So How Do You Meditate

There are many ways to meditate. In a Concentration Practice you’d choose one object and maintain a constant uninterrupted focus on that object the whole time. This “object” could actually be your breath, the movement of part of your body, a particular phrase, or even a light or sound. The following instructions use the breath as the meditation focus.

When you meditate you just need to remember to “SAW.”

S – Sit in the right position

S – Scan your body

S – Set the intention

A – be Aware of your breath

W – Watch your breathing

The following is a list of specific instructions to better inform your meditation practice. It’s more important that you meditate any way you can, than that you get too caught up in specifics. Don’t worry. You’ll understand these instructions more once you’ve begun your practice:

1. Choose a spot for meditation that’s quiet and has few distractions.

2. Choose a length of time and set a timer for that amount. Five to ten minutes is a great start.

3. Choose a position like sitting on a chair, or on the ground.

4. Set your body position. Sit in an upright, still and relaxed manner. A still body leads to a still mind.

5. Initially scan the body for any physical tension. Imagine your breath traveling from your toes to the top of your head, and from the top of your head back to your toes. If there’s tension in one body part, stay focused on that part and imagine breathing in and out of the place of tension until that tension releases. Physical stillness and relaxation are important for mental relaxation.

6. Ground yourself in your body by bringing your attention to the physical sensations of your feet touching the floor and your buttocks touching your cushion, or chair. Focus on these physical sensations for several breaths.

7. Set the intention for your practice. You want to give your mind a task for it to do during your practice. Start by saying something to yourself like, “May I have constant attention on my breath,” or “May I have uninterrupted mindfulness,” or “May my mind be quite and still.”

8. Your concentration point is the place where you feel the breath most noticeably. Is it at:

  • the spot between your upper lip and the tip of the nostrils?
  • your chest as it rises and falls?
  • your abdomen as it rises and falls?
  • the movement cycle of the breath as it moves from the nostrils, through the chest to the abdomen and then back to the chest and out through the nostrils?
  • The spot between the upper lip and the tip of the nostrils may be the best location to focus your attention as it is a small area and that helps you concentrate.

9. Breathe consciously for at least five breath-cycles or as long as it feels comfortable. Keep your breathing smooth, even, deep, quiet, long, and don’t forget to breathe diaphragmatically from the abdomen. Breathing deeply will fully expand the lungs and allow for easier breath movements.

10. Emphasize the exhalation or out-breath until there’s no more air left to breathe out. Do this on the last breath of your five, conscious, deep breaths. Allow yourself to rest in the space between the end of the exhalation and the next inhalation, until your body spontaneously starts the next inhalation. Just experience what it feels like to allow yourself to be moved by the body as it breathes in and out automatically.

11. Watch the breath. Focus attention at the spot that you’ve selected in your body (your concentration point), such as at your nostrils, in your abdomen, or chest. Allow yourself to be moved spontaneously by the breath. You are not consciously controlling your breathing after your first five deep breaths.

12. Notice the physical sensation of the breath as it moves back and forth past your concentration point.

13. There are several techniques that you can use to maintain your concentration on your breath:

  • Focus your attention on the qualities of the breath as it moves past your place of concentration. How does the breath feel at that spot? Is it warm or cold? Regular or irregular? Deep or shallow? Continuous or discontinuous? Quiet or loud? Short or long? Effortless or forced? Do you feel that parts are vibrating, stretching or contracting? Does the feeling change over time?
  • Create the attitude that the breath is very important. Where would you be if you couldn’t breathe? Be amazed at how your body works to automatically breathe. Cherish the movement of your breath. Do you have a passion for sports, art, music or entertainment? Can you bring the same focus and interest to your breath that you bring to your object of passion?
  • Follow the breath-cycle from the beginning to the end of the in-breath, and from the beginning to the end of the out-breath.
  • There are pauses between the in and out, and out and in-breaths. The pause between the end of exhalation and the beginning of the inhalation is the most obvious part of the complete breath-cycle. Rest your awareness in the stillness and silence of this pause at your concentration point. Notice what this pause, where there is no movement, feels like at the spot that you’ve chosen as your concentration point. This stillness will give you a taste of what your mind can be like when it’s silent and still.
  • It can be difficult to let go of your conscious control of your breathing when you’re meditating. You may find yourself interfering with the natural movements of the breath. Specifically bring your attention to the point where the lungs start to move out of the pause between inhalation and exhalation to counteract this tendency.

