Mindfulness 101: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation

The hype is true. Mindfulness meditation is a habit that will absolutely boost your happiness. And if you think you have to be a Tibetan monk or a limber yoga instructor to master it, you’re wrong. With a few simple steps, you can build a lifelong meditation practice. And you can begin today.

Why Meditate?

The reasons to meditate are too compelling to ignore. Skirting the obvious fact that meditation practices have survived millennia of human history, scientific research supports meditation as a natural pain reliever and antidepressant, brain preserver, stress reducer, cardiovascular healer, and concentration-strengthening exercise.

 

But even more compelling than the research is the simple notion that your mind is where you live out your entire life. Everything you know, feel, and do across your lifetime is anticipated, experienced, and remembered by the filter of your mind. Left to its own devices, our mind wanders constantly. From what we need to accomplish today, to the person who made us feel small yesterday, to the fun we expect to have over the upcoming weekend. Research from Harvard shows that our minds wander 47% of the time, on average, and that we are less happy in these moments. Mind- wandering means we are missing opportunities to be fully present in whatever it is we could be experiencing at that moment in time.

How to Begin

Meditation is about reclaiming the focus of our minds so that rather than jumping from one random thought or feeling to the next, we can intentionally focus our mind on whatever we choose.

Mindfulness meditation works just like physical exercise, in that the repetition of refocusing our attention to our breath flexes our “focusing muscles” and gives us greater focusing strength over time.

If you’re just learning to meditate, the steps are deceptively simple.

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for the next few minutes.
  1. Sit in a comfortable position, either on a chair, a cushion, or the floor.
  2. Focus your attention on your breath including the sensations in your nose, your throat, your chest and your abdomen as you inhale and exhale.
  3. Notice that your mind wanders to some thought or emotion.
  4. Bring your attention back to your breath.

That’s it. You simply repeat, acknowledging whatever place your mind wanders to, letting that go, and gently reasserting your focus to your breathing. To ensure your meditation practice gets started on the right foot, here are some tips for novice meditators:

Adopt a Relaxed Yet Alert Posture

Your seated position while meditating can be cross-legged or feet-on-the-floor. But what’s most important is to be both relaxed yet alert. Your body should feel at ease, so don’t force your legs into a complex lotus position if your knees start aching in pain. Instead, make sitting up tall the priority. You can meditate with your eyes half open or gazing at something in particular, but beginning with your eyes closed can help focus your attention to your breathing.

Find Your Mind’s Observation Deck

The key to refocusing your attention back to your breath is to take on a role of an observer within your own mind. As your thoughts wander, try to imagine yourself as an audience member watching the mind-wandering play being performed on stage. Watch your train of thought and then choose to block out the stage and its characters, and refocus on your body and its breath. As a new play starts up on the stage again, try to catch yourself and see it from the audience rather than being an actor on the stage. As an audience member, work to detach yourself from the action, not getting as caught up in the emotion of your own mind wandering.

This is not easy. You may find whole meditation sessions that go by and realize you’ve been completely caught up in your wandering mind and didn’t even realize it. That’s par for the course. Recognize that you’ve just gained insight into your own mind that you may have never had before. Stick to it and try again during your next session.

Build Consistency

Most meditation teachers agree that the consistency of your practice matters more than the duration of your meditation. Begin by meditating 5 minutes at a time. But strive to do it every day. Even better, set a time and a place for it so that it becomes part of your daily routine. Maybe choose to meditate before you eat breakfast or just as you enter your bedroom at night before settling in for the night. Give your practice a few weeks to really get off the ground. As you develop, you can read books, take classes, or join organizations that will allow you to deepen and expand your meditation practice.

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