A widespread false believe is that meditation can be achieved by some people but is too difficult for others. That is not true. Just like the ability to be mindful, everyone can meditate and it can be of great help to everyone – no matter what their personal situation is. Everyone is able to observe their thoughts or their breath. Everyone is able to focus on the arising and passing of their internal thoughts, feelings and body sensations or to be open to perceive external events.
However, it requires a certain amount of patience and commitment, which is sometimes difficult, especially when we come across our mental patterns during meditation, which often produce “negative” inner states such as boredom, anger or restlessness.
It is not always easy to face these things when they appear during meditation. But precisely by observing and working with these states internally, we can develop opportunities to deal with them wisely and compassionately.
- Try to choose a fixed time each day that you would like to set aside for your meditation practices. When establishing new habits, it is helpful to link them to already existing ones such as brushing your teeth, drinking a coffee etc.
- Set an alarm on your phone or use a meditation app (e.g. Insight Timer) for the time that you would like to meditate (10-15min for the first practice in this course).
- Choose a place in your home where you can meditate that is calm, warm and comfortable, where you feel safe, a place where you really like to sit down in peace.
- If you have the impression that there could be such a place, but certain things still bother you there, see how you can change this space accordingly. Many people experience that it supports their meditation practice when this place is clean and tidy. It may also feel inviting if you place a candle in this place, a plant or flower or something else that makes you feel good and provides a supportive atmosphere for your meditation practice.
- Meditate best in loose and comfortable clothes that allow the breath to flow freely.
- Make sure, as good as you can, that you won’t get disturbed by the phone, family members or pets during the time you want to meditate. As life tends to happen with or without our planning, you might get interrupt despite your efforts and if that’s the case, try to stay mindful and be aware of your reaction to these “disturbances”.
Meditation posture: basic guidelines
Having a firm base.
Being relaxed and alert.
You can meditate in any posture, no matter whether sitting on a chair or in full lotus pose on a cushion. Below some guidelines for each pose.
Sitting on a chair:
- Use a straight back chair, not an armchair that allows your legs to be placed in a 90-degree angle between seat and the floor.
- Place the feet flat on the floor. You can put a blanket or cushion under the feet if the chair is too high.
- If you want to lean against the back of the chair, sit with the pelvis as far back as possible so that your back can be completely upright.
- The other option, which is more recommended, is to sit further forward on the seat and sit freely, so that the spine can rise up naturally.
- Ensure good contact with the ground, to allow the pelvis to settle down completely and to allow the spine to align itself upwards without effort.
Kneeling astride cushions or meditation bench:
- The feet are placed parallel to each other, soles pointing upward, thighs and knees pointing straight forward.
- When sitting on a meditation bench, the feet are directed backwards under the bench.
Varieties of sitting cross-legged on a cushion:
- Classic crossed legged, pull your feet crosswise under your knees. Left over right or right over left.
- For easy cross-leg position, pull your heels towards you so that one heel lies in front of the other. Depending on your body composition it is also possible that the front heel will come to rest in front of the shin.
- In half lotus position, you cross one leg and raise the other foot on top of the thigh with the sole of the foot turned up. Let the knee of that leg sink as far as possible to the floor.
- In full lotus position, the second foot is also placed in the other thigh so that the lower legs cross over each other. But that is really not necessary for meditation, and please never strain to get into any of these positions.
- For all sitting postures with crossed legs, it is important that you make sure that the knees are at least as deep, better a little lower than the hip joints, because only then can the pelvis and spine straighten up without problems. For this reason, sit on the very edge of a pillow.
1. Settle into a comfortable sitting position, either on a chair, or on the floor with your buttocks supported by a meditation cushions or a meditation bench. Experiment with the height of the cushions or stool until you feel comfortably and firmly supported.
2. Allow the back to adopt an erect, dignified, and comfortable posture. If sitting on a chair, have the feet flat on the floor with the legs uncrossed. Put your hands softly on your legs. Gently close the eyes if that feels comfortable. If not, let the gaze fall unfocused on the floor about 2m away from you.
Awareness of the body sitting
3. Bring your awareness to the level of physical sensations by focusing your attention on the sensations of touch, contact, and pressure in your body where it makes contact with the floor and with whatever you are sitting on. Spend a minute or two exploring these sensations.
Focusing on the sensations of breathing
4. Now bring your awareness to the breath cycle and find that spot in your body where you feel the breath most strongly or pleasantly today. That might be your nostrils, your chest or in the lower abdomen and simply observe as the breath moves in and out of this part of the body, just as you did in the previous exercise during the course.
5. As best you can, follow with your awareness the changing physical sensations for the full duration of the in-breath and the full duration of the out breath, perhaps noticing the slight pauses between one in-breath and the following out-breath, and between one out-breath and the following in-breath.
6. There is no need to try to control the breathing in any way – simply let the breath breathe itself. As best you can, bring this attitude of accepting to the rest of your experience – there is nothing to be fixed, no particular state to be achieved – simply allow your experience to be your experience without needing it to be any other way than it is.
And when the mind wanders?
7. Sooner or later (usually sooner), the mind will wander away from the focus on the breath to thoughts, planning, daydreams, judging this experience – whatever – this is perfectly OK – it’s simply what minds do – it is not a mistake or a failure. When you notice that your awareness is no longer on the breath, gently congratulate yourself – you have come back and are once more aware of your experience! Then, gently escorting the awareness back to the breath sensations in the part of the body that you’ve chosen, renewing the intention to pay attention to this in-breath or this out-breath, whichever is here when you return.
8. However often you notice that the mind has wandered (and this will quite likely happen over and over and over again), each time, as best you can, congratulate yourself for being mindful in the moment, briefly acknowledge where the mind has been, gently bring attention back to the breath, and simply resume following, in awareness, the changing pattern of physical sensations that come with each in-breath, with each out-breath.
9. You might invite a quality of kindliness to your awareness, perhaps seeing the repeated wanderings of the mind as opportunities to bring patience and gentle curiosity to your experience.
Do this for 10 minutes
10. Continue with the practice for 10 minutes, or longer if you wish, perhaps reminding yourself from time to time that the intention is simply to be aware of your experience in each moment, as best you can, using the breath as an anchor to gently reconnect with the here and now each time that you notice that the mind has wandered and is no longer following the breath.