How to Meditate – Mindful

Posted: February 23, 2020 at 12:52 pm

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This is a guidebook to the many different styles of meditation, the various benefits of each practice, plus free guided audio practices that help you learn how to meditate.

How do you learn to meditate? In mindfulness meditation, were learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.

When we pay attention to our breath, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present momentto anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.

In mindfulness practice, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present momentto anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.

The idea behind mindfulness seems simplethe practice takes patience. Indeed, renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg recounts that her first experience with meditation showed her how quickly the mind gets caught up in other tasks. I thought, okay, what will it be, like, 800 breaths before my mind starts to wander? And to my absolute amazement, it was one breath, and Id be gone, says Salzberg.

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While meditation isnt a cure-all, it can certainly provide some much-needed space in your life. Sometimes, thats all we need to make better choices for ourselves, our families, and our communities. And the most important tools you can bring with you to your meditation practice are a little patience, some kindness for yourself, and a comfortable place to sit.

The first thing to clarify: What were doing here is aiming for mindfulness, not some process that magically wipes your mind clear of the countless and endless thoughts that erupt and ping constantly in our brains. Were just practicing bringing our attention to our breath, and then back to the breath when we notice our attention has wandered.

Welcome back. What happened? How long was it before your mind wandered away from your breath? Did notice how busy your mind was even without your consciously directing it to think about anything in particular? Did you notice yourself getting caught up in thoughts before you came back to reading this? We often have little narratives running in our minds that we didnt choose to put there, like: Why DOES my boss want to meet with me tomorrow? I should have gone to the gym yesterday. Ive got to pay some bills or (the classic) I dont have time to sit still, Ive got stuff to do.

We practice mindfulness so we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what wed like to focus on.

If you experienced these sorts of distractions (and we all do), youve made an important discovery: simply put, thats the opposite of mindfulness. Its when we live in our heads, on automatic pilot, letting our thoughts go here and there, exploring, say, the future or the past, and essentially, not being present in the moment. But thats where most of us live most of the timeand pretty uncomfortably, if were being honest, right? But it doesnt have to be that way.

We practice mindfulness so we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what wed like to focus on. In a nutshell, meditation helps us have a much healthier relationship with ourselves (and, by extension, with others).

When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives. And bonus: you dont need any extra gear or an expensive membership.

Here are five reasons to meditate:

1: Understand your pain 2: Lower your stress 3: Connect better 4: Improve focus 5: Reduce brain chatter

Meditation is simpler (and harder) than most people think. Read these steps, make sure youre somewhere where you can relax into this process, set a timer, and give it a shot:

Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.

If youre just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or 10 minutes.

You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, you can kneelall are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position you can stay in for a while.

Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and as it goes out.

Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing that your mind has wanderedin a few seconds, a minute, five minutessimply return your attention to the breath.

Dont judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.

When youre ready, gently lift your gaze(if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.

Thats it! Thats the practice. You go away, you come back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible.

Try this 3-part guided audio series from Barry Boyce:

How long would you like to meditate? Sometimes we only have time for a quick check-in, sometimes we can dip in a little longer. Meditating every helps build awareness, fosters resilience, and lower stress. Try to make meditation a habit by practicing with these short meditations from our Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce. Find time to site once a day for one month and see what you notice.

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Weve gone over the basic breath meditation so far, but there are other mindfulness techniques that use different focal points than the breath to anchor our attentionexternal objects like a sound in the room, or something broader, such as noticing spontaneous things that come into your awareness during an aimless wandering practice. But all of these practices have one thing in common: We notice that our minds ARE running the show a lot of the time. Its true. We think thoughts, typically, and then we act. But here are some helpful strategies to change that up:

Its estimated that 95%of our behavior runs on autopilot. Thats because neural networks underlie all of our habits, reducing our millions of sensory inputs per second into manageable shortcuts so we can function in this crazy world. These default brain signals are so efficient that they often cause us to relapse into old behaviors before we remember what we meant to do instead.

Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these default processes. Its executive control rather than autopilot, and enables intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. But that takespractice. The more we activate the intentional brain, the stronger it gets. Every time we do something deliberate and new, we stimulate neuroplasticity, activating our grey matter, which is full of newly sprouted neurons that have not yet been groomed for autopilot brain.

But heres the problem. While our intentional brain knows what is best for us, our autopilot brain causes us to shortcut our way through life. So how can we trigger ourselves to be mindful when we need it most? This is where the notion of behavior design comes in. Its a way to put your intentional brain in the drivers seat. There are two ways to do thatfirst, slowing down the autopilot brain by putting obstacles in its way, and second, removing obstacles in the path of the intentional brain, so it can gain control.

