Mindfulness Meditation: An Introductory Guide

Scientists and psychologists in meditation research continue to discover more and more health benefits from regular practice of Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness Meditation is a simple practice that anybody can do.

The following is a quick and easy guide to get started and how to achieve the best results.

Mindfulness meditation has a plethora of health benefits including reduced stress levels, greater levels of focus, attention, concentration and memory. It may also increase creativity, allow better sleep as well as being very relaxing and invigorating.

There are many different ways in which to meditate, this article considers Mindfulness Meditation. It is important, however, to study and practice more than one form and find a type of Meditation that you are comfortable using and from which you get the most benefit.

 Meditation: An ancient art but a modern need

The roots of Mindfulness Meditation can be found in the early preaching of Buddhism in particular the Theravada tradition approximately 2500 years ago in India. The fundamentals of practice were to help the practitioner to gain control of their thoughts and to observe things in their true state.

Regular practice of Mindfulness meditation can strengthen contextual awareness and develop our ability to remain stay in the present moment. This skill can map over into our ‘normal’ daily lives so practitioners find it easier to maintain voluntary attention.

“Mindfulness meditation is unique in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are, but instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is.”

Dr. Karen Kissel Wegela – Naropa University

In today’s technological environments with all its distractions and the ever increasing pressure to be able to multitask, it is incredibly difficulty to maintain any level of focus and keep on task. The answer to this mish mash of mind bending hysteria is of course Mindfulness meditation, allowing the practitioner to completely focus on one task at a time until moving onto the next task.

 Getting Started

It is possible to meditate at any point during the day, and as many times as you wish and for however long you want but as an advisory it is generally good practice to meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. Beginners may struggle to meditate for long periods initially but meditation session time will increase with time. Discover what works best for you.

During your session, it may be beneficial to use a clock and set a timer, this will allow for complete concentration and negates the need to take a look at the clock and break your focus.

When preparing for your meditation session, you need to ensure that you’re doing it in an appropriate environment with the right ambience, you may benefit from a darkened room or dim light. Ideally, whenever possible, you should meditate in the same place each time. Ensure your environment is distraction free; free from mobile phones, outside disturbances etc., the quieter the environment, the better.

 Correct positioning for meditation

Correct positioning for meditation is incredibly important. Finding the most comfortable position can be most beneficial and enhance the effectiveness of the session. You need to feel stable thus enabling complete focus on the object of meditation.

The Lotus position is a traditional posture for meditation although you need to have a certain degree of flexibility to get into and maintain this posture. Alternatively, use Half Lotus, this is more comfortable and easier to maintain. Some practitioners use the Burmese position which becomes all the more comfortable whilst sitting on a cushion or blanket. Other positions include the Seiza posture, sitting on a chair or laying down on the floor or bed.

Here are some general rules for what you should do with your body, as described by the Vipassana Fellowship:

• It is important to sit with a straight back with your head in line with the spine.
• Remain relaxed with no stiffness or tension in the muscles.
• Try to sit lightly; this will automatically ease the position.
• To find the best position for you, experiment with different positions. It is important to sit without moving for the whole meditation session.
• Sitting with a straight back will feel strange for a start but you will eventually get used to it. If you maintain this position, it will automatically sustain your levels of alertness.

Practice really does make perfect.

Another type is walking meditation and we can be ‘mindful’ during the walking meditation. This can be a challenging form with the possibility of many distractions but again with practice and patience, it can be performed with enough focus from which you will benefit.

For walking meditation, wear comfortable clothing and start by taking some deep breaths, continue taking deep breaths until you feel you are entering a relaxed state.

Placing oneself in the present moment

Mindfulness meditation is often perceived as a meditation where practitioners place themselves into a deepened state of relaxation whilst clearing their mind of all thoughts and thus eradicating the ‘Monkey Mind’. Although some forms of meditation advocate this, Mindfulness meditation advocates the awareness and focus of a single thought.

