How to begin a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
I am often asked about how to start a mindfulness meditation practice. I always begin my answer by dispelling a couple of common misconceptions that people often have. First, I explain that meditation is not supposed to still your mind or stop you from thinking – though it may slow it down a bit. What it does do is help you begin to change your relationship to your thoughts and feelings. I also point out that, in the beginning, it is not always a completely pleasant experience. We are often surprised to notice how busy our “monkey-minds” are, or we’re aware of how uncomfortable it can be to sit still and use muscles we’re not accustomed to engaging. With practice though, we learn how to work with the mind and body in ways that allow a kind of “loosening up” which leads to a more peaceful experience.
To begin a meditation practice, the best way to develop mindfulness is to focus on the breath. The breath is always there so it the perfect anchor to help us stay in the present moment.
You’ll want to sit in a way that is relaxed, comfortable and upright. You may sit on a cushion on the floor or it is perfectly fine to sit in a chair. Your back lengthens gently, as if there’s a puppet string pulling you up; then, relax your shoulders. As you are taking your seat, bring your awareness to what you are doing in the moment, settling in to your body.
Once settled, close your eyes and sense your body more deeply. Feel where you touch the chair or the cushion or the earth. Sit with as much ease as possible, relaxing your chest, your abdomen, your face, jaws and shoulders. Breathe naturally and focus your attention at the tip of your nostrils. Notice the cool air as you breathe in and the warmed air as you breathe out. Perhaps you can feel where the air touches inside your nose. Simply be present with the breath without trying to change it. Notice if the breath is long or short, deep or shallow. See if you can follow one in-breath, notice the pause, and then one out-breath. Then do that again. It’s fine to count your breath as you get underway as a way to help steady your mind. Or simply say silently, “in” when you breathe in and, “out” when you breathe out. After a minute or two, come to silence and just join with the breath.
As you are doing this, you’ll notice that your mind wants to think about something else. This is what minds do! Don’t make it a problem. Simply notice when you’ve been thinking or caught up in some memory of the past or worry about the future and gently invite your mind to come home to this body, this present moment, the next breath. Usually you will have to do this over and over again. No worries. No judgment. You’re doing just fine. The practice becomes one of returning over and over again to the here and now, to the next breath, and beginning again. Remember that this is called a “practice” for a good reason. Be patient. Be kind. Start with 10 minutes and add to your time as you feel comfortable doing so.