Detailed Instructions of a Simple but not Easy Sitting Meditation
By Ben Gaibel, LCSW
Many people are drawn to meditation for its well documented benefits on emotional and physical well-being. However, it can be hard to have the motivation to practice if we don’t understand the instructions. Meditation can feel a bit mysterious, and can lead to feeling confused and in the dark on what we are actually supposed to do. Here are detailed instructions for practicing the basic sitting meditation – Mindfulness of Breathing to help give you more direction:
- Find a quiet place with minimal distractions. It can be helpful to set a timer, starting with 5 to 10 minutes. Over time, consider extending your time to 20 minutes or more per session, but any amount of time is beneficial.
- Posture – Find a comfortable seated position (either in a straight back chair, or on a cushion on the floor) and sit upright in a dignified position with the spine in alignment. A useful guideline is “not to tight, not too loose.” The eyes can either be closed, or can be open with a soft gaze slightly downward focused on a spot. Allow the face to soften with a slight smile to remind yourself to have an attitude of lightheartedness. Allow the shoulders to drop down as a reminder not to strive or over effort. Allow the belly to soften if possible, as a reminder not to hold on. If sitting is too difficult due to a medical issue, it is fine to do this practice lying down or standing.
- Bring the attention to the sensation of breathing. No need to force the breath in any way. Allow the breath to move naturally while fully feeling the breath. Let go of any commentary.
- Notice where the breath can be most felt for you. Is it most noticeable in the nostrils as the air touches the tip of your nose? Do you feel it in your chest as the lungs fill and empty with air? Or perhaps you feel the breath deep down in the belly as the abdominal wall moves away from the spine on each inhalation, and back toward the spine on each exhalation. Wherever you can feel the breath most predominantly (nose, chest, or belly), keep the attention zeroed in on that general location of the breathing sensation.
- Sustain attention on the full duration of each inhalation (beginning, middle, to end), and the full duration of each exhalation (beginning, middle, to end). Stay with the full moving target of the breath, in and out.
- OPTIONAL: Between each full round of breath (in and out), notice the feeling of contact that the body is making with the chair, cushion, or floor. Feeling your weight with the pressure on your bottom. Allow the feeling of sitting to repeatedly ground and center your awareness during those brief pauses between each round of breath.
- Anytime the mind wanders away from the breath (this is to be expected and will happen frequently), notice the mind is wandering, and gently but firmly bring the attention back to the feeling of the breath. It is important to practice this nonjudgmentally, making sure not to give yourself a hard time when the mind has wandered. It is very normal for the mind to get lost in thought, carried away in a daydream, planning or worrying about the future, reflecting on the past, have thoughts of boredom, or even thoughts about what you should be doing right now. Anytime you notice this happening, simply return the attention back to the breath.
- Its normal to get frustrated or judgmental when noticing the mind has wandered, but remember: every time you catch the mind wandering and are able to come back to the breath, it is a victory. Noticing the wandering mind is a moment of mindfulness. Each time you come back to the breath, you are strengthening your ability to be present and focused. Keep returning to the breath, again, again, and again.
- Practice with a willingness to pay attention and fully show up for each moment as it presents itself. There is nothing to accomplish, nothing to figure out, nothing to make happen, and no right way to feel. Allow the breath to serve as an anchor to the present moment. As the stream of thoughts, feelings, and emotions arise and pass by, the breath can be a homebase to repeatedly come back to and reconnect. You can practice appreciating each breath as it sustains and nourishes your life from moment to moment.
Free Guided Sitting Meditation – Awareness of Breathing
The guided meditation below provides you with a 10 minute audio recording you can freely stream or download. Enjoy!