A beginner’s guide to mindfulness

Note: Please note that the instructions are suggestive only for beginners and intermediate practitioners. As you develop your practice you might tweak the practice to suit your needs. However, it is suggested that beginners spend some time (from few weeks to months) with a method to see the results clearly, before jumping between methods.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness is the English translation of the Sanskrit word “Smriti” and Pali word “Sati,” which basically means “to remember.” The basic idea is to remember to be aware. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that helps us develop awareness.

There are different methods of practicing mindfulness. One of the most common methods is breathing meditation, where we use our breath as an anchor of practice. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of ways to do breathing meditation. This short guideline will provide a basic introduction on how to do mindfulness meditation using breath. This is aimed for beginners and intermediate practitioners.

Settling in

The first step is to settle in as you enter the meditation space. You can either sit on the ground or a chair, whichever is more comfortable for you.

Position

You can sit cross legged or in a half-lotus position or a full-lotus position. You can begin with simple folded sitting, where your legs are placed one after another. As you develop your practice, you can experiment with half-lotus and full-lotus position. You can use a cushion to elevate your back a little- if it helps.

You can either close your eyes or open them slightly. If you have your eyes open, find a place to focus on. Your shoulder is relaxed and back straight- but not tense. Place hands on your knees or on your laps. Your palms could be placed on top of each other above your lap. In this position of hands, your thumbs would be in gentle contact. However, you could also place hands on laps. Placing the hands on the knees is generally easier if you are sitting on a chair. The idea is to have hands somewhere below your waist level.

You may change the position gently over the course of sitting, if you wish to do so. Just make sure you are not doing it constantly. First, try to notice the unease or pain in the current position. If the uneasiness or pain increases in intensity, then slowly change the position.

Practice

Once you have settled in, take few (just few) deep long breaths. The idea is to help you settle down as you start noticing your breath. Once you have taken few deep long breaths, notice how your breath is. There could be four variations of breath:

  1. Long and Short
  2. Deep and Shallow
  3. Fast and Slow
  4. Heavy or Light

Notice how your breath is right from when it enters your nostril to when it goes all the way to your torso. And notice it all the way out. Notice what your breath really feels like and also notice if there are any controls you might be having. You could begin noticing one aspect among the four mentioned. Generally, the slower, longer, or deeper the breath the more relaxed you will feel. You will notice more things when you settle down and have more experience. Slowly learn to let go of control and notice how the breath is.

Distracted Mind

It is quite common for your mind to get distracted, agitated or restless. Once you notice your mind has distracted away from the breathing, gently come back to your breath and start noticing your breath.

It is also quite common for practitioners to notice a range of emotions including sleepiness, elation, angers, flashbacks etc. If the thought is prominent or strong, stay with it for few moments. Notice the sensation in your body and mind that arises with the emotion and thought. And gently bring your attention back to breath.

This might happen for several times- probably dozens or hundreds of times depending on the length of your sit, your emotional state at the time of practice and a range of factors. The key is to keep coming back or reminding yourself to stay with the breath. Remember, to be mindful is to be aware and keep coming back to the breath. This is the practice you are learning.

Metta Meditation

Metta means Loving Kindness in Pali. The root is the Sanskrit word “Maitri” meaning friendliness. This practice could be done with Breathing Mindfulness or on its own. In this practice, you will practice thankfulness and lovingkindness to yourself and those around you. There are countless ways to do this practice. Here is a short one. You may repeat these words in silence to yourself:

May I be happy and thankful for the body I have. I am thankful that my body is healthy. Healthy enough for me to be here and practice. My body might not always be so healthy. Things will change. For now, I am thankful that my body is healthy enough for me to be here and practice.

May I be happy and thankful for the mind I have. I am thankful that my mind is calm. Calm enough for me to be here and practice. My mind might not always be so calm. Things will change. For now, I am thankful that my mind is calm enough for me to be here and practice.

Once you have repeated these words in silence, nourish your body and mind with few long breaths. The key here is to learn to be thankful for what you have in your life- as the demands of personal life, career and other factors in life might distract us from seeing what we already have.

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