Are you curious about meditation but not sure how to start a mindfulness meditation practice?
Perhaps you’re wondering how to sit still with your thoughts for even just a few minutes. Or when and where to meditate.
Well, I’m here to help you overcome any obstacles with my beginners guide to mindfulness meditation.
One of the best ways to learn mindfulness is by doing a formal Mindfulness of Breath practice. This is one of the simple meditation techniques that I teach all of my patients, and it’s a good place to start for anyone interested in learning to meditate.
The objective is to shine the light of observation on your experience without judging or attempting to change anything about it.
Focus and observation are essential mindfulness skills you’ll need to cultivate as you begin your practice. You focus on something and return your focus to the same thing whenever it drifts (and it will drift). Then you observe whatever you find, without judgment. Now you’re being mindful.
Mindfulness of Breath, then, just means the thing you focus on is your breath. Your breath is always with you, and when you pay attention to its natural rhythm it helps you stay present (which is being mindful).
Here’s what you do: Choose a calm spot and sit up straight on the floor (you might want to use a cushion and sit cross legged) or sit in a chair. Close your eyes or choose an object to gaze at while you practice. Take a few slow breaths to help ensure you’re in a relaxed state before you begin.
When you’re ready, begin to focus your attention on your breath. You can imagine that you have a mental flashlight and shine the spotlight of attention on your breath. And just like an actual flashlight, the things that aren’t lit up (other thoughts, sounds, sensations in your body) won’t disappear but they’ll fade into the background.
With your spotlight on your breath, observe your breath. The inhale and the exhale. The pause in between. Is there a pause? Notice how deep or shallow your breathing is. Note how your chest rises and falls.
Does your abdomen move, too? Are you breathing through your mouth, or your nose? Does your breath feel easy or tight? Whatever you observe, there is no right or wrong answer – or a right or wrong question, for that matter. You are not trying to change anything about the way you’re breathing—your job is just to notice.
You may want to label your breath by counting. This helps some people hold focus. One way to count is to label each full cycle of breath – inhale and exhale – as one unit. Once you get up to 10, begin counting again at 1.
Or, you may want to try counting how long each breath lasts – begin counting as you begin inhaling, and stop at the end of the exhale. Or, count once for the inhale and once for the exhale.
If your focus wanders at any time, just bring your attention back to your breath. This is a good time to remember the part about without judgment. Drift happens – and it happens to everyone, no matter how practiced they may be with mindfulness.
In fact, the most valuable skill in mindfulness is the ability to return to focus. That’s the part you really want to practice—which you couldn’t, if you never lost your focus.
Focusing your attention, and then observing what you find there, allows you to put space between what triggers an emotion and your response. Mindfulness helps you observe your patterns of thinking and the urges you have to react to an emotion. It’s a path to managing your emotions and relieving the stress they can cause—a path that leads to Wise Mind Living.
You’ll get the most benefits of mindfulness meditation if you practice Mindfulness of Breath at least a couple times a week – the effects are cumulative. If you can fit it in every day, that’s even better—five or ten minutes is a good place to start.
Some people find that listening to a guided meditation is helpful when starting out, and you can try my audio meditation here. You can also alternate by doing an informal mindfulness practice and you can read more about how to do that here.
Practicing mindfulness provides many benefits in and of itself, and bringing mindfulness to your choices will make you more likely to follow through and succeed.
Give this a try and let me know how you’re progressing on your mindfulness meditation practice in the comment section below.
Photo credit: Bigstock