Where to Begin with Meditation – Just 3 steps
Christina Dufour and the Carnelian Connection
In this day and age, many find themselves looking for ways to calm the agitated, over active, and distracted states of mind that impact our daily life. Mindfulness is a way of bringing our attention to one experience to focus, ground, and center ourselves. It’s a great tool for helping find and occupy a mind that rests more regularly in ease and clarity. We can use meditation as a technique to cultivate mindfulness through various mind and body practices, however considering an endless variety of forms exist, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Shamatha is a foundational meditation practice that directly translates to Mindfulness, during which we establish our focus to center on breathing. People have been doing this practice for thousands of years with beneficial results such as improved clarity, concentration, and stability. Modern science has also verified that regular mindfulness meditation actually creates significant changes in the brain on many levels and supports relaxation of the nervous system. With this approach, you have a tool to use at any time and in any place, as the breath is always with you.
A simple 3 step process is all that is needed to begin and continue in your practice.
1. Take Your Seat
- Find a comfortable seat on a chair or on the floor where you can feel grounded and stable. If sitting on a chair, sit towards the edge of your seat so as to keep the spine elongated with both feet flat on the ground. If sitting on the floor, prop your hips up above the knees with blankets, pillows, or a bolster for a seat that allows you to remain in meditation without physical discomfort. Rest hands, palms facing down, on your thighs or knees to support a state of grounding and inward attention. Although you are maintaining a straight spine in the upright position, do your best to release tension and relax around the shoulders, neck, and front side of the body. Apply a soft downward gaze, toward the floor, 4-6 feet in front of you with eyes remaining gently open.
2. Place your attention on breath
- Once settled into your seat, begin paying attention to your breathing. Notice the area in your body where you can feel the sensation of breath most readily, perhaps at tip of the nose or the full cycle of breath within your body. Focus here and begin watching, tracing the breath as it flows in and out. In this practice, we use natural, organic breathing without any control or manipulation. Allow yourself to connect with the rise and fall of your breath as it occurs all on its own. Whenever you become aware that your mind has strayed, bring your attention back to the natural flow of breath. Do this without judgment, additional commentary, or evaluation; simply return to your breath.
3. Label thinking and come back to breath
- Herein lies the practice. Anytime you notice yourself distracted from your breath and lost in thought, no matter if it is on a to-do list, what will be for dinner, or yesterday's meeting; in that moment label this as 'thinking' and come back to focusing on your breath. An element of precision exists as we keep attention on the breath. This same precision is used when labeling thoughts as 'thinking.' It's what allows us to simply let go, release the thoughts, and return to our breathing.
Breath - sensation - present feeling is what we are always coming back to. Allow yourself to drop out of the narrative within the mind. Be an observer of the current moment experience as it's happening in and around you while you keep attention focused on breath. Track yourself like a hunter. Notice how often you want to be somewhere else. Remember that gentleness, kindness, and softness is the way here as you learn to befriend your mind.
It’s important to note that if you do become overtaken by discomfort after sitting for a length of time, simply draw bent knees in front of your chest to restore circulation while continuing your meditation. Once better, return to your original seated position and take a fresh start with your meditation.
The general instruction above is a basic introduction for Shamatha ‘Mindfulness’ Meditation. Although a daily practice is recommended, you may take a slow and steady approach. Generally, we would advise 4-5 times per week 10-15 minutes a day and suggest to give it a go for at least one month. Practicing about 20 times within one month will give you a good understanding of the practice and how it’s working for you. Time of day is relatively unimportant, although choosing a regular time to consistently practice can be shown to have greater success.
Involving yourself in a group practice at your local yoga studio during 'open meditation' periods, can be helpful for structure and support in the growth of your practice.
Although we are strengthening and stabilizing the mind, building a muscle for present awareness, and creating more clarity through this practice, there is no end goal. This practice is a process that will ever evolve with you through your entire life.
You can connect with me on my website (www.carnelianconnection.com), LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/christinaldufour), by phone (1.800.206.8517 EXT 707), or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)