Today I wanted to talk about meditation practice and how to easily perform three types of them step-by-step.
“Every one of us has the seed of mindfulness. The practice is to cultivate it.“
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Meditation is a practical tool with which one can observe inner and outer experiences with compassion, acceptance and neutrality. Consistent and regular meditation practice promote calmness, inner stability and reduce impulsive, reactive behaviours. We learn to disentangle ourselves from the daily ebb and flow of emotions, anxiety and stress and to connect with our lives and with others in a deeper and more profound manner.
Meditation Practice #1
Choose a comfortable posture. You can either choose to sit on the floor or on a mat or cushion. Alternatively, you can sit against the wall, with your legs extended in front of you. Those who find it difficult to sit on the floor can sit on a hard-backed chair. Whichever posture you choose, sit with your spine straight (do not arch your back).
Those who suffer from back, hip or pelvic pain should take particular care with regard to supporting their back. You can also consider lying down as a final option.
Focus your eyes on the tip of your nose or on a stationary object. The idea is to relax your eye muscles and ease your emotions. You can keep your eyes open, closed or half-closed, depending on what feels comfortable for you. If you choose to close your eyes, imagine yourself in a safe, comfortable and serene place.
Place your palms on your thighs with your thumb and forefinger lightly touching each other. Keep the rest of the fingers relaxed.
Focus on your breathing and become aware of the sensations or thoughts that you experience. These can include, for example, lightness, heaviness, pain, itching or angry thoughts. Do not attempt to analyse any of the sensations or thoughts. Simply observe them and let them go.
Observe each sensation or thought with full awareness.
‘The lawn mower is making noise’, ‘a baby is crying’ or ‘there is itchiness in the toes’. If you notice a sensation or thought occurring multiple times, write it down in a ‘Meditation Journal’.
Slowly come back into awareness by taking three slow, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Rub your hands together, in order to generate heat, and place your palms on your eyes. Interlock your hands and stretch them above your head. Whilst maintaining the stretch, lean left and right several times.
It is a good idea to meditate before stressful situations, for example, job interviews.
Meditation Practice #2
This is a very simple but powerful meditation practice that helps develop mindfulness. In this form of meditation, the individual pays attention to their breath. They recognise the in-breath as the in-breath (inhaling) and the out-breath as the out-breath (exhaling).
Sit comfortably in a chair or sit cross-legged on a mat or cushion. Focus your attention on your breathing and become the physical act of breathing. Keep your attention focused on the in-breath. Observe the sensations of warmth or coolness as you breathe in. Pay attention to your lungs and notice that your diaphragm expands when you breathe in and relaxes when you breathe out. Observe the sensations on your upper lip, just below your nostrils, as you breathe out.
Do not attempt to regulate your breathing. Simply observe how your body breathes naturally. Your breathing could be deep or shallow, fast or slow; simply pay attention to the process. As thoughts come and go, allow them to leave, without judgement or criticism. Gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
The purpose of mindful breathing meditation is to bring the mind into the present moment whereby we do nothing but breathe. You can start by meditating for as little as five minutes and slowly increase your time.
Breathing meditation can be divided into four main stages:
• After the out-breath, count one, then breathe in and out and count two, and so on up to ten, and then start again from one.
• Count the in-breath, just before you actually breathe in, anticipating the in-breath, still counting from one to ten and then starting again from one.
• Stop counting and simply observe the breath silently.
• Begin to notice the subtle sensations at the tip of your nose; this is the first place into which the breath comes and the last place from which it leaves the body.
One in-breath/out-breath cycle should last approximately six seconds, but do not worry if it is longer or shorter than this.
If you are a beginner, the biggest challenge with regards to mindfulness meditation practice is that you may feel bored, restless or uncomfortable, or all three of these sensations at the same time. You may also have invasive thoughts.
The secret lies in not dwelling on the sensation or thought and not reacting to it.
If you happen to be thinking of your dinner menu for that evening, do not mentally construct it. If your head hurts, do not get up and rush for a painkiller. Observe the sensation or thought, acknowledge it and return your attention to your breath.
