As I mentioned the last post one of the easiest types of meditation to start with is probably the breath awareness method. It’s simple, non-religious, since we all breathe and the breath is always there so. This is sometimes called anapanasati and was taught by the Buddha in the early scriptures, which are preserved in Pali language and translated into Sanksrit as well. A benefit of this type of meditation* is that it deepens concentration as the attempt is to keep the mind on one thing. In this case the breath is the “object.” It is a particularly good if one is suffering from anxiety or worry in my experience, as the mind is brought back over and over to the object. (Metta meditation would also be good for anxiety/worry) This type of meditation has similarities to other types of meditation that involve focus or concentration. For example mantra meditation, or yantra meditation. Those types have other aspects but they involve bringing the mind back over and over too.
Also be aware this article is not about pranayama in the yoga tradition, where we alter the breath and use ratios or holding of breath.
*See Dr. Jon Kabat-Zin’s books (below) for info on scientific studies of the efficacy of mindfulness meditation (which is related to breath awareness meditation.) Here is link to a twelve minute Youtube video of him talking about meditation at Google.
Before you start meditating:
As with most types of meditation you will need quiet (within your control.) So turn off phone ringers, beepers, hang do not disturb sign on door if you have roomies… If construction begins outside your window not to worry. You do the best you can. And outside noise can end up strengthening your meditation! I know sounds counter intuitive. But trust me on this one. Wait a bit after a full meal, 1 or 2 hours it will be easier.
If you want the easiest route, then sit in a chair, like a straight back kitchen type chair. Do not choose a slouchy recliner. You want the back straight and so feet are flat on the floor hip distance apart. You may want to put a small cushion at your hips parallel to the back of the chair. The cushion should not accentuate the curve of the lumbar spine, so not right where you back naturally goes in. A bit lower is good. If you do use cushion then don’t lean upper back onto the chair as you would be slouched. The cushion would be placed so it helps you to have a straight spine.
If your chair has a slanted back then the cushion should be at the upper back. All of this explanation to say that from a side view-the spine is straight. So you would not sit so you are leaning back into chair even if you back is supported. Think spine perpendicular to the ground.
Or sit on a cushion it’s good if it’s thick, a depth 5 or 6 inches would be good. Sit with hips elevated on the cushion and cross the ankles. The lower back should have a slight arch to it as the hips are slightly elevated. If the knees are way up high, first try adding more height to your sitting cushions and/or grab 2 other cushions and put them under your knees so that the knees are supported and not just hanging out in the air.
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Once sitting. The key words are alert yet relaxed. So feel your whole body first, you might want to shrug your shoulders a few times up tense them and drop them quickly and relaxed. Your hands can rest in your lap comfortably. Some schools give exact position of hands but its not crucial especially if you are just starting.
Become aware that you are breathing. Give the breath your attention. Notice where you feel the breath most predominantly in the body. It’s usually one of 3 places-the nostrils, chest or abdomen.
Ananpanasati is usually taught with the awareness at the nostrils. Feel the touch of the air at the upper lip or tip of the nostrils. Do not alter you breath in any way. Just let it be natural. To start-counting is good, especially if the mind wanders a lot (which is normal.) So you could count “inhale, exhale 1, inhale exhale 2,” or “in out 1, in out 2” all the way up to 10. Then start again. It’s important to not choose a high # like 20 or 50 as you will be hard pressed to get that high without mind wander and losing count. So generally 10 is used, if you find you have lost count-START OVER from 1.
Don’t be discouraged
Starting over will most likely happen a lot or at least once in awhile. Don’t be discouraged it’s as if you were lifting weights-you start small, with lower weights get stronger then add more. In fact the practice is in the coming back again and again-that is the training of the mind.
- Length of Meditation Practice: I would recommend sitting for ten minutes as a start. Work your way up to 20 minutes over a few weeks if you feel pretty comfortable.
- Frequency: Aim for 3x a week at first. Go to daily if that feels good. Otherwise stay at the lower # of minutes and frequency.
- Decide in advance of the time. And set a timer (one that is not too harsh sounding.) If you have no fancy timer then use your clock radio set to a classical or easy listening station.
- Time of day: Morning is best as close to waking up as possible but before eating. Also evening is good a few hours after dinner. Problem with night is you might be too tired to concentrate…So hmmmm. Experiment.
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(FREE) The Four Noble Truths And Breath Awareness 48:34
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