Mindfulness and Meditation: First steps

img_0645A friend recently asked me about living joyfully and the mindfulness tools that can help with that.  She said she was intrigued with the idea but felt intimidated since she had never done any yoga or meditation.  She did not know where to begin the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

So here are the first simple steps:

  • Start where you are right now.
  • Notice that you are breathing.  You have been breathing all your life, but how often have you noticed your breath?
  • Take a few moments now to notice your in-breath and then your out-breath.  And again, notice your next full breath.  Try to stay with each in-breath and out-breath for the next five breaths.

Congratulations!  You have just taken your first steps in meditation and mindfulness.  It is really that simple.  Mindfulness is nothing but being aware of what you already have been doing and feeling it in your body and mind.  Being aware of your breath is the first and most important step because it connects you back to your body.

Pause again.  Take a deep breath and gently invite your shoulders to drop, your forehead to relax and your eyes and jaw to soften.  Bring your attention to your heart and see if you can bring some tenderness to it.  If you are comfortable, lower your gaze or close your eyes and come back to your breath for another ten breaths.  Notice the sensations in the body as you breathe in and as you breathe out.  If you find it hard to connect to the sensations of the breath, you can bring your hand to your heart or your belly and feel the rising and falling of the breath.  If any thoughts come up, notice them and let them go and come back to your breathing.

Congratulations!  You have now taken the next important step in mindfulness meditation!  You have learned to notice your breath and body and any thoughts that might have come up.  You have graduated to exploring the mind-body connection.

You may have noticed in this short practice that meditation is one of the simplest ways to relax and connect the mind and the body.  You may also have come to appreciate the challenges of the uncontrolled thoughts that come up even in the brief time you were focused on breathing.  As you continue to breathe for a minute or two, you will notice that inevitably, you will get lost in thought.  The moment you catch yourself lost in thought is the moment of mindfulness.  It is this moment of awareness that you are lost in thought that is the most precious moment of this practice.  That moment is actually the moment when you have found your breath again!  So instead of getting frustrated at the thoughts popping up, these are moments when we can congratulate ourselves for remembering to come back to the breath again.  And every time you notice the thought and let it go and come back to your breath, you are training your mind.  And every time you come back to your breath you are creating a new pathway in your brain, and slowly increasing your neuroplasticity – but more about that in future blog posts.

For now, let us come back to our breath and body.  I invite you to try practicing again as you read this.  Relax your body and feel your breath coming in and going out.

It can be frustrating at first to continue to notice the number of unbeckoned thoughts that come up!  One client found it useful to smile and say “hello” to the thought that came up and then say “thankyou” when she first started mindfulness meditation.  She was able to notice the thought that came up with a light hearted acknowledgement and then just as quickly release it without a reaction or attachment to it – without following the thought with another thought to get lost in the story that spins out of thoughts.   Then she came back to her breath.

It is very important to know that you are not trying to get rid of the thoughts – you are just trying not to feed and follow a thought that comes up.  You are also not trying to choose to control your thoughts to be pleasant or unpleasant.  Just notice the thought as it comes up and let it go and come back to the breath.

That is it.  No great secret.  Just three simple steps to mindful meditation:

  1. Relax your body before you start and gently bring attention to the present moment.
  2. Simply notice your in-breath and out-breath and the sensations of each breath in your body.
  3. Without judgment and with a kind and patient heart, notice any thoughts as they arise in your mind and pass away.  Remember to come back to your precious breath – your perennial companion in life – the moment you notice you have strayed way from it.   You are invited to repeat these steps a dozen times, hundreds of times and even a thousand times as you practice… Being patient and compassionate as you train the only mind and heart you will ever have toward greater joy and stillness.

I invite you to try this meditation practice every day.  You can start with just two minutes a day in the morning and a couple of minutes before going to bed and increase the time as you get more comfortable.

Congratulations again!  You are now on your way to joyful living.