If you’ve been in the early stages of a meditation practice for some time, you’re probably wondering how to advance your practice. You may have a sitting practice where you focus getting quiet, still and brining your awareness to your inhalation and exhalation. Or perhaps you’ve practiced mindfulness techniques such as a mindful walking meditation. So what's the next level of meditating? How can you make your practice longer or go deeper into it?
The following is a list of seven suggestions that will help you on your way to progressing further in your meditation practice.
#1 Commit to Regularity
If you haven't already, you’ll want to commit to a regular meditation schedule because one of the best ways to advance your practice is to carve out a daily meditation time. This regularity will take your practice to the next level as you’ll be creating new neural pathways in your brain – ones that will provide you with more motivation and willpower. Your mind will begin to want to practice and that desire will naturally deepen your practice.
(More on this Number One 'Rule' of Meditation.)
#2 Go Easy on Yourself
While in the process of advancing your practice, be kind to yourself. Try not to force yourself to meditate for longer periods than you’re ready for. Increase the time you spend in meditation gradually. You don’t want to push yourself too far with advanced practices you’re not ready for. Be gentle and proceed slowly and with care. You want this practice to work as a stress reliever, not create more stress. Both your mind and body need time to adjust to an increase in practice. Just like someone new to running wouldn't want to go from a 3K to running a marathon in just one day.
(This gentleness toward yourself is also known as Ahimsa: The Number One Yama of the First Limb of Yoga.)
#3 Master Your Foundations
Learning how to sit comfortably is essential. You’ll want to fine tune this aspect of your practice before delving any deeper. Make sure you know what feels truly comfortable for you. Find a position that supports a straight spine and naturally easy breathing. Look for a place that feels safe and use a cushion that supports proper alignment. You won’t be able to focus properly until you’ve mastered a comfortable sitting position. Finally, make sure your breath is smooth, slow and serene before taking your practice further.
(For more on Mastering Sitting Meditation.)
#4 Don't Underestimate the Art of Preparation
Yoga sets us up for an advanced meditation practice by giving us many tools to prepare for it. Hatha yoga asana, pranayama breathing, various relaxation techniques, even learning to use a neti pot – all of these practices are helpful precursors to meditation. By making sure you are prepared to sit through one or more of these exercises, you’ll find that your meditation progresses with ease. You’ll be more alert, relaxed and prepared to sit for longer periods of focused concentration.
#5 Seek Out New Practices You Truly Enjoy
While in the process of advancing your meditation practice, you’ll want to experiment with new techniques. If you find one that resonates with you or a new mantra that you really enjoy reciting, give yourself the freedom to explore these techniques further. When you discover new meditation styles that are fun, you’ll be more inclined to stick to the practice. Instead of trying to push forward with techniques you think you’re “supposed” to master, move forward with those you really enjoy instead.
#6 Upgrade Your Diet
According to yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, different foods have different effects on both our body and mind. Ayurveda teaches us that there are three different kinds of foods: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. Tamasic foods can leave us feeling tired and groggy while rajasic foods can make us hyper. Sattvic foods, on the other hand, have a calming and energizing effect.
Examples of tamasic foods are meats and even stale foods. Rajasic foods include caffeine, sugar and certain stimulating spices. On the opposite spectrum, sattvic foods are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed dairy. If you’re serious about advancing your practice, you might want to review what you eat. After all, in yoga, we have what’s called the annamaya kosha, or "food body." This particular kosha is the sheath of the physical body. You literally are what you eat so it makes sense to eat a healthy clean diet in order to support the more subtle layers of your being.
(Here are 3 Reasons Why Yogis Love Plant-Based Diets.)
#7 Find Your Tribe
Friends that support your meditation practice are one of the most powerful supporters in your evolution. While meditation is a solitary, inward-focused activity, the support of a community, or satsang, can help advance your spiritual growth. Seek out fellow yogis who also wish to advance their meditation practice.
You can also look for gurus who can guide you on your path. Feeling a sense of connection to like-minded individuals will naturally help not only bolster your motivation, but keep you on track as you take your practice to the next level.
(Continue reading in 4 Reasons Why You'll Want to Meet Up to Meditate.)