As a private meditation teacher, I often wonder how I can more effectively lead a meditation session, both for private individuals and groups, as well as for corporations. And over the years I have come to learn that there is a real art to giving meditation lessons. Indeed, I personally believe that the practice of creating and leading a meditation will come to be seen as an art form in the near future.
Leading meditations is both a practical thing and an artistic one. I’ve previously written about the functional side of things in my guide to creating guided meditations and indeed in my huge guide to becoming a meditation teacher. But in this article, I’d like to discuss my discovery of the art of meditation.
1: Understanding your role
To facilitate a meditation can simply mean that we just speak the instructions for the meditation, and yes, this can be done using premade meditation scripts. And this is honestly pretty easy to do if you are only looking at it as a practical and functional thing. It is easy to get some people to sit on the floor and close their eyes while you read them a meditation script. And if you do that, you will end up with an okay meditation session.
But I personally like to go a hell of a lot further than that. And I believe that there is a lot more potential for meditation facilitators than simply reading a script. Indeed, the best meditation teachers go much further.
In my own meditation sessions, I want to create genuine emotional and psychological transformation in my students (clients). And to do this requires artistry.
The art of leading a meditation session is all about:
You might not be responsible for some of those things. You might leave the music and the words to others. However, if you truly want to be a masterful meditation facilitator, you need to understand how those four points come together. So, let’s take a look at them.
2: Connect With Your Meditation Students
In my meditation sessions, I find it absolutely imperative that I make an emotional connection with my students / clients, especially in my one-to-one sessions. This isn’t as important for corporate sessions or group sessions in general because you’re students aren’t going to open up in front of others. However, if it is a one-to-one session and your student or client is coming to you with a need for genuine emotional or spiritual change, then you will absolutely need to connect with them.
You need to connect with your students / clients so they feel comfortable letting you in. And to do that, you need exceptional communication skills and a lot of empathy. I personally find that sharing my own story about my anxiety and problems growing up… sharing something personal like that can help me to really connect with my clients and when I myself open up to them, they respond in kind.
And so, the first part of the art of meditation teaching is to connect with your students / clients. Next, let’s discuss the words you use.
3: Creating the Script of a Meditation Session
Many people think that writing a meditation script is simply about giving the instructions for a meditation. For instance, a script might simply state, “Focus on your breath” and thereby provide the pure instructions with zero thought for the quality of the words themselves nor the emotions they evoke. This is severely limiting.
If you want to know how to lead a guided meditation that they will remember, you need to get artistic with the words.
Words can create emotions. For instance, let’s take our sentence “Focus on your breath” and make it more emotive. Let’s choose some words that mean the same thing as the line we currently have, but which also create the correct emotion. How about, “Tune your mind into your breath”. Here we have simply replaced the word “Focus” with “Tune your mind” but the impression is very different. We now have the mind as something that could be “tuned” and that can be brought into harmony with the breath. It is a much more profound wording.
We can also get poetic. Let’s consider the quality of the sounds of the syllables in our words and the emotions they evoke. This is something Shakespeare did all the time, using words that sounded like the emotion he was trying to convey. For instance, in the famous soliloquy “To be or not to be” we have staccato beat of single syllable words and the repeated sounds ooo eee oh oh oooo eeee (the vowel sounds of the words), which makes it feel like Hamlet is lamenting.
Simply put, the sound and rhythm of the words creates emotion.
If we were to apply such poeticism to our meditation script, we might end up with a line like “Centre your conscious awareness on your inhalations and exhalations”. The alliteration of “S” sounds in this line evokes the quality of peacefulness.
Of course, I am not trying to prescribe exact words here nor am I trying to tell you precisely what sentences to put in a meditation script. Rather, I am simply saying that when writing meditation scripts, we should be aware of the emotional qualities of the sounds in the same way that a poet would be. This will help to create more effective scripts that make it easier for our students (clients) to get into the meditation.
Finally, when it comes to writing guided imagery and visualizations, we must adhere to the established rules of screen descriptions. Let us not write, “Imagine yourself on the beach”. Be more descriptive and use details. “Golden sands extend to silver blue sea, the ‘swoosh’ of the waves echoing all around.”
Good writing, that follows the established rules of poetry and scene description, can significantly enhance the quality of a meditation script. And again, this is not a necessity for leading a session… not unless you want to lead a meditation that takes our functional health practice to the level of high art, like I do.
4: Speak with feeling
Another artistic aspect of teaching meditation is vocal work. You need to sound the right way. Obviously, this begins with simply having a good speaking voice.
As my classical singing teacher used to say to me, we need to speak from the diaphragm. You want your voice to begin low in your diaphragm, not up in your throat. And you want your larynx to be relaxed. This will help you to have a rich and resonant voice that is more appropriate to meditation than the average ‘general speaking’ voice. And yes, naturally, your articulation should be on point. But all of that is really just the beginning of speaking well. So, let’s dig deeper.
How should a meditation voice sound? Your voice should match the emotional quality of the meditation session. For instance, if you are doing a Metta session (Loving Kindness) you will want to sound compassionate and loving. And if you’re leading a meditation for sheer relaxation then obviously you’ll need to sound relaxed. This is because the tone of our voice communicates as much, if not more, than the words we say.
Then again, we are not trying to win an OSCAR. We need to be subtle in our vocals. We want to communicate love / peace / whatever the purpose of the session is, but in a subtle and natural way.
When facilitating a meditation, make sure you speak clearly but, beyond that, subtly convey the emotional qualities of the meditation through your voice in a very natural way. For instance, if I’m reading a Metta script and I say, “Visualize sending the person love and kindness” it is important that my voice communicates the qualities of love and kindness.
5: Work with the meditation music
Next, we need to be aware of how our speaking is interacting with the music. This certainly doesn’t mean that we need to speak with a particular rhythm or anything like that. However, there should be congruence between the music and the meditation speaker.
This is actually something I am still working on in my own meditation sessions. And I believe that there is a real art to it. We’re seeing how many artists are getting into producing meditation music (Deva Premal, Yellow Brick Cinema etc.) and I believe that meditation music is going to evolve over the coming years. Part of that evolution will focus on how the music and the speaker work together. And honestly, right now I do not know where that will go.
Certainly, there are a few pointers we should be aware of. For starters, we do not want to speak with the rhythm of the music because this sounds artificial. Instead, we want to speak off rhythm because this sounds more natural. We do, however, want to match our pauses to pauses in the music. And we probably should match the emotional quality of the music and the speech. But beyond that, well, honestly, I am still evolving my own speaking and learning ways to work with the music, so I won’t go any further on this. However, I will be updating this article as I make new discoveries, so stay tuned.
In The Future, Meditation Will Be Art
As I’ve mentioned, I believe that leading a meditation group is an art—or in the very least, it can be an art, we can take it to that level. And I do believe that the way we give meditation sessions is going to evolve, and fast if the current rise in meditation is anything to go on.
In this guide, I have attempted to lay down an early groundwork of how meditation teachers can perform their work as a form of art. We’ve looked at connecting, writing, speaking, and music, and we’ve seen how our work is most effective when we marry these things together.
I will be updating this guide so follow us for updates. For now, let’s just say that there is an exciting future ahead for the art of meditation.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.