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How to Meditate: Part I—Awareness of Breath Meditation

In my last post, 5 Things You Can Do to Live a Mindful Life, I explored ways that we can live mindfully.

The first of those 5 things is to cultivate a formal mindfulness meditation practice, because the formal practice serves as a training ground and foundation for understanding how to apply the principles to everyday living. Mindful attention to the breath, or awareness of breath meditation, is a starting place for formal mindfulness practice.

When meditating, it’s important to find a stable posture that supports an alert state of mind.

Some people prefer to sit on the floor cross-legged, while others prefer to sit in a chair. If you have a history of back pain or hip pain, you’ll likely find meditating in a chair to be more comfortable. As you sit, the back should be in an upright position, not slumped. The head should be resting comfortably, facing directly forward, with the chin tilted very slightly toward the chest.

If you’re sitting on the floor, you’ll need a cushion, or zafu. Try sitting on the very edge of it, so that your pelvis tilts forward, creating a slight curve in your lower spine, and allowing your knees to be lower than your hips. You can also try sitting with your legs uncrossed, bent at the knees, with one leg resting on the floor in front of the other. If you’re sitting in a chair, sit with your legs uncrossed. Allow your hands to rest palms down on your thighs or palms up in your lap with one hand resting in the palm of the other hand.

You can also meditate lying down.

This posture works well for those who experience considerable pain or discomfort with prolonged sitting or for those with significant tightness in the diaphragm region. Just keep in mind that lying down poses added challenges regarding staying awake!

Once you’ve settled into a comfortable and alert posture, close your eyes, and gently bring the focus of your attention to the breath. Notice the rise of the belly with the inhale and the lowering of the belly with the exhale. When the attention wanders, as soon as you become aware that it has wandered, silently note to yourself, “wandering,” and without judging the mind for wandering, gently bring the attention back to the breath. When you first begin to practice, it’s normal to feel surprised or even slightly anxious at the discovery of how much time your mind spends whirling in thought.

If you experience significant anxiety when trying to focus on the breath, especially if you have a history of trauma and begin to experience intrusive memories or overwhelming feelings, try starting with an externally focused practice, and consider seeking the support of a mindfulness-based counselor. Instead of using the breath as a focus point of your attention, try sound meditation. It’s the same practice, just with a different focus point. Bring your awareness to sounds in the room. Now expand your awareness to include sounds in the distance. Keep your attention focused on the coming and going of sounds. When you notice that your attention has drifted and your mind has wandered to thinking about something else, silently note to yourself, “wandering.” Then gently, and without judgment, bring your attention back to the surrounding sounds.

Try beginning with a five to ten minute practice for the first few times.

Continue the practice over and over of focusing your attention on the breath or sounds, noticing when the mind wanders, and gently bringing the attention back to the breath or sounds. As you become more comfortable, try extending your practice by five or ten minutes per day. Notice the state of your body, heart, and mind as you experiment with different lengths of time engaging in the practice, and choose an amount of time for your regular practice that fits with your lifestyle as well as your intentions for your practice. We’ll talk more about intentions in a later post.

What has been your greatest joy or your greatest frustration related to meditation practice? Please share in the comment section below—keep scrolling down, and you’ll see it. Until next time, may you find delight in the discovery of new aspects of your being in your practice.


By Jen Johnson, a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.