness and feeling more calm.
Preparing for meditation with movement
Your meditation practice will be far more effective if you make space to do some preparations. It is helpful to do some movement work before you begin, making sure that at very least you have moved your hips, shoulders and spine and maybe done a little stretching.
Traditionally yoga is preparatory to meditation and is used to pave the way to practice. Even if you can only do a few moments of movement work and stretching it is very helpful. After you have done this, try standing in tadasana (the mountain posture) - this posture simply involves standing upright, with your knees slightly bent (not locked), your feet hip width apart and facing forwards, and your arms hanging by your side. You also need to tuck your chin in a little so you can feel the back of your neck stretch slightly. From this posture you can then perform energetic and emotional allignment practices.
If you have more space to prepare, performing movement sequences like the sun salutation, the salutation to the moon, the salute to the four directions or the earth sequence will be helpful. Each has a different impact on your energy and following one of these sequences you may then like to perform an Energy Block release sequence.
Energy block release and makrasana
Energy block release (EBR) practices are key to the Dru yoga and meditation system. These sequences are ideally learnt face to face with a teacher. If you wish to learn Energy Block release Sequences 1-4 you can by attending the Meditation Group in the Students Union on Thursdays at noon.
The EBR7 sequence is performed lying down and combines energy block release with deep relaxation and visualisation. This is an ideal practice to perform if you are feeling fearful or insecure in your world or relationships. It has proved very popular in our group sessions so I have made a version for you to use at home. (see Relaxation and Calm section below)
Another static posture you might like to work with is makrasana. Makrasana is a yoga posture known as 'the crocodile'. It is a superb posture for managing anger or the fearfulness that sometimes underlies anger. If you get angry often practice this MP3 at least once per day and whenever you are angry and see what happens! It is also a very useful preparation both for relaxation and/or for meditation and can be practiced for variable lengths of time which means you can easily fit it into a busy day.
Other preparations and practices
Walking mindfully in nature is another way to practice breath-based meditation. As you walk, concentrate on your walking rhythm and your breathing. Walk at a pace that allows your breath to become regular as you begin to focus on the quality of your steps and your contact with the earth. Allow yourself to get into a relaxed space with a spring in your step so your whole body can become charged with the power of your walk. Allow your gaze to rest on what is around you but do not stare at it. Every now and then stop and contemplate your surroundings.
You can extend this practice by focusing on your breath as you walk. However, I suggest it is most helpful to have learnt these breaths first in static postures at the meditation group before attempting them while walking. Sama vritti and anuloma breath are part of pranayama practice and can be very powerful; so they are to be treated with care and respect. Remember never to strain your breath; if you are straining you are not ready for this stage yet and should speak with a qualified teacher.
If you are familiar with sama vritti breath (breathing in for four, holding for four, breathing out for four and holding for four) begin to allow this breath to develop as you walk, eventually allowing this to turn into Anuloma breath, (4, 4,6, 4). Please note! You should not retain either the inhalation or the exhalation if you high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. If any of these apply to you, as you walk, just concentrate on breathing evenly in and out for a count of four.
These two practices can be used alone or as part of a session you devise for yourself.
If you just want to relax or you want to prepare for a meditation practice, deep relaxation is essential. We cannot meditate before we can concentrate and we cannot do either unless we can first relax. Deep relaxation, like hard exercise, is one of the best was we have to disperse adrenalin and cortisol stress related hormones. Many people struggle to be still - physically and/or mentally when they try to meditate; inadequate preparation is the culprit! Sometimes you will be too tired to meditate but you can always relax; and if you are too tired to relax, you will probably just go to sleep! Sometimes it takes attempting to relax for us to realise how much we need to sleep so if this happens, dont view it as a failure - just accept what your body is telling you. The Waves of Peace Deep Relaxation is a very good place to start.
Within the listed practices you will find dissolving the body. This practice makes for a lovely relaxation and can be particularly helpful when we are trying to manage physical pain. It is worth practising before trying 'Pendulating' which is a pattern of breath also very helpful for managing physical pain.
8 minutes to calm (8 minutes)
Energetic and emotional allignment practice (12 minutes)
Makrasana ( 16 minutes)
Energy gathering relaxation (19 Minutes)
Relaxation (16 minutes)
Deep relaxation - waves of peace (26 Minutes)
Deep relaxation - inner space (33 minutes)
Deep relaxation - in memory of Gyatri (35 Mins)
Deep Relaxation into the Senses (14 Mins)
Deep Relaxation Towards the Light (26 Mins)
Dissolving the body (22 minutes)
Breath work (pranayama)
The most important thing to say about breath work is that you should not strain your breath while practising. If you are in any doubt about what you are doing stop and contact us for support!
