On a meditation retreat typically you will be doing a lot more meditation than you normally do when you are at home. On some retreats it’s not unusual to be practicing for 6-7 hours. It isn’t hard! Notice that I say practice not just sitting meditation. Here are some tips to help you get the best from your retreat.
Go gently – Don’t rush at the cushion
Ok, so you are feeling really keen, and that’s great, but our bodies and psyches need time to adjust. Allow yourself to arrive on the retreat and let go of any mental baggage. An Arabic saying says “The soul invariably travels at the speed of a camel”. We may may have arrived physically but our soul is still probably floating up the motorway. Similarly, our bodies take time to adjust to new sleeping times, food and air.
If possible, when the Meditation Hall or Shrine Room is empty, set up your space. Find a cushion or a meditation bench that suits you. You might find it helpful to some have some extra cushions to put under your knees if you are sitting cross legged. If you are kneeling you can put a roll of blanket or foam pieces under your ankles.
If you are going to sit on a chair find one that is a good height for you; You can improve the forward tilt of a chair by putting a blanket or piece of wood under the back legs (about an inch). If the chair is a bit high for you, put a folded blanket under your feet.
Sit quietly for a while, taking in your surroundings so, when the retreat leader is talking later, you can give your full attention.
It’s worth doing some very gentle warm up exercises and light stretching before sitting. It’s a way of letting your body know that you are taking care of it and reduces the tendency to want to fidget.
Stretching also helps you to ‘inhabit’ the body, so that you are meditating with your body, (not just the neck up!)
Meditation practice doesn’t have to be just sitting; Walking meditation is an excellent counterpart to formal sitting and works well when alternated with sitting. For a comprehensive guide see this Wildmind article.
It can help to vary your posture. Not only between cross-legged and kneeling but changing the height of your seat occasionally can help you stay mentally fresh. For some tips on posture see here. If you are on retreat ask your retreat leader to check out your posture as we can sometimes get into strange postural habits that we are unaware of.
Having your own meditation stool or bench enables you to practice at home and to establish a posture(s) that suits you. The Kindseat is exceptionally light and easy to take on retreat. It can also can be very easily be adjusted as you go through the retreat to suit your changing body and mind.