Mindfulness meditation is an ancient tradition that has existed for thousands of years, and it is just as accessible and necessary in our modern times as it ever has been before. Mindfulness is available to us in every moment of our lives, just as simply as we are breathing as long as we are alive. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, writes, “Meditation is a way of being, not a technique.” There are many benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation, including decreased stress, improved ability to focus or concentrate, and an overall enhanced ability to stay calm and present in our lives. Because after all, this is our life in the present moment, whatever or however it is in that moment. The breath is a very useful tool for mindfulness practice because it is always with us; we are always breathing as long as we are alive. Truthfully, mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere.
One great way to begin a daily meditation practice is to start with lying down meditation while still in bed when you wake up in the morning or lying in bed before you go to sleep at the end of the day. Mindfulness can be cultivated anytime and anywhere. A formal sitting meditation practice can begin as simply as just a few minutes a day, even in the time it takes to brush your teeth. It is most beneficial to practice everyday, even for just a few minutes to start with. It’s often best to set a timer so that you’re not checking the clock. Even small amounts of time have proven benefits.
The basic instruction is to sit comfortably with the back straight but not rigid. It’s perfectly acceptable to sit in a chair or on a cushion on the floor. It can be very helpful to close your eyes, but you’re welcome to keep them open and to let your gaze rest on a fixed position on the floor a few feet in front of you. It may be helpful to take a few slow, deep, cleansing breaths in order to get in touch with the sensation of breathing, then just notice how your body is breathing naturally. Notice where the breath sensations are most vivid. It may be in the abdomen, the nostrils, or you may have a sense of your whole body breathing. Notice where it feels most present and rest your attention there. When you become distracted, gently come back to noticing your body breathing, without judgment of any kind. Remember, you’re not trying to control the breath. Just let it be whatever it is.
People often complain that their mind is too busy for them to be able to meditate or that they are too easily distracted. But this is just the nature of the mind. Thinking is what the mind does. It’s not a problem. We cultivate attention and awareness through returning again and again to our anchor, which is commonly the breath. We may also use sounds or sensations in the body as our anchor. When we find that our attention has drifted away from our anchor, we gently and mindfully bring it back. Sometimes we might start a meditation session and we might not be with more than one single breath until the timer goes off at the end, and that’s not a problem either. It’s with conscious intention and effort that we become more and more able to return to our anchor as we continue to practice, because noticing that we’ve drifted off and then coming back is the practice.
There are countless sources of guidance and information that we can use to enhance our practice. The Insight Timer app is an excellent resource for guided meditation instruction. Mindfulness Daily with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach is a wonderful free course on Insight Timer for beginning a new practice. Headspace is a highly rated app as well and has many great features. There is also a Netflix series, Headspace Guide to Meditation, that is informative and entertaining, including guided meditations with Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe. If you’re interested in reading about mindfulness meditation, Mindfulness In Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a delightful introduction.
I very enthusiastically encourage you to begin a mindfulness meditation practice so that you can experience the benefits for yourself.