I trust that you have read the first part of this article series, Beginning a Meditation Practice. If not, you will want to go back and read that because it gives you some important considerations for your environment, posture, as well as some of the benefits you will receive with an ongoing practice.
The actual practice of meditation is deceptively simple. After all, if you walked in on someone while they were meditating, you would just see someone sitting there, breathing calmly, probably with their eyes closed. If they were laying down, you might even think they were taking a nap.
Contrary to appearances, meditation is an active mental state, especially in the beginning. The benefits of training your focus and attention (which creates a calmer mind) is an active process. In meditation, you will be bringing your attention back to your focal point repeatedly, especially in the early stages of your practice. If you think you can simply sit down, say to yourself, “I’m going to meditate now,” and have your thoughts simply shut off like a water faucet, think again (and again, and again…LOL!).
It is the mind’s job (or at least one of them) to generate thought. The mind is a thought-generating device. It can be trained to stay focused, but that doesn’t come like just turning off a switch. And the busier your mind is, bouncing from one thought to another, following associations freely, pulling your attention here and there…the more you need meditation!
Training the Puppy
The best way to start this discussion of how to actually practice meditation is to share a story. Back when I was taking Jon Kabatt-Zin’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training program, one of the instructors told this story. It’s a wonderful analogy for beginning your meditation practice.
She said, “the untrained mind is like a young puppy. You sit the puppy in front of you and you say “sit.” And the puppy sits for a second, then it gets up and wanders off. You bring the puppy back and you repeat, “sit.” And the puppy sits for two seconds, and it wanders off. You keep bringing the puppy back, though, and over time with repetition, persistence, and intention, the puppy learns that “sit” means he is to sit for as long as you want him to.”
I have shared this story probably thousands of times in classes and with clients. It is a great analogy for training the mind.
In the last article I shared some tips on setting up your environment and your position. Now it’s time to begin your practice!
Your first meditation session.
OK, let’s walk through this together.
I assume you have your environment set up to support your practice as discussed in the previous article.
No pets are going to jump on you. The phone is on silent. There’s a sign on the door if necessary. Lights are dimmed. Soft meditation music or natural sounds like waves are playing if you like that. Perhaps a candle or other focal point is in front of you.
Decide how long this session will be for you (3 to 5 minutes is fine for a first session). If you have any concerns about not rousing at the appointed time, set a silent alarm on a phone, etc. so that you set that concern aside.
- Find that seated position that works best for you. (I prefer to teach meditation in a seated position so that the mind/body isn’t tempted to fall asleep during the practice. If for some reason a seated position isn’t practical for you, you may lie down. In that case, prop yourself up or do something different so that your mind/body doesn’t think to itself “oh, it’s time to sleep.”
- Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and a long slow exhale. Repeat this 3 to 5 times. This triggers the mind/body that you are safe and can relax.
- Notice the body. Notice the parts of you in contact with the chair, the floor. FEEL your body. Scan your body and notice the part of you that seems the most relaxed, the most comfortable. Move all of your attention to that part of you. Notice in detail how you experience that sense of comfort. Is it a sense of stillness? Warmth? Softness of the muscles? Maybe that part feels lighter or heavier than usual? Notice all of this in detail.
- Take 1 or more long slow deep breaths again. Again notice the parts of your body in contact with the surfaces you’re resting on.
- Move your attention to your focal point. I personally prefer the breath, so I will use that in this example. Move all of your attention and awareness to the breath. Notice how your rib cage and abdomen move with each breath. Notice in detail. Notice how calming and soothing the rhythm of your breath is.
- When your attention wanders to a thought or something in your environment, gently but firmly remind yourself, ‘that’s not what we’re doing right now,’ and move your attention back to your breath.
That is your practice for your first session. The goal is simply to train the puppy what sit means, and start the process of having your attention remain on your focal point longer and longer.
I suggest adding one minute at a time to your practice, until you work up to 10 or 15 minutes of time.
If you do this once, even twice or three times a day, it won’t take very long before you begin to notice benefits expanding into your daily life. You will find yourself feeling more calm, less anxious; your attention easier to stay focused; your emotions less reactive. You will begin to feel more in control, in many ways.
I will add to this article with ideas of how to expand your practice. But first, get the basics down. After over 10 years of meditation practice, this basic session is still at the core of my practice.
Another enjoyable way to practice is through self hypnosis or guided meditations. It doesn’t “train the puppy” the way this active practice does, but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else “drive the bus.” And it’s nice to have someone with a professional background in creating suggestions helping you make changes you want to have in your life. So I invite you to explore the self hypnosis audios I offer on this website, as an adjunct to your practice.