How to Meditate: A Short Primer

posted in: Mindfulness | 0

I recently held an Introduction to Meditation workshop. It’s always a good reminder for me to return to the basics of how to meditate. Afterall, meditation is a simple practice and it’s not always easy. So, let’s start at the beginning.

Meditation is something you can start anytime. It takes only a few minutes a day, no special equipment or space is needed and you can’t do it wrong. Yet meditation has the ability to transform your life. I know this to be true, because it’s transformed mine.

I meditate to help me quiet my mind. When my mind is cluttered with too many thoughts, I feel unfocused, overwhelmed and unproductive.

I meditate so that I can choose my thoughts. My practice allows me to respond easily to a situation that might have previously caused a knee-jerk reaction. I like to think of it a giving me effortless patience, so that my first response is much more calm than it used to be.

I meditate so that I can lead a less stressful life. In meditation, I focus on present moment awareness. That means that I’m not angry about something that happened in the past (that I can’t change now), or worried about something coming up in the future (that may or may not happen).

All this is not to say that meditation is easy. As we are bombarded with more and more information through multiple sources, the mind becomes more and more cluttered. That’s why a regular meditation practice is so important, now more than ever.

During meditation there are neurological changes that take place in your brain to create the changes that lead to less stress, more patience, less reactivity and so on. Just as you would not work out at the gym once every so often and expect results, you can’t expect results from meditation if you’re only meditating occasionally. Think of meditation as exercise for the brain.

I could go into the myths surrounding meditation, the reasons and excuses we make not to meditate and all the many benefits of meditation, but those are topics for a different day. Today I want to focus on the how, because I’ll assume since you’re reading this, you want to know. So here goes.

First I want to repeat, the human brain is hardwired for thought, so if you always believed that you had to clear your mind completely to meditate, it’s just not going to happen. We’re just not built that way. So you keep your focus until you notice distractions in the way of thoughts and emotions, or sounds, or sensations creep into your consciousness.

You can think of these distractions as big puffy white clouds in a clear blue sky, they come and they go and you just observe them with no need to follow them. Just as the clouds, when these distractions arise, you can observe them without judgment, without following them or building a whole story around them and then bring your awareness back to the present moment.

Present moment awareness is easy when you have a focus, and for mindfulness meditation, that focus is your breath. You breath is something that is always with you so you can use it at any time, on or off the proverbial meditation cushion. So as soon as you’re distracted, acknowledge that distraction, you can even say,
“Oh, I’m distracted,” and bring your awareness back to your breath.

So a meditation session might go something like this:

  • Get comfortable in your seat or on your cushion, what ever that means to you. That might mean sitting in a chair with both feet on the ground, or on a meditation cushion, wrapped in a comfy blanket. Notice I don’t have a lot of instruction around this, however I do caution against laying down, because this often signals the body that it’s time for sleep.
  • Allow your eyes to gently close if you’d like or you can soften your gaze, which ever allows you to go inward more easily.
  • Begin by first connecting with your breath. This is important because your breath is your object of focus and you will be returning to it again and again as you are pulled away from your meditation practice by distractions. So you might really get to know your breath by becoming aware of all the parts and pieces – the inhale, that slight pause in the middle followed by the exhale and the pause at the end before you begin the next cycle. Notice how it feels in your body. Just generally spend some time with it, getting to know it better. We so often take our breath for granted and this will give you a better appreciation for it.
  • Once you feel comfortable with noticing your breath, move to your physical body. I like to move methodically down my body, starting at the top of my head, and relaxing each part as I go.
  • After this breath and body awareness, you will feel quite a bit more relaxed and your mind will have quieted down quite a bit from when you started. So you’ll be ready to sit in silence.
  • As you sit in silence, you’ll notice thoughts or other distractions. The trick here is to notice them before you begin to follow them, before you create a whole story around them. That doesn’t always happen and when you find yourself chasing your thoughts, be kind, acknowledging that you’re human. When you do notice them, just bring your awareness gently back to your breath.

That’s it! That’s the practice of meditation!

Some other things to note:

  • Meditation is all about acceptance and non-judgment, so there is no wrong way to meditate. If you’re sitting in meditation you’re doing it right, even if you feel like your mind is never quiet.
  • Meditation is a practice. You can’t expect instant results and you can expect it to get easier as you continue.
  • When you are conditioning the brain through meditation, it’s quite different than the conditioning you get through regular exercise. You can’t always see the difference and it’s much more difficult to measure, so trust the process. Study after study has shown the benefits of a regular meditation practice. And through personal experience, I know it’s when you stop meditating when you realize how much of a difference in makes in your life. If you need more convincing that your meditation practice is doing good, you might ask those around you. They often notice before you do.
  • There are plenty of guided meditations online, including here. If complete silence just isn’t your jam, give those a try.
  • Group meditation is often easier for people and has a whole slew of other benefits. If you’re having difficulties meditating on your own, or if you want the support that group meditation offers, please consider joining one of my meditation groups either online via Zoom or in person at Metta Yosemite.

As always I’m here to answer any questions you might have. You can contact me directly at Happy meditating!

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