14. Counting your breaths is another excellent way to maintain your concentration on the breath. An in- and out-breath is one cycle. Count your in and out-breath cycles from one to ten and then back down again counting from ten to one. Keep counting until you feel that your concentration is solid and then stop counting as you continue to focus on your breathing. Sometimes you might find yourself having to count throughout the entire meditation. The counting should just be in the background and should not be the focus of your concentration. Your concentration should remain first and foremost on your breathing.

15. If you’re more attuned to your sense of hearing, you may also use the sound of your breath as it moves in and out as your concentration point.

16. It can be difficult to maintain your concentration on the breath. Don’t be surprised or upset if you find that you get caught up in thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. Once you become aware that you’re no longer focused on your breathing, just bring your attention back to your breath. Don’t criticize or judge yourself.

17. Sometimes your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations can be very powerful. This is where mindfulness really helps. Bring awareness to the thought, emotion or sensation without judgment and reactivity. Be present to what is without wanting to change it or identifying with it. When a strong thought, emotion, or physical sensation arises, label it with terms such as “thinking,” “sadness,” “anger,” “twisting feeling,” “burning sensation” etc. You will often experience thoughts and emotions as a physical sensation. Try to experience the physicality of the thought or emotion, and then bring yourself back to focusing on your breath.

Vipassana Meditation

Another form of meditation is called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. In this technique, you’re resting in the awareness of whatever presents itself instead of trying to focus on one specific object such as your breath. You are observing everything that’s going on mentally and physically, without trying to change anything.

The setup for this meditation is exactly the same as the concentration practice. It can be helpful to follow the breath in the beginning to settle your mind. Once you feel settled, rest in the awareness of whatever presents itself. If there’s a throbbing sensation in your knee, experience that. If there’s a thought or emotion that pops up, rest in the awareness of that thought or emotion. Whatever the dominant sensation is, relax and focus on it until the next sensation comes along.

In the beginning, it can be helpful to label each sensation as it emerges into your conscious awareness. If your mind is resting too much in fantasy, it may help to focus once again on your breathing until your mind is stabilized again.

This is a wonderful way to practice a mindfulness of all sensations and to see the impermanence of all experience.

Walking Meditation

You can meditate in almost any situation, lying down, sitting or even walking. In a walking meditation you use the physical movement of your body as the object of your concentration and mindfulness. You bring your awareness to every physical sensation that occurs while walking. This is an excellent alternative to sitting in meditation, as in a sitting posture sometimes fatigue sets in when your body is still for a long time.

To perform a walking meditation, you will need a space that is uncluttered. This space should be large enough that you can take ten steps in a straight line. To start, stand at one end of the room, with your back straight.

Focus your attention on your feet and notice how they feel against the ground. Slowly lift one leg, feeling how the muscles contract and how your whole body changes as it’s balancing in response to this action. Notice how your other leg has contracted to maintain your balance. Slowly move your raised leg to take a step and mindfully note the second when your raised heel makes contact with the ground. Begin to add your weight to the step and slowly feel the changes in your body as this new balance is accommodated. Continue to slowly take steps across the room while trying to notice every little aspect of your body as it moves through the steps.

Feel the sensations of movement and the point of contact between your feet and the ground. See how each step is unique. Look for how the sensations are constantly changing as a way of maintaining your uninterrupted attention and interest. When you reach the other end of the room, turn and repeat the process as you continue to walk back and forth.

In a modification of the above process, you can bring your awareness to the intent to move that is present, before you actually move your body. Before any movement, or speech is carried out, your mind creates the intent to perform it in your consciousness. If you bring your attention to what happens before you speak or move, you can hear the words before they are spoken, and experience the urge to move before any movement occurs. Try to bring your awareness to the intent to move, before you take each step of your walking meditation.

You can also try to coordinate the movement of the breath with the movement of the body. For example with an inhalation you lift one leg and with an exhalation you then place the foot on the ground. If you are moving faster you may lift and place your foot with an inhalation. With an exhalation you then lift and place the other foot on the ground. You can discover whatever rhythm of breathing, coordinated with movement, works best for you. This is a way to maintain your concentration on your breathing by using physical movement to help support your focus.

As a formal practice you can set aside five to ten minutes a day, or longer, for a walking meditation. Performed mindfully, it’s a wonderful way to relax and concentrate your mind.

You can also practice a walking meditation informally. Whenever you’re walking somewhere in your daily life, try to bring your attention, mindfully to the act of walking. This will connect you to the present moment and promote relaxation.