If you’d like to bring more mindfulness to your life then beginning to meditate is one of the best ways to start. Meditation is a ‘practice’, we are practicing not to be brilliant meditators but to show up more fully to the moments of our life as they arise. Neuroscience shows us that through meditation we can train the brain to be more focused on the present and spend less time mind-wandering. So taking some time out to meditate may mean you spend less time procrastinating, worrying and ruminating leaving you more time to feel alive.
Meditation is for everyone, it’s a return to our natural state of being. Learning to meditate is actually more an unlearning of all that we’ve placed on top of our ability to simply be present.
So, lets get started; the best place to start is exactly where you are. If you can find a space in a quiet room then that is helpful, however really we can meditate anywhere. It is worth bearing in mind that there are rarely the ‘right’ conditions for meditation and it is part of the practice to see if we can allow and accept things as they are. All you really need is already here – your body and your breath, you can’t breathe in the past or the future, only now, so this is always our access point to the present.
How should I position myself?
It is good to get comfortable with an upright aligned spine and a grounded triangular base, so if you are sitting on a chair try to have your feet on the floor, hip-width apart, feeling into the sitting bones. To avoid back ache the knees should be positioned below the hips. Alternatively sit cross-legged if this is comfortable for you; some people find it helpful to place something under the knees to prop them up if there is any straining across the groin area. With any seated position it is worth having a little sway from side to side, backwards and forwards to feel into your mid-point, so the head is resting aligned on the neck and neither the head or pelvis are tilted too far one way or another. A further option is to lay down. I advise clients to lay in a semi supine position, on their back, head slightly propped up with a book or small pillow and knees raised, again hip width apart, feet on floor. Laying in semi-supine is great for realigning the spine, plus if we begin to fall asleep our knees usually start to wobble and this wakes us up!
What should I be doing?
Relaxed awareness is what we are after, so there’s no need to try too hard, rather than our awareness being on our thoughts we are gently tuning into being present for this moment in time. If we approach it as ‘being in meditation’ rather than ‘doing a meditation’ this tends to bring a lightness of touch that allows us to let go, be less judgemental and move into sensing mode.
What about thoughts?
Mindfulness meditation is not about ‘clearing the mind’ or pushing away thought. If you’ve ever lain in bed at night trying to stop thinking you’ll know how this tends to make thoughts come thicker and faster. Instead we are recognising and changing our relationship to thoughts. We do this by being completely open and allowing of thought, just choosing to let thoughts come and go whilst gently bringing our attention back to the present.
I’ve developed a meditation technique called the ‘sitting at the station of our thoughts’ approach. Rather than jumping on every train of thought that comes along we gently attempt to stay where we are in the meditation, allowing trains of thought to come and go without getting on board. Thought only becomes thinking when we engage with it. When we notice a thought and our compulsion to get on board we simply redirect our attention back into the breath or the body and in doing so allow that particular train to continue it’s journey without taking us along for the ride. At first we may find that some of our thoughts have a sticky quality that draws our attention, whisking us off into the worlds of past and future thinking. However, as we practice just noticing this, without beating ourselves up but gently coming back to the station, we retrain the brain to let go and return to the now. The impact of this is felt not only in our meditation but in our day-to-day lives as we get better at letting go and beginning again, right where we are.
When we start meditating it is useful for us to use a fixed ‘anchor’ such as the body or breath so that we have something to focus on, this type of meditation is called ‘Bompu Zen’ or concentration meditation. As we build up our ability to be less distracted through practice we are able use less of an anchor and move into the realms of ‘Satori Zen’ or insight meditation.
So, let’s start with the anchor of the breath…
You may want to read the below through and get into a meditation position that’s comfortable for you before giving this a go:
Firstly, noticing the breath just as it is, tuning in to the natural rise and fall of the breath that can be felt down in the tummy…
Then very simply we begin counting our breaths 1–10…
In-breath is 1
Out-breath is 2
In-breath is 3
All the way up to 10
And then we begin again at 1.
You may find it helpful to close your eyes while you do this.
Move as deeply as you can into the experience of the breath you are in and allow the next breath to arrive all by itself. Don’t rush to get to the next breath or the next number, just be focused on where you are. Thoughts will pop into your head, this is perfectly OK, but as soon as you realise that you have got on board one of those trains simply return to counting the breath.
Well done! You’ve chosen to make a start. Exploring our inner space is one of life’s greatest adventures, I wish you the happiest of journeys.
Frances Trussell, Mindfulness Mediation Teacher and Author of “You Are Not Your Thoughts; The Secret Magic of Mindfulness” out now.
This article was first published in Planet Mindful January 2019