How to get the most out of your course
Vipassana meditation is a holistic endeavour. You are about to engage in a more intensive practice period, one where observing yourself is the priority. In the following, I provide you with recommendations that can significantly aid and support your practice to be more fruitful.
The Right Attitude
It is important to know why you are meditating. Reminding yourself of your intention and what you seek to cultivate and learn through the practice will help you stay motivated throughout, especially when it becomes more challenging.
While an aspiration for the practice is great, expectations of what we will experience are unhelpful. An aspiration is knowing what you are working towards, expectations are an idea you're comparing your current experience with. During the 1-hour meditation periods, we try to suspend all expectations and practice the technique in every moment.
Vipassana meditation is a type of meditation where we're not trying to intentionally cultivate pleasant states of peace & happiness. Rather, we are trying to learn and understand our mind as it is. To understand and accept all parts of yourself including those we don't like or don't want to see. As such, sometimes meditations are difficult and uncomfortable. These are for your own good as you will learn how to relate to difficult and boring parts of yourself, aspects we usually react to or distract ourselves from. As you become better at relating to these, peace and happiness automatically arise and become the default state you return to.
Your lifestyle supports your practice.
A healthy mind and body with less input and stress factors will make it easier to cultivate awareness. For the course period, where we are learning the technique, we want to intentionally simplify our lifestyle and support the health of our mind and body. After becoming proficient in the technique, we can then bring this skill to more difficult situations where there is more input and stress, which in turn become the fuel for our practice.
Firstly, we want to reduce any unnecessary stimulation. Try to spend less time on technology, consume digital entertainment, and go on big social outings. Reading books and listening to music is fine as long as it's not done compulsively. Not multi-tasking also helps. Of course, as this is a daily life practice retreat, you can still do what you need to do for work and necessities.
Letting the day breathe. Allow for more space and time in your schedule. If you usually pack your schedule back-to-back, allow for more breaks and transition periods. Take this as an opportunity to spend more time in nature and with yourself.
It can be helpful to communicate your course commitment to those around you, especially the people you live with. Let them know this is important to you so they are more considerate of your space and time with yourself. If you want to take it further you can also avoid unnecessary conversation.
Prioritise the health of your mind and body. Get enough sleep (8 hours sleep window is recommended). Do some exercise every day. Movement and sports where you are more mindful and aware of your body are recommended. Yoga is a great complement to Vipassana, but stick with the physical side of Yoga, while avoiding mixing Yogic meditation techniques with the practice.
Regarding food, a vegetarian diet is recommended. A diet of more vegetables and less heavy, oily meals will help you be more alert and less drowsy. Avoid eating big meals just before meditation periods and try not to eat too late in the day (empty stomach = easier to wake up early & meditate). If you are used to eating meat, try to reduce it.
Make it easy to start sitting
You want to lower the barriers that prevent you from sitting down. Once we sit down and start the guided meditations we tend to resign to the practice. Before we start, the mind often makes up all kinds of excuses as to why to do it later.
Create a consistent space in your morning and evening routine for meditating. Just after you get up, before using technology or speaking and at the end of your day after winding down communication is the best. However, this is not a must. Do what works for you.
Keep the place where you sit to meditate consistent. A little corner where you've set up a mat, blanket or carpet to soften the floor and your cushions or chair work well. Keep this space free of clutter and tidy. Over time your mind begins to associate the space with awareness and it becomes easier.
Your meditation posture should be one that balances alertness & relaxation. Sitting cross-legged with the hips elevated balances these very well and has been used for millennia. However, if you are unable to do this due to injury, it is also okay to sit on a chair. Being without back support is generally better as it prevents you from falling into drowsiness.
Alertness. Keeping the spine upright and balanced. Finding the position of your spine where the least effort is required to keep it straight. The crown of the head is reaching upwards gently. Chin is slightly tucked to keep the back of the beck flat. Propping the hips up higher than the knees helps tilt the pelvis forwards, keeping the natural arch of the lower back.
Relaxation. The rest of the body is relaxed around the spine. Eyes, face, jaw, shoulders, hands, belly, and legs are relaxed. Eyes are closed gently, upper and lower teeth can be slightly apart, and hands can be resting on the lap or thighs.
Stillness. A still physical body will aid stillness in the mind. Try to move less and not fidget. If you do need to change postures once in a while do so slowly, and deliberately
We will cover posture in more detail in the first meditation.
Set aside other meditation techniques
To give the Vipassana technique a fair trial and learn it properly, it is important to set aside any other meditation styles you practice. This is because if we mix techniques it is harder for the teacher to guide us properly and assess the territory we traverse. Results become diluted and the technique loses its efficacy. Before we understand and become proficient at the technique, it is not recommended to practice other meditation techniques alongside Vipassana.
The recommendations above are there to help you! Over time, you will find your own ways as you start to understand how your mind and body work and what is best for you as an individual. The above are only recommendations that I have found to be helpful for myself. We will also cover some basic principles for the practice in the first meditation and lecture. If any questions remain after that, feel free to message me on Whatsapp (details in email). Good luck!
Written September 10, 2021. Last updated October 30, 2022