In Sanskrit, Prana means life force and it is principally through breath work that we access and develop prana. The foundations of any sound meditation practice are in good posture and breathing. Mindfulness helps us to observe the breath (amongst many other things) but it is via pranayama we can decide on and implement change by first deciding on how we breathe.
If you are breathing badly or inefficiently you will often end up amplifying many of the problems you tried meditating to prevent! The practice of three level or deep yogic breath remedies this and is our starting point. However, in order to achieve a deep yogic breath we first need to learn how to practice abdominal breath. Try working through the abdominal and deep yogic breath files (abdominal breath, deep yogic breath lying, deep yogic breath sitting). The first two are practiced lying down and develop the Abdominal and Deep Yogic Breath respectively in this position. In the third, the deep yogic breath is practiced upright. Make sure you have spent time with the first and mastered it before you rush onto the second or the third. Remember, when you are doing these practices to ensure that you are not straining! If you strain your system you are undermining the purpose of the exercise and it will not work! If you feel uncertain about your breath work, contact James Taylor at the Student Counselling Centre for advice.
Another breathing practice which is excellent for calming and balancing our systems is alternative nostril breathing. You only need practice this for 5-10 minutes to really feel a difference. When you have developed the Abdominal and Deep Yogic breath, try this practice either within your preparations for meditation or alone if you need to pause in your day to rebalance and calm yourself.
Pendulating is a breath work practice that is very helpful in the management of physical pain and is also a practice helpful in developing your concentration. It is helpfully enhanced by first doing the dissolving the body practice.
A lovely breath to practice, perhaps following the energy gathering relaxation practice above is the vitalising breath. This is a lovely way to increase your energy and sense of well being.
Breathwork (Pranayama) practices
Concentration & contemplation
All the practices described below are active concentration exercises.
Trataka or candle gazing practice is a traditional yogic practice which when done regularly will help you develop your capacity for concentration. It may seem very difficult to begin with and rewards regular practice. It can also be very helpful for people who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as it assists in cultivating light within us.
To meditate well we first need to be able to relax and to concentrate so it may be helpful to work through the Relaxation and Concentration resources here before you try any of the meditation practices.
Another way of improving your concentration is to gaze (not stare) at the second hand of a clock and notice how long it takes before a thought comes into your mind to distract you from your concentration. If you go to this link, you will find a full screen sized clock which you can work with: http://edmullen.net/flash/relog.swf
Wait until the second hand comes to 12 o'clock and then note how long you were able to maintain your attention on the second hand until you were distracted. Practice this exercise daily - your aim is to triple your attention span in 2 weeks. From thee is will become quite easy for you to move quite quickly to holding your attention for several minutes.
If you prefer, take an object like a pin or a flower and observe it with your complete attention for a few minutes - without letting anything else enter your mind. Notice everything you can about it. Then close your eyes and allow the image of the pin or the flower to come to mind. See it in as much detail as you can. Just like the clock exercise above, if you do this daily for a couple of week - 5- 10 minutes per day would be fine - you should be able to greatly increase your capacity to hold the object in mind and you will have improved your concentration.
If music is more easily retains your attention - listen to a piece of music and then mentally reproduce it for yourself as accurately as possible, noticing how long you can keep going before you become distracted.
Another practice which combines relaxation and concentration is the body asleep, mind awake (38 minutes) practice. This is a body awareness practice which enables relaxation by maintaining your attention.
A way of making something abstract like 'positive thinking' into a useable practice is to focus on something which has positive associations for you. You might therefore like to try this Contemplation of joy (22 minutes) practice. As with anything that is 'worth it', practice will help develop this! So, even if you have an intention, always be prepared to accept what comes up in your practice. When your capacity for acceptance increases so does your capacity for joy!
