One of my first encounters
with a meditation was the 1984 movie The Razor’s Edge, based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel. In the movie, Gray Maturin is bed ridden, suffering from post traumatic stress after world war I and the stock market crash. Larry Darrell (played by Bill Murray) instructs Gray to hold a coin in his hand and count from 10 to 1, gradually relaxing his muscles so that the coin falls out of his hand when he gets to 1.
The coin meditation, as I call it, is one of my favorite beginner meditations. It only takes a few seconds, and it teaches all of the principles of body meditation. It teaches us to bring our attention to a specific part of the body, which helps leave thoughts about the world behind. It teaches us to relax the part of the body we are paying attention to. And it teaches that meditation brings a sense of calm, relaxed focus.
In my classes, I often teach a guided meditation for full body relaxation, which is like an expanded version of the coin meditation. You can listen to an audio guided meditation by clicking on the image at the top of the page, by clicking here, or you can practice the meditation by doing the following:
- Find a comfortable position, either in a supported chair, or lying down.
- Close your eyes and realize there is nothing you need to do while your eyes are closed other than pay attention to yourself.
- Start with your hands and imagine holding a coin in each hand. While mentally counting from 10 to 1, gradually relax your hand muscles to the point that the coins fall at 1. This teaches you what it feels like to let your muscles relax.
- Now move to your feet. We will no longer be using the coins, but we can imagine all the muscles in our feet gradually relaxing as we count from 10 to 1. Imagine letting your feet sink into the floor.
- Repeat this process for your lower legs. Counting from 10 to 1, letting the muscles relax and your legs sink towards the floor. If you ate having trouble feeling the muscles relax, start with tensing them at 10, then begin releasing- this makes it easier to feel the release.
- Repeat the process for the rest of your body in this order: upper legs, butt, stomach muscles, chest muscles, back muscles, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, and face.
- We then turn our attention to that big muscle in our heads, our brain. Imagine the brain as just another muscle, relaxing and releasing and sinking towards the floor.
- See if you notice any thoughts that arise. If you notice any thoughts, see if you can release them like you did with your muscles. It can be helpful to imagine putting your thoughts in a balloon and letting them float away.
- See if you can notice any spaces between your thoughts. There will be a space between on thought and the next, even if it is only brief. See if you can find this space. Don’t try to control it, see if you can float in it.
- Gradually bring your attention back to your hands and feet by wiggling them and opening and closing them.
- Gradually move your body in whatever ways feel intuitively right.
- Slowly open you eyes, and it might be time to smile.
Hopefully, after this, you will feel relaxed and ready to take on the rest of your day!