Shifting the balance to give your intentional brain more power takes some work, though. Here are some ways to get started.

Once you have explored a basic seated meditation practice, you might want to consider other forms of meditation including walking and lying down. Whereas the previous meditations used the breath as a focal point for practice, these meditations below focus on different parts of the body.

Try this: feel your feet on the ground right now. In your shoes or without, it doesnt matter. Then track or scan over your whole body, bit by bitslowlyall the way up to the crown of your head. The point of this practice is to check in with your whole body: Fingertips to shoulders, butt to big toe. Only rules are: No judging, no wondering, no worrying (all activities your mind may want to do); just check in with the physical feeling of being in your body. Aches and pains are fine. You dont have to do anything about anything here. Youre just noticing.

Begin to focus your attention on different parts of your body. You can spotlight one particular area or go through a sequence like this: toes, feet (sole, heel, top of foot), through the legs, pelvis, abdomen, lower back, upper back, chest shoulders, arms down to the fingers, shoulders, neck, different parts of the face, and head. For each part of the body, linger for a few moments and notice the different sensations as you focus.

The moment you notice that your mind has wandered, return your attention to the part of the body you last remember.

If you fall asleep during this body-scan practice, thats okay. When you realize youve been nodding off, take a deep breath to help you reawaken and perhaps reposition your body (which will also help wake it up). When youre ready, return your attention to the part of the body you last remember focusing on.

Fact: Most of us live pretty sedentary lives, leaving us to build extra-curricular physical activity into our days to counteract all that. Point is: Mindfulness doesnt have to feel like another thing on your to-do list. It can be injected into some of the activities youre already doing. Heres how to integrate a mindful walking practice into your day.

As you begin, walk at a natural pace. Place your hands wherever comfortable: on your belly, behind your back, or at your sides.

You cannot will yourself into particular feelings toward yourself or anyone else. Rather, you can practice reminding yourself that you deserve happiness and ease and that the same goes for your child, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and everyone else in the world.

This loving-kindness practice involves silently repeating phrases that offer good qualities to oneself and to others.

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When youre new to meditation, its natural for questions to pop up often. These answers may ease your mind.

1) If I have an itch, can I scratch it? Yeshowever, first try scratching it with your mind before using your fingers.

2) Should I breathe fast or slow or in between? Only worry if youve stopped breathing. Otherwise, youre doing fine. Breath in whatever way feels comfortable to you.

3) Should my eyes be open or closed? No hard-and-fast rules. Try both. If open, not too wide, and with a soft, slightly downward gaze, not focusing on anything in particular. If closed, not too hard, and not imagining anything in particular in your minds eye.

4) Is it possible Im someone who just CANNOT meditate? When you find yourself asking that question, your meditation has officially begun. Everyone wonders that. Notice it. Escort your attention back to your object of focus (the breath). When youre lost and questioning again, come back to the breathe again. Thats the practice. Theres no limit to the number of times you can be distracted and come back to the breath. Meditating is not a race to perfectionIts returning again and again to the breath.

5) Is it better to practice in a group or by myself? Both are great! Its enormously supportive to meditate with others. And, practicing on your own builds discipline.

6) Whats the best time of day to meditate? Whatever works. Consider your circumstances: children, pets, work. Experiment. But watch out. If you always choose the most convenient time, it will usually be tomorrow.

7) What if I get sexually (and physically) aroused by thoughts in my head? No big deal. Meditation stokes the imagination. In time, every thought and sensation will pop up (so to speak). And come back. Same old story. Release the thought, bring awareness and receptivity to body sensations, bring attention back to your chosen object (the breath, in this case). Repeat.

8) Do you have any tips on integrating pets into meditation practice? While meditating, we dont have to fight off distractions like a knight slaying dragons. If your dog or cat comes into the room and barks and meows and brushes up against you or settles down on a part of your cushion, no big deal. Let it be. What works less well is to interrupt your session to relate to them. If thats whats going to happen, try to find a way to avoid their interrupting your practice.

Meditation is no more complicated than what weve described above. It is that simple and that challenging. Its also powerful and worth it. The key is to commit to sit every day, even if its for five minutes. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says: One of my meditation teachers said that the most important moment in your meditation practice is the moment you sit down to do it. Because right then youre saying to yourself that you believe in change, you believe in caring for yourself, and youre making it real. Youre not just holding some value like mindfulness or compassion in the abstract, but really making it real.

Mindful has many resources to help you live a more mindful life and tap into the best of who you are:

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How to Meditate - Mindful

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February 23rd, 2020 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Meditation