Observation implies non-participation. You can appreciate that thoughts are not inseparable from the self and can watch them come and go, without reacting to them either positively or negatively.
Mindfulness meditation trains us to understand that thoughts are transient occurrences.
Returning our attention to the breath implies that we appreciate the power of choice at any given moment. By returning to the present moment, we are exercising that choice. Regular meditation practice helps us to stay focused on the present moment, without feeling compelled to dwell on the past or contemplate the future.
Meditation Practice #3
In walking meditation, the individual learns to keep his attention focused on the experience of walking. The practice of walking meditation uses the body as a portal through which to explore the self and self-awareness. Walking meditation differs from breathing meditation insomuch as, during walking meditation, the attention is focused on the external environment.
You would notice the wind, sunshine, rain, the feeling of grass under your feet, and other human beings. Also, the focus is on movement, as opposed to stillness. This may be a good option for beginners who may find it challenging to sit still.
Start with a standing meditation. Place your feet slightly apart and distribute your weight evenly onto both feet. Focus your attention on the feel of the solid ground beneath your feet and observe balance.
Now, beginning with your feet, start by mentally scanning your body, all the way up to the top of your head. As you mentally scan it, observe any tension, stress or pain in each part of your body. Move your thoughts from your feet to your knees then to your pelvis, hips, abdomen, chest, shoulders, neck, face and head.
Choose a location in which you are able to walk for about ten to fifteen steps and then turn back. You can consider starting in quiet spaces like parks and gardens.
Now begin walking and practise being mindful of the way you which you walk. You do not have to walk slowly or quickly – you are not trying to walk any differently – you are simply becoming more aware of how you walk.
Feel the contact and release of your heel touching the ground and then your foot moving forward, with the ball of your foot touching the ground to facilitate movement. Become consciously aware of the sensations in your feet, ankles, shins, calves and joints as you walk. Cultivate awareness of your feet as they rise in the air and make contact with the ground.
As you continue walking, observe your thighs and how they feel. Move your attention to your hips and the way in which they move your legs forward. Notice how one hip lifts while the other hip sinks. Maintain awareness of the muscles and skin.
Feel the air or wind against your skin, as your arms move rhythmically as you walk. Pay attention to your thoughts as you walk. How do you feel? What are you thinking about? Is your mind depressed or happy? Are you experiencing any resentful or angry thoughts? Do you feel content and peaceful?
As you regularly practise walking meditation, you will discover that you are able to maintain a balance between your inner and outer worlds, from a calm and dispassionate perspective. Come to a natural stop and observe how your body is able to stand and maintain balance once again; notice the stillness.
The following four main objects of attention help you to focus your attention on the present:
• Physical sensations (heat, cold, wind, sunshine, pain, soreness, etc.)
• Feelings (pleasant feelings, uncomfortable sensations, etc.)
• Mental state (sadness, peace, joy, contentment, envy, anger, etc.)
• Objects of consciousness (this includes all three factors listed above)
By becoming more aware of your inner world, you automatically become more aware of your outer world.
The positioning of your head can make a significant difference to your walking meditation experience. Avoid keeping your head tucked in towards your chest – this will tend to trigger darker and more negative emotions.
On the other hand, if your chin is tipped too high, there is a stronger likelihood of being overloaded with thoughts. It is best to keep your chin slightly tucked in but not too much. This position helps you to balance your inner and outer worlds. In this position, you will notice that the muscles at the back of your neck are relaxed and long, as opposed to being tight and stiff. Try and keep your gaze in the middle distance – approximately fifty metres ahead of you.
All forms of mindfulness require dedication, time, effort and patience to learn. Most of us have to reprogram our relationship with our minds and bodies, in order to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness.
If you want to read more about the topic of Mindfulness, you can find it here. In my next post, I’ll share more about meditation practice, benefits and therapies, so follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook if you want to know when I post.
See you soon,