This meditation/exercise is a great way to start the day. It sets up your body for great meditations, by stabilizing it an upright, centered position. It is also terrifically invigorating. Even if you never get around to the meditation part, it smoothly energizes your body and mind, helping you to transition from sleep to wakefulness.
Originally published 1999
Trunk Lift (posture!)
Start by sitting on the edge of a cushion or chair. Then lift your trunk (chest) so that you’re upright. Balance your head over your spine, feeling like there’s a rope attached to the top of your head that is pulling you up. This step aligns your posture, so its set for the day. It also begins the work of exercising the trunk muscles, and creates a relaxed, balanced body position that is perfect for meditation.
Simply lifting also establishes an eye-catching posture. Have you ever looked at people and wondered what made them so proud, so confident? Keep that trunk lift throughout the day (its not that hard, really!) and you’ll notice people looking at you, wondering the same thing.
Hold your hands comfortably in your lap, palms up and thumbs touching lightly together, or rest them on your knees. Close your eyes gently so they are relaxed and almost-but-not-quite closed. (This is particularly good when you are meditating in the sun. Sunlight’s mood-brighting energy penetrates all the way to the brain and pineal gland through the eye. With your eyes not-quite closed you can get that benefit even in very bright sunlight.)
Torso Tightening (exercise!)
Next, tighten the muscles around the torso. Don’t suck in the abs so much as feel them tightening from the sides towards the middle and then inwards toward the center of the spine. The muscles should feel exactly like a girdle tightening around your waist. This step stabilizes the torso, and raises your metabolism by 50%.
Done throughout the day, this single action is the equivalent of going for a 20 or 30-minute run. Again, doing it the first thing in the morning sets the tone for the entire day. Together, the combination of lifting and tightening creates an eye-catching posture, burns fat, and sets the stage for the right kind of breathing (coming next).
Note, though, that you are not “sucking in your abs”. The tensioning is quite subtle, working the muscles in the sides more so that the ones in the front. In a way, it feels almost effortless. you feel the tensioning, but you can hold it all day. (When you suck the abs “in” on the other hand, its an extreme-tension feeling that you can only hold for limited periods of time.)
Done throughout the day, this action flattens the stomach and counteracts the sagging belly that gravity brings to us all, in time. But the even better news is that, over time, a muscle shortens to its normal range of motion. So do it consciously throughout the day long enough, and after a while the muscles will do it for you!
Abdominal Breathing (oxygen!)
When you breathe, you want to breathe deep in the abdomin. Chest breathing is very shallow. It takes a lot of energy and doesn’t deliver that much oxygen. Deep abdominal breathing, on the other hand, is very easy. In addition, it massages the internal organs and provides a lot more oxygen.
Possibly most importantly, with abdominal breathing the muscles work in the right direction. When you breathe in the chest it takes effort to inhale and to hold, you relax when you exhale. When you do that, you tend to hold the exhale, to prolong the relaxation. But all of the oxygen transfer in the lungs happens when you are holding after an inhale! Chest breathing doesn’t make that easy, so you don’t do a lot of it.
With abdominal breathing, in contrast, the muscular effort happens on the exhale, as you suck your stomach in to expell air out. When you relax, you inhale. When you prolong the relaxation, you are holding a little longer on the inhale, which produces greater oxygen transfer. So in addition to getting more oxygen into the lungs, and doing it more efficiently, a higher percentage of it makes it into the body. (And a higher percentage of the carbon dioxide in the bloodstream makes it out.)
So deep abdominal breathing is a very good thing. Not only does the oxygen energize and awaken you — it also burns fat and charges up the immune system!
But the actual traditional advice, passed down from ancient times, is to breath low into the abdomin. When people first try abdominal breathing, what you see is the upper stomach going in and out a lot. That is better than chest breathing, but still not ideal.
When you tighten the trunk muscles, as in the step above, it suddenly becomes very easy to breath low into the abdomin. That is the only place for the air to go! Feel the trunk solid and your lower abdomin expanding as you inhale. Compress the abdomin to exhale.
That is the standard breathing that you can do all day. For the morning jump-start, though, take 3 full breaths. Start by exhaling completely, slowly squeezing the abdomin, sucking in the abs to expell the last ounce of oxygen from your body. Then slowly inhale, expanding your lower abdomin to its fullest to take in the biggest breath possible. Hold for as long as you can comfortably. Repeat five times.
After doing the breathing exercise, return to normal breathing, keeping the trunk lifted and the torso tightened. Even if you don’t go on to the meditation step, you will feel yourself more alert and energized, ready to face the day!
Now you’re ready for meditation. Focus on something positive: an inspiring person, a quotation, a personal goal. Feel the positive vibration from that focus entering you and radiating from you. Keep at it, allowing the feeling to build and grow, until somewhere within you feel that the time has come to stop.
With practice, the positive feelings will grow stronger and stronger. You may find yourself leaping from one positive thought to another, or you may stay with one and feel it grow stronger with each passing moment. Each meditation is different. But they are all fundamentally the same in that you connect with an incredible source of positive energy that is inside you, and at the same time outside of you, as the fabric of the universe. It is an incredibly uplifting sensation, well worth the time it takes to learn to connect to it.
I like to end my meditation in the way my martial arts master taught me. Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim (my Jung SuWon master) taught that when you put your hands together in prayer-position, the right hand symbolizes the body, while the left symbolizes the mind. Putting both hands together puts body and mind together — as you do in meditation. With body and mind together, your mind is focused where your body is, and your body (actions) conform to your goals (mind).
Bringing your hands together and placing them in the center of your chest puts them next to your heart, joining body, mind, and spirit into a single unified whole. Then, bowing forward from that position brings the head closer, folding everything in on itself like an embroyo. This action acknowleges the whole, and expresses gratitude to the universe for allowing the seed to grow — recognizing the spiritual sun, rain, and soil that makes the soul’s progress possible.
At this point, too, I recognize my martial arts master who taught me to meditate in this fashion. The gratitude I feel is a meditation in itself. The positive vibrations generated by that feeling lift me up until I’m soaring. Which of course increases my gratitude… What a lovely upward spiral!
Finally, take that energy with you as you step out into the world, and share it with others. Try to brighten the day of everyone you meet. Remember: If you get reincarnated, this is the world you’re coming back to, so make it the best world you can! Who knows where you’ll come back?
Copyright © 1999-2017, TreeLight PenWorks