Meditation: How the heck do I end a session?
When you’re new, it can be a bit confusing to end a meditation session. Do you just get up and jump back into life? Do you sit for a few minutes? Are you supposed to say namaste or bow or something?
There’s not really a single “right” way to end your meditation sessions. If you’re in a class or other group setting, you should follow the lead of the group leader, of course. But when you’re meditating alone, it’s really up to you to decide what works best for you.
But I do have a few suggestions that you can try. Some are for the body, while others are for the mind. You can do them all, pick and choose the ones that work best for you, or use them as a jumping-off point to find something else that works for you.
Session endings for the body
Scan the body
Scan your body from head to toe. Note how you feel, if there are any changes in how you feel and anything that stands out. If there are areas of discomfort or pain, take a few moments to see if you can determine if they’re caused by the way you’re sitting, the length of time you’ve been sitting, or something else.
You can also take a few moments to gently massage your neck or any areas of pain or discomfort.
Move slowly in increments
Theoretically, you’ve been sitting still in meditation for several minutes. This stillness can cause joints to feel a bit stiff and sometimes even cause muscles to cramp when you resume movement. So take your time and move slowly in small increments.
Start by wiggling your fingers and toes, then move to the wrists and ankles. Keep going from there until you’ve moved your entire body and feel as if you’re ready to start moving fully again.
Adjust your clothing
When you sat down to meditate, you may have felt warm or cool. After meditating, however, your body temperature may have changed. You may be warmer or cooler than you were before, so take a few moments to determine how you feel.
Then add or remove layers as needed.
As mentioned before, sitting can make you feel a bit stiff and uncomfortable. Take a few minutes to do some gentle, easy stretches.
You can do a few yoga poses if that feels good to you. Or you can simply stretch your arms and legs and enjoy the feeling of movement.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s gentle. Don’t overdo it.
Practice your breathing
Breathing is an automatic body function. In its automatic form, however, we don’t pay attention to how we’re breathing. This means it can be fast and shallow and potentially add to our stress levels. Taking a few moments at the end of your meditation to practice focusing on the breath and taking slower, deeper breaths can help you throughout the rest of your day.
Simply sit and take deep, even breaths for a few minutes. This is not about meditating, so don’t worry if you’re thinking about your day or half-listening to an argument between your kids. Just take the time to take those long, slow breaths that will provide you with more oxygen and energy.
Eat and drink something
It is often recommended that you not eat or drink anything (or anything heavy, at least) within an hour or two before you meditate. This is because digestion tends to take a lot of your blood and this means that your brain will be naturally inclined toward sleep – which will make your meditation a bit of a struggle.
Once you’re done meditating, however, you should go ahead and grab a bite to eat and drink something. Personally, I recommend some fruit or a salad along with some water or tea. I find that keeping a meal or snack light after meditation tends to feel better.
If you do want to eat before you meditate, keep it light.
Session endings for the mind
Give yourself a “5-minute warning”
Whether you’re sitting in silence or listening to a guided meditation or music that ends, don’t just abruptly end the meditation by being “done.” Give yourself a little notice.
Think of how you wake someone up gently. You don’t walk in, grab their ankle and yank them out of bed while telling them everything they need to get done, right? No! You might gently rub their shoulders and whisper to them that it’s time to get up. Or you might give them a gentle nudge before you begin opening the curtains to let in the morning light.
Give yourself the same gentle wake up from your meditation. Sit for a few moments with your eyes closed, becoming aware of the sounds around you. Gently open your eyes and sit for a moment as full awareness of the present moment comes back.
Work on your thinking
As you come out of the meditation, reality begins to intrude. Thoughts will demand to be heard again, to-do lists and schedules will start running through your mind. This is a great opportunity to work on your thoughts.
If you find that your thoughts are instantly taking a negative turn, you can use this time to deliberately flip them into something more positive. If you’re starting to immediately feel anxious, worried, or stressed, you can take this chance to consciously tell yourself to relax and start thinking of how you can feel better about the day ahead of you.
You can also use this time to pay attention to repetitive thoughts that aren’t serving you. Maybe you’re still dwelling on something that happened some time ago and doesn’t matter anymore or clinging to feelings that you should have let go of by now.
Express thanks to your mind and body
Have you ever spent any real-time thinking about the amazing things your mind and body can do for you? I mean, you breathe every day without even thinking about it. Your mind allows you to love, to create, to have deep and intelligent conversations. Your body lets you walk, run, swim, stand, have children, have sex, do yoga. It’s a miracle that you are a human being, alive and walking this planet.
Take a few minutes at the end of your meditation to thank your mind and body for doing these things. Even if there are things that your mind or body can’t do, you can still be grateful for what it can do.
Bonus: If you do this regularly, you may find that you start to feel more confident and positive about your body, even if you’ve been rather unhappy with it up until now.
Say a short prayer
If you’re a religious person, you can end your meditation with a short prayer. It can be a prayer of gratitude or a simple conversation with the deity of your choosing.
As with any of these practices, this doesn’t have to be any lengthy process, and it doesn’t require any big rituals. Just a quiet prayer, however you want to do it, to transition you from the solitude of your mind back to the busy external world.
Assign yourself some homework
How often do you walk away from your meditation practice and not think about it or the insights you gained from it until the next time you meditate? While there’s not necessarily anything wrong with this, the benefits of meditation can be greatly enhanced by keeping meditation and its insights more at the front of your mind.
Try assigning yourself some homework. You might tell yourself that you will pay more attention to your breathing today so that you can stop and take some deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed. You might take an insight from your meditation and tell yourself to look for examples of that insight throughout your day. Or it could be anything else that feels like a good way to ensure that your meditation isn’t forgotten between sessions.
Dedicate your efforts
How many books have you read that had a dedication from the author? They dedicate the book to their spouse, thanking them for their support, or to their kids, whose unfailing belief in them helped the author keep going to finish the book.
There are people in your life who support and believe in you, who offer you love and other things that make it possible for you to be who you are and do what you do. Take a moment at the end of your meditation to dedicate the time to someone who means a lot to you.
It might feel a little strange at first, but as you continue to do it, you might find that it brings an even deeper meaning to your meditation when you know that you’re thinking of someone else.
Bring insights from meditation to the rest of your day
Meditation can provide some amazing insights. And those insights are most useful if you actually use them outside of meditation.
Let’s say you realize that you’re still holding on to anger at someone for something they did six months ago. You can bring that insight to the rest of your day by being aware and asking yourself if frustration or anger that arises throughout the day is warranted or if it’s coming from the anger you’re holding on to. It can help you put those and other feelings in perspective so that you can let go of them more easily instead of holding on to them for months or even years.
Look for just one or two things that you can bring from your meditation into the rest of your day. Jot them down on a sticky note or in the notes app on your phone so you can easily see them and be reminded of what you want to keep in mind as you go through your day.
It doesn’t matter how you end your session if it works
You can use any of the tips I’ve listed or you can use them all. Maybe you can create your own way of ending your session that doesn’t include any of these tips. You might create a more spiritual ending or something more scientific if you’re not a spiritual person.
It doesn’t really matter how you end the session as long as it works for you. The biggest tip I’d like to give you is this: make it gentle. When you’re coming from the quiet solitude of your mind back into the busy, noisy, often overwhelming external world, an abrupt ending could end up feeling like you’ve been pushed onto the tracks in front of a train. And that’s not going to set you up for a peaceful good day.
Be gentle. Be slow and deliberate. Ease out of meditation and back into the world. It’ll be there waiting, no matter how long you take.