Need to de-clutter, de-stress and unwind? Check out the Yoga Bear's step-by-step guide to beginner's meditation.
Considering we move through each day under the impression we are consciously aware of our thoughts and actions, how many times have you found yourself opening the fridge and forgetting what you were looking for? No, just me?
If not, can you honestly say that you are consciously aware of your thoughts and actions at all times? Didn’t think so.
What does it mean to be 'mindful'?
Simply put, we become more mindful by checking in with ourselves to see where our thoughts have gone, coming back to the physical sense of where we are sitting and what we are feeling.
Meditation can be done anywhere: on the bus, in the doctor’s waiting room, 5 minutes before an exam. It’s not the length of time you spend, albeit the longer the better, but the quality.
How do we do it?
If you would like to dip your toe in the water, follow these steps:
Step1: Find your seat
You can sit cross-legged, on the edge of some cushions or on a chair, making sure your back is well supported and your knees are bent at a right angle with feet touching the ground.
If your feet do not touch the ground, prop them up with some books or a footstool. Rest your palms on your thighs and tilt your pelvis forward slightly to ensure the lower back is not rounding.
You may find you need more cushion to sit on if you are on the floor or more support at your lower back if you are on a chair. Either close your eyes or, if you’re sitting somewhere in public, pick a point to focus on and soften your gaze.
Step 2: Be aware of your physical presence
Begin to notice each part of your body that is in contact with the floor or the chair. Your feet, your thighs, your 'sit-bones', your hands resting on your thighs.
Settle into this pose, feeling your hips heavy and rooted to the ground and the crown of your head extending towards the ceiling.
Step 3: Be aware of the external environment
Start to notice the sounds around you - children playing, traffic, birds singing. Notice how the air feels. Observe all of these things but take an imaginary step back from them. Treat them as you would wallpaper in a room. You know it’s there but you no longer really see it.
Step 4: Bring awareness internally
As you have stepped away from what is going on around you, begin to take stock of your thoughts. Where is your mind going right now? Are you caught up with the events of the week that has passed, the people who may have gotten on your nerves?
Or are you racing ahead to the future? The lists, the chores, all of the things you need to do, the places you need to be, the things you need to have. Try to watch each thought as if you were watching someone else think it. As if you were watching a movie with someone playing you and thinking your thoughts.
Step 5: Bring your focus to your breathing
Without changing anything, become aware of how you are breathing. How is the breath entering your body? Where does it go when it is in there and how does it leave? Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow?
Then begin to draw your breath down into the belly, lengthening the inhalation and the exhalation to really slow the breath down. Steps 1-4 are really the setup stages and shouldn't take very long.
Now we begin to meditate:
Start by counting each inhalation until you reach the number 10. Then start again. Do this for a little while
Then switch to count each exhalation until you reach the number 10. And then start again. Don’t worry if you lose count or concentration. Just start again.
After a little while, let go of any focus and just see where your mind wanders off too. Again, don’t get too concerned with what you’re thinking about. Consider yourself a non-judgemental observer.
Following that, begin to bring your attention to where you feel the breath entering the body. This might be at the nostrils, the back of the throat, wherever it is for you, focus on that for the remainder of the session.
Step 6: Come back to the present
Following these steps, begin to bring awareness again to the sounds around you, your physical presence and start to bring yourself slowly out of 'the zone’. Sit for a while to let yourself settle before going about your day.
There are many methods of meditation. This particular version is called The Mindfulness of Breathing. It can be practiced for 5 minutes or 20 minutes or longer, depending on your level of practice.
If you’re worried about getting ‘lost in thought’ or losing track of time, don’t. There are lots of Meditation Timer Apps available such as Insight Timer which allows you to set a specified time with interval chimes to indicate when to switch your focus and also offers free guided meditations so that you don’t have to worry about remembering what comes next and just relax into following instructions.
Meditation is a tool in cultivating mindfulness and the benefits are great.
Not only does meditation help to bring focus and awareness to our thoughts and actions but also helps us observe the quality of those thoughts and do something about them if we don’t like what we discover.
If you want to take things a little further, there are lots of short courses available nationally but remember, the responsibility lies with you.