Let's take a moment to first get clear on what meditation really is. The term "meditation" can refer to any process that leads you to an inner state of relaxed awareness. There needn't be any big mystery or drama about the process itself, and there's really no right or wrong way of doing it. There are simply different techniques that can be used as tools to help you focus and quiet your mind.
Meditation techniques can be generally categorized as a) remaining in a state of alertness with no particular focus; b) maintaining a single-pointed focus on an object; or c) somewhere on a spectrum of combined alertness and focus. In the mindful breath meditation practice we use the breath as an object of awareness. We follow the physical sensations of the breath as it flows in and out of the body. This meditation practice isn’t a breathing exercise: We allow the breath to flow naturally and are simply aware of it.
One of the first things we learn when we try to do this meditation practice is how distracted our minds are! All sorts of thoughts and feelings flow into our awareness. Most of what comes into our minds is future-oriented or ruminative. Basically, it has very little to do with the present moment. The simple principle behind this meditation practice is that if we keep taking our awareness back to the breath — over and over again — then our mind gradually quiets down and we can access what is happen NOW.
It takes constant reminding, but we can learn to anchor with the breath. Then, as we develop in the practice, we begin to notice how meditation enhances various aspects of life. It may become easier to respond to situations from a calm and grounded place, or make decisions in alignment with our own needs and goals. Eventually, we connect with an ever-present source of inner peace and wisdom from which we can now draw strength, courage, clarity and compassion.
Mindful Breath Meditation in 3 Steps
1. Find your pose
- Seat yourself comfortably with your back upright. You can sit in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor, or sit on the floor using a bolster or cushion.
- Arms resting in your lap or by your side.
- Gently close your eyes.
- Aim to be relaxed but alert.
2. Focus on your breath
- Focus your attention on your breath.
- Begin with a deep breath in, filling your lungs with fresh air. Then breathe out deeply, exhaling heavy thoughts and feelings that you no longer need.
- Continue to focus on your natural breath.
- If you feel yourself drifting, gently bring yourself back to your breath. Taking a deep breath and straightening your spine can help to re-focus.
- If it feels uncomfortable or challenging, simply observe your feelings, and remind yourself that all you need to be aware of is your breath. Your breath is your anchor.
Remember: It helps to give your mind something to do; breathing is the simplest but if you require a different focus there are other easy techniques. If you require a silent mantra, you can create your own or try “I breathe in life”, and “I breathe out heaviness”.
If you would like to try simple visualizations, imagine each in-breath is like drawing in bright, dazzling light from a sun high above you in a clear, blue sky. And each out-breath is letting go of smokiness, dust or dark particles that fall away from you. Or try imagining your breath is like the waves lapping the shoreline of a beach, gently, continually flowing in and out.
3. Make peace with your thoughts
- It is unlikely that your mind will be quiet, it may even seem noisier once you stop to meditate.
- Try to allow your thoughts come and go. Try not to add to them or attach yourself to them; they are your thoughts, they are not you.
- Listening to your breath is your point of focus to bring yourself away from your thoughts. Over time, this helps to provide clarity and quietness.
- It may not always feel easy to focus on the breath when your mind is busy, but by experiencing a regular practice of mindful breathing, know that you are receiving the benefits of meditation.
- Try not to be concerned about whether or not you are doing it "right". Let judgement of your meditation performance be one of the things that you let go, that you breath out.