What activities can I do a few minutes before meditation to calm my restless body and mind?
—Siddharth Kumar, India
For meditation, we need to calm the body as well as the mind since a restless body will make the mind restless.
Hatha yoga asanas (postures) have as their purpose preparing the body for meditation. Yoga postures have been popularized as a great way to get exercise and depending on the tradition their spiritual purpose has been minimized. People miss this wonderful opportunity! If you have the time, do some yoga postures and not only will the body be more comfortable for sitting but your energy will be freed from blocks and directed into the inner spine for meditation. You can find out more about yoga postures for meditation here.
Maybe you do not have time for yoga postures. Try this simple technique, which involves use of a double breath along with tensing and relaxing the body. The double breath is a short and then long inhale through the nose followed by a short and long exhale through the nose and mouth. The breath should be deep so you move lots of air when you do it. Now add the body. As you inhale with double breath tense the whole body-vibrate. Then throw the breath out with a double exhale and relax the whole body, really release tension. This technique is calming, energizing, and the double breath oxygenates the blood. Do this two or three times.
Simple pranayama (controlling the life force) techniques such as measured breathing (also called regular breathing) or alternate nostril breathing are especially helpful for calming the mind. If you use the tense-relax with double breath do one of these techniques after that technique.
Regular breathing is a breath done through the nose. You inhale for a set number of counts, hold for the same number of counts and exhale for the same number of counts. The number of counts you use depends on your breath span. You should feel relaxed and comfortable doing this and not out of breath. Many people start with 4-4-4 and adjust the count from there. You can do 10-12 rounds in an unhurried way. After you complete your final round, inhale and exhale allowing the breath to stay out as long as is comfortable and enjoy the stillness. From there you can begin use of your meditation technique.
Alternate nostril breathing (this is a calming version of this breath) is also done through the nose. Hold the right nostril closed as you slowly inhale through the left, then close both nostrils as you hold the breath, then close the left nostril and open the right as you slowly exhale through the right. Begin again holding the right nostril closed as you breathe in through the left, etc. You can start with an even count inhale-hold-exhale but as you become calmer with repetitions you can lengthen the hold portion of the breath. There should be no strain with the breath hold or any feeling of being out of breath; the entire breath sequence should be relaxing. You could do 10-12 rounds ending with a final inhale then exhale, allowing the breath to stay out as long as it seems comfortable and proceed with the rest of your meditation.
You can learn more about meditation techniques brought by our guru Paramhansa Yogananda and taught at Ananda at our Ananda India website. https://anandaindia.org/learn-a-simple-meditation-technique/