Many of my clients lead meditations as part of their work. I’ve written and edited scripts for meditation apps and audio recordings, and as a facilitator I’ve led them myself. I’ve also listened to my fair share of guided meditations and have thus become attuned to what works and what doesn’t.
Leading a meditation is subject to many of the same pitfalls as doing a meditation. Here are some tips to consider when offering a meditation to a group, whether live or recorded.
- Leave off the explanations.
Most of us who are choosing a guided meditation don’t need to hear why we’re doing it: how our blood pressure will benefit, our spirit will align with the One, or our anxiety will simmer down. Feel free to include an introductory track for this kind of information, or include it in the promotional material for your class, but this type of introduction can send us into intellectual mode at best, and into resistance mode at worst. The question of “why” always brings us back to the mind, and we’re choosing meditation because we need help steering away from the very mental chatter that such information brings on.
- Consider keeping music and narration separate.
When it comes to meditation, less is more. Music connects to emotion and can be an adjunct to a guided meditation as an introduction, perhaps (preferably one that can be skipped if desired), or to provide time for reflection at the end, but during the meditation, a calm voice and periods of silence are most conducive to the goal of connecting with one’s inner being. Another option is to use music instead of the voice, as it accesses a different part of the brain. This approach can work too, especially in shamanic journey types of meditation. It’s when people try combining music and voice-overs that technical problems with sound can emerge and become distracting. If you have a specific and valid purpose in mixing narration with music, take the time to engineer it so that the volume is consistent on both tracks and the balance between the two doesn’t make the listener strain to hear your words.
- Limit voice fluctuation.
While it’s nice to hear animation in a voice reading an audio book or having a conversation; for meditation, enthusiasm is best dampened. You’re not trying to capture your audience’s attention but rather guide them inward. At the same time, you don’t want to be monotone and overly instructive (“teacherly”) with the voice. A calm voice reflects a subtle, centered presence. In fact, this is one reason it’s best for the facilitator to meditate him- or herself before recording or leading a meditation session: we can hear in your voice your own level of connection.
- Eliminate hesitation in the narrative.
While I always appreciate the authenticity of facilitator improvisation in audio recordings, this is one offering for which I recommend a script. As a meditator being led, I need to feel my guide is dependable and solid. In fact, I don’t want to think about my guide at all. I want your words to lead me deeper and deeper into myself. When I hear hesitation, warning bells go off, and I’m pulled back into the mind: “What’s going on? Is there something wrong? Why does he or she sound distracted? Does this person know what he or she is doing?”
Another form of hesitation (or “stuttering”) can be in the recording technology itself. Remember, if you’re offering an audio recording, your listener is often going to be listening with headphones, making every “click” and “pop” clearly audible. If you have long pauses between instructions, it may be better to sit there in the studio in silence, rather than to put the pauses in later, as we’ll most certainly hear even the subtlest difference between the “silence” of the recording studio and the “silence” of a break in recording, and that puts us back into our heads. Recording quality matters.
- Slow the pace.
I can honestly say that I’ve never encountered a meditation that I thought was offered too slowly. It could happen, I suppose, but the tendency seems to be towards rushing. Especially in guided meditations, I need time to create the picture you’re suggesting. Facilitators seem worried that I’m going to get bored, or perhaps that the meditation will take up too much time, but if I’m willing to do the meditation in the first place, I want it to take me as far as it can. It’s useful to remember that most meditation is done in complete silence. Your listeners can handle silence. If you’re worried, use your introductory track to give them strategies for moving their attention back to the breath when they find themselves distracted. Don’t make them dependent on you to rescue them from distraction: that defeats the purpose.
One useful facilitator strategy is to allow yourself to do whatever it is you’re suggesting your listeners do. Imagine what you’re asking them to imagine. Give yourself time to actually take the number of deep breaths you’ve told them to take. Then add ten seconds.
- Give the listener the suggestion, then let her do the rest.
I recently listened to a meditation that asked me to go to my favorite place. Just as I was beginning to visualize that place, the voice began giving me suggestions: “It may be the beach. Hear the waves crash against the shore…” and I was thus whisked away from my own favorite place to the narrator’s beach. “Or it could be the forest. Listen to the chittering of the squirrels and the wind through the trees.” Once again, I was thrown off the beach into a forest. This was far from a relaxing experience. We don’t need help imagining. Trust us with the slightest of suggestions. We’ll get there on our own.
- Leave us options for ending.
Some recorded meditations have a bell to signify the end of a meditation. While this is a comforting and useful tradition in live settings, when we’re meditating with a recording, we may want the option to continue on our own after the recording is over. If it’s a meditation to help us get to sleep, we especially want the option of going right from meditation into sleep, so a bell may not always be desirable. If you’re sure you want an ending point (for example, if you’re facilitating live, or if you’re providing audio content after the meditation), consider carefully how you’d like participants to move out of the meditative state. A suggestion to open one’s eyes and find a focal point on the floor can re-orient people into a room without the abrupt confrontation of another’s gaze. Otherwise, final gentle suggestions that maintain the spirit of the meditation will extend its work.
- Reflect and Honor Your Instincts
Before you lead your next meditation, spend a little time reflecting on what you appreciate most when you meditate. Then create your meditation with the intention of offering your listeners as much of that experience as possible. If you can get out of your head and into your heart space before you begin, your listeners will likely be able to do the same.
So what do you appreciate when you listen to guided meditation audio recordings? What do you love about meditating? Do you have a favorite meditation app or album? Tell us in the comments so we can all make future meditation experiences even better.