Meditation 101: The Importance of Starting with Self-Awareness

Most of us who are interested in the self-study offered by meditation are motivated by a desire for self-improvement. Personally, I have always been drawn to gemstones and crystals so when I discovered meditation, I was very excited to incorporate crystals into my personal practice. I have found in my journey of self-discovery that meditation is a progressive practice that requires a firm foundation if it's ever going to create lasting effects. Perhaps other people are better able to navigate through and make use of the endless list of meditation tools available to us, but for me trying to experiment with more advanced meditation practices without first establishing a personal baseline has proved counterproductive and made me doubt the validity of crystal therapy. So, based on my own experiences with meditation, I am offering a succession of meditation practices that when practiced in order, have helped me go deeper into my own meditation practice and also have helped me make better use of the tools available for enhancing my personal practice.

Start with breath awareness. Just sit in a quiet spot, away from your phone and other potential distractions or temptations. Find a comfortable position, it can be seated or laying down or even standing if you want as long as you're comfortable to stay in that position without moving or adjusting. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest and just pay attention to whatever sensations may present themselves. You may notice one hand is moving more than the other, demonstrating where you naturally draw your breath (either into your chest or your diaphragm). You can start experimenting with meditation using this simple practice. This seems stupidly simple but it can be quite challenging for those of us who have never disconnected from our every day lives. You can observe how you breathe when you're in a state of rest, or when you are not trying to manipulate the breath but letting it flow freely and naturally. When practiced regularly, this will establish a baseline for your self-awareness. You can later move on to focus on things like deepening your breath, counting the seconds of your inhalation and exhalation, extending your exhalation to be slightly longer than your inhalation, practicing diaphragmatic breathing, interval inhalations and exhalations, etc.

When you become well versed in breathing meditations, you have established a firm foundation of self-awareness. Breathing meditations help us to understand and accept who we are, free of external influences and desires for improvement. From self-awareness, we can more responsibly work towards self-evolution or personal growth. If we do not have a solid understanding of our baseline, we won't be able to recognize the subtle effects of adding stones, mantras, gongs, singing bowls and other meditation tools to our practice. These tools are meant to enhance our meditation experience, acting as catalysts so that we can go deeper and deeper into our own consciousness. Many, if not most meditation tools are there to help us break through stubborn blockages within us, preventing us from accessing that truest part of our self. They work by vibrating frequencies we may not know how to manifest on our own. If we are not aware of our blockages because we have not established our baseline, we are relying on the intuition of the tool to find it for us. We can use crystals, for example, to focus and direct our intentions to full manifestation. But if we are not sure of our deepest intentions, how can we direct them? 

The sequence of meditation practices I found most beneficial in my personal experimentation is as follows:
Breathing meditation > emotional self-awareness meditations > moving meditations (tai chi) > cooking & walking meditations > incorporating stones and woods into my meditation environment > placing stones and woods on various parts of my body during self-awareness meditation > EFT > Agnihotra/sacred fire meditation > attending gong and singing/crystal bowl meditations > chakra meditations > guided imagery and yoga nidra > angel meditations > mantra > global healing meditations (i.e. twin hearts)

Even after having mastered breathing meditations, I still recommend revisiting them often. Just sitting and focusing on the breath. There are different advantages and benefits exclusive to the various types of meditation; we gave the example of crystals already, gongs and singing bowls can help us to quiet our thoughts and tune in to the cosmic stillness of creation, and mantras can awaken specific frequencies in us that aid us in shedding the layers of lifetimes and lifetimes of material existence (karma). These effects are profound and invaluable when it comes to personal and spiritual growth. However, that doesn't negate the importance of staying connected to your baseline. This is the key to integrating the meditation experience into who you are in every day life. Sure, it is easy to feel zen or whatever when you are being led in guided imagery or experiencing other realms during a gong meditation. But what about when you're sitting in traffic or stuck in your cubicle or behind a screaming child on the airplane? Do you have your gong with you? Will you sit down on the floor and start chanting aloud? Perhaps and perhaps not. The breath though is always accessible to us, and breath awareness can be practiced without anyone noticing. Even when we're making leaps and strides in our evolution of consciousness, it's always good to check back in with ourselves just to see where we're at. Breathing meditations are the best I've found for being present and self-aware in the moment and for helping to ground and integrate more radical and fantastic meditation experiences.

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