There are many types of meditation: religious and nonreligious, walking and sitting, silent and chanting, with mantras and without, and more. When just getting started, many people find it helpful to practice with one of the most basic of them all: breathing meditation (also known as ‘mindfulness of breathing’). The general goal of this meditation is to focus on –or be mindful of– your breathing, and only your breathing, for a set period of time.
Consider giving it a try with these 6 simple steps:
- Sit comfortably. This can be on a chair, the floor, the sofa, a meditation cushion or wherever you will feel comfortable and be free from distractions. You’re much less likely to continue meditating if you are really uncomfortable or in pain. At this early point in your practice, continuing to meditate is the key! Sitting up fairly straight will help prevent any discomfort from slouched posture and help ward off sleepiness.
- Close your eyes. You can meditate with your eyes open and cast downward, but for some this can be more difficult due to the distractions you may discover in your field of vision. You may find it easier to focus your attention on your breath with your eyes closed. Consider trying both to determine which best suits you.
- Take 2-3 deep breaths. This will help you relax and settle into the present moment a bit. When you’re tense or your mind is elsewhere, it can be more difficult to focus your attention on your breath.
- Relax and just observe your breath. Feel it come in through your nose, go down through your throat and windpipe, into your chest or diaphragm, and come back the opposite way. Notice how your breath feels. Is it cool or warm? Heavy or light? Slow or fast? Where does each inhale and exhale start and stop? Try not to control your breath at all — just let it flow naturally.
- When you notice your mind has wandered off, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. It’s normal for your mind to begin thinking about things — remembering, planning, judging, imagining, worrying, and more. The key is: as soon as you notice that you aren’t focused on your breathing, redirect your attention to the breath in a non-judgmental way. Try to be gentle with yourself.
- Repeat. Every time you notice that you’ve been thinking, bring your attention back to your breathing. If this happens 100 times during your meditation, it’s okay! Just keep bringing it back. You are building the muscle of your attention, and it will get stronger with repetition. You can set a timer if you’d like to limit your meditation session to a specific period of time. (Links to meditation timer phone apps can be found on the links page of this website.) You may want to start with as few as 5 or 10 minutes once a day, and then gradually work up to a longer duration or add a second session sometime during your day.
That’s it! This is one simple approach to breathing meditation; there are many equally effective variations to these steps you can explore.
While basic, meditation can feel quite challenging to many people at the beginning. You might wonder, “Why am I having so many thoughts?” Or you may think you’re doing something wrong or are just plain failing at meditating! One of the beautiful things about meditation is that it gets easier with practice. It’s important not to judge yourself through this process. At the beginning, it’s completely normal to be overwhelmed by the number of thoughts you are having and maybe even discouraged by the challenge of keeping your attention on the object of your meditation (your breath).
With a little determination and commitment, though, you will find the amount of time it takes you to notice that your mind has wandered off will decrease, and the amount of time you’re aware of what your mind is doing will increase. Eventually, you can let go of your focus on the breath and come to rest in the space between your thoughts. It is in this space we can feel a sense of peace unlike any other. Some describe it as a feeling of “coming home.” To enhance your overall well-being, concentration, and feelings of inner peace, make a commitment to yourself to stay on your meditative journey no matter what happens… and enjoy!