The whole point of Mindfulness is to concentrate on what is actually happening in the present moment; this may mean concentrating on the breath. Each and every inhalation and exhalation is married with focused attention, concentrating and following the breath in through the nose, down the esophagus, passed the lungs and into the belly and maintaining that focus for the return path.

If the mind and focus wander, which may well happen more as a beginner, it is important to not get frustrated by this distraction, realize that distraction has occurred and calmly return the focus and hence the breath.

There are no hard and fast rules with regard to the speed at which you breathe during your meditation session. A more experienced practitioner may well inhale and exhale a lot slower than a beginner. Generally you should aim to inhale for 4-6 seconds. As mentioned earlier, the breath is not the only thing you can use for focus during meditation. Others things such as a flame, an immobile object, a single word or a mantra may also be used.

Quieting the ‘Monkey Mind’

Without doubt, generally the first few minutes of your meditation will be the most difficult, trying to get comfortable, finding the breath, attempting to switch off from the day’s stresses and strains, you will find that initially, your mind is still completely wired and active. This is what is known as the ‘Monkey Mind’.

During your meditation, you will find that you have drifted away from your initial focus, whether that is the breath, an object, mantra etc. and you won’t have even realized that you have done it. Automatically you find yourself thinking about the day’s events, family, work etc., you may even find that you are thinking about things that you haven’t thought about in months or even years. As mentioned, do not get annoyed by this but simply allow those disappear in their own time and return your focus to the meditation.

Bhante Gunaratana, in Vipassana meditation explains:

“What a bother but this is what it is all about. These distractions are actually the whole point. The key is to learn to deal with these things. Learning to notice them without being trapped in them. That’s what we are here for. The mental wandering is unpleasant, to be sure. But it is the normal mode of operation of your mind. Don’t think of it as the enemy. It is just the simple reality. And if you want to change something, the first thing you have to do is see it the way it is.
When you first sit down to concentrate on the breath, you will be struck by how incredibly busy the mind actually is. It jumps and jibbers. It veers and bucks. It chases itself around in constant circles. It chatters. It thinks. It fantasizes and daydreams. Don’t be upset about that, it’s natural. When your mind wanders from the subject of meditation, just observe the distraction mindfully.”

Progression in Mindfulness meditation is realized when you discover that the amount of time you spend in thoughtful awareness is greater than that spent in the wandering mind. Over time and with consistent practice, the ability to remain focused for greater amounts of time will increase.

Set short time goals for a start, even if it’s just for 2-3 minutes and as this becomes easier, increase the time until you can remain focused for at least 20 minutes. With 20 minutes of complete focus on a daily basis, you will benefit massively from your practice.

Understanding the concept of the ‘Monkey Mind’ and realizing the transition from this state and development of our focused concentration, you can begin to understand the power of meditation. We live our lives with a ‘Monkey Mind’ and it is not until we quiet our minds that we understand what a torrid time we put our minds and body’s through.

Dealing with issues during Meditation

During your Meditation session, you may experience issues, niggles, pain, little annoyances, even something as simple as an itch, all of which can be distracting and throw your concentration, it is important that you learn to deal with these.

If any of these do occur, you should move your focus away from your breath and onto the issue. If for example, you feel pain, begin to exhale in and out of the pain, become increasingly aware of the pain and gradually accept the pain. Do not react emotionally to the pain; certainly do not feel any negativity towards the pain. Continue to focus on the pain whilst inhaling and exhaling.

This technique is not guaranteed to work, in which case, it may be necessary to adjust your seated position, change position altogether or take a short break. Remember that there are no hard or fast rules with Meditation. Make your Meditation fit around you and now and again trying something different so you are also pushing boundaries, this is the way forward for progression.

Ambient noise may also be an annoyance that could easily disrupt your session. A loud television, traffic driving by or general chatter can be quite off putting. As mentioned previously, do not get frustrated, simply focus your attention on the distraction and learn to deal, accept it and continue with your session.

Final thought…..

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Zen proverb

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