Concentration and contemplation practices
Trataka (6 minutes)
Body asleep, mind awake (38 minutes)
Contemplation of joy (22 minutes)
Meditation and mindfulness
The sitting quietly meditation is on the borders of concentration practice and meditation. It is brief and a really good place to start your meditation practice. Try working regularly with this meditation until you can consistently stay focused for 15 minutes at a time. When you can manage this, it's time to move on but dont expect this to be easy! Think how many years you studied to achieve where you are now and know how much work it took. The same applies to your well being so you will need to make a commitment to this to obtain results. As the Dalai Lama says, Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
Disolving stress meditation takes you through some thoughts about breath and posture and then elaborates on the 8 minutes to Calm Meditation above. If you have a little more time, this is the next practice to work with! I find it helpful to remember the Dalai Lamas observation that, we can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace within ourselves. It is very helpful to our practice to be clear in our intentions; when the best of our intentions are consistent with our actions something remarkable has been achieved! This is why Gandhi left us with the beautiful idea that, Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Getting grounded meditation is a great practice for really calming ourselves and contacting our capacity to experience harmony, safety and security. These capacities are always within us if we know where to find them remember to turn to them. If we stand in our knowledge, we know that the sun shines every day even if our senses can only perceive rain and clouds at the time. When we turn to the light of knowledge we begin to free ourselves. The method of this meditation is one of turning towards our experience, firmly rooted on the earth, while cultivating the quality of acceptance for our thoughts, feelings, sensations and environment. As we become the mindful watchers of these shifting phenomena, our capacity for appreciation and gratitude grows. We realise that we are at once more than these phenomena and a part of it all. As the Buddhist worker Tich Nhat Hanh says, We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
The Getting grounded meditation is an integration of two Dru meditation practices known as Prittvi Dharanam & The Shanti Prana Dru meditation (SPDM). In Sanskrit, the Dru star is the North star; the star around which the rest of the universe turns. The aim of the Dru process is to enable you to arrive at the still place within yourself and to develop the capacity to remain there regardless of what is going on around you. The lineage of the Dru system runs back to the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi and hence to the vast body of knowledge and practice he assimilated. It is informed by numerous traditions. The method and philosophy of Buddhism are slightly different but lead to similar experiences and understandings and the great starting point in Western Buddhism is the Mindfulness of breathing. Mindfulness has been hugely embraced in the west general and recently by western psychology and represents a starting point similar to the Getting Grounded Meditation.
The Mindfulness of Breathing helps produce focus and calm in the practitioner. In this sense it can be used both as a concentration and as a meditation practice. It reminds us how hard it can be to do a simple thing like focusing on our breath but gives us a method through which we can observe the coming and going of our thoughts, emotions and sensations. The close observation of these transient events within us enables us to reconsider the status we accord them; it helps us realise that we are more than our thoughts and that we have to work to calm what Buddhists refer to as our 'monkey mind' - the part of us that is as restless and busy as a troop of monkeys! Practice this with an attitude of patient inquiry and don't be surprised if you don't get to far to begin with! It takes time and practice to cultivate awareness but as Tich Nhat Hanh reminds us, Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, the are transformed.
The Peaceful Presence Meditation contains the elements of The Getting Grounded & Mindfulness of Breathing practices above but extends them further into this present space. It explicitly focuses on releasing the energy we attach to past and future illusions enabling a fuller, deeper experience of the present. So much suffering arises from our attachment to these illusions. As Lao Tzu taught us, If you realise that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve. This practice is very peaceful and stilling when you get into it, enjoy!
As the great eastern traditions have known for millennia, it takes more than mindfulness alone to individuate productively. Western psychology is also waking up to this as the groundswell in texts on compassion and self-compassion continues. We suffer from our preferences, desires and attachments and these difficulties take some shifting! The Blue Mist meditation is a beautiful Dru practice designed to assist in bracketing off the thoughts, feelings, sensations and personal history that invariably operate to frustrate our journeys. It has the compassionate determination a symbolised by Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god whose quality is to remove all obstacles. He is associated with the base chakra, which when in balance provides a sense of core stability in the world.
The Blue Mist Meditation begins with a Dynamic Energy Release Practice to prepare you for your practice. The Blue Mist Meditation is a great practice to help you set aside the feelings, thoughts, patterns and sensations that can sometimes get in our way when we are trying to seek calm within ourselves or be able to concentrate on what we need to attend to today. Dont be disheartened if this takes time; accepting where and how we are is the first step. After all, There is the mud and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus. Thich Nhat Hanh
On the journey toward self-compassion and compassion for others you will struggle to go wrong if you make the Contemplation of Joy (see above) and The Metta Bhavna regular features of your practice.
The meditation on loving kindness is otherwise known at the 'Metta Bhavna' the former word meaning 'loving kindness' and the latter meaning 'the practice of...'. Buddhism has traditionally measured our spiritual growth simply by how kind we have become and this is a wonderful meditation for cultivation these universally helpful qualities! This practice is introduced with an anuloma breath practice which is very calming and works as a good preparation. Remember, Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. (Lao Tzu)
Meditation and mindfulness practices
The sitting quietly meditation (18 minutes)
Getting grounded meditation (29 minutes)
Disolving stress meditation (28 minutes)
The blue mist meditation (33 Minutes)
The mindfulness of breathing ( 24 minutes)
The meditation on loving kindness ( 30 minutes)
Peaceful presence (21 Minutes)
There is a meditation group in Room 6 upstairs in the Students' Union between 12pm and 1.30pm every Thursday throughout the year (from late September to late August). The group is run by James Taylor who is a psychotherapist and meditation teacher employed by the Student Counselling Centre. For more information, visit the groups and workshops page.
Some useful online resources are available for meditation and mindfulness:
- LUU Buddhist Meditation Society
- Wild Mind
- Guardian article on meditation
- Dru Worldwide
- Mindfulness for students
- Mindfulness for students - audio-guided practices
- BBC Radio 4 podcast on meditation
- University of Limerick counselling services relaxation information