Pillars of Health Series
Many people say they don’t know how to meditate. They say that their mind won’t slow down enough to meditate, or they feel like they are doing it wrong and don’t have the time to meditate correctly. I will show you that everyone can meditate. I will start by redefining meditation as simply awareness or mindfulness.
1 – The first and last step is awareness
People often misunderstand that meditation is not about stilling the mind. Instead, it is being conscious and aware of the thoughts as they occur. This may have the effect of calming the thoughts, but this is not the actual goal.
Practiced meditators will agree that sometimes their minds are swimming with thoughts. Our thoughts can be like leaves in a stream. They crash up against rocks, snag on debris along the shore, or get pulled underwater with strong waves. The trick is to be a tree on the bank, simply watching all the leaves float by.
Being aware of your breath is a simple form of meditation that you can do at any time. Take just a moment right now to focus on your breath. What is your breath doing? Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? What part of your body moves when you breathe in and out? Now just sit and pay attention to it for the next thirty seconds.
Look at that, you are meditating already. And you thought this was going to be hard.
In meditation, the goal is to become aware of the internal/mental processes as well as the external/physical processes. When you become distracted and lose focus, return your attention to the breath.
Notice that I only refer to awareness and not control. This is why the breath is the perfect focus. Breathing happens with or without our attention but we can influence it. Learning to focus and be mindful of the breath without trying to control it is the perfect exercise for learning to be mindful of our thoughts without trying to control them.
2 – Acceptance
Possibly the hardest part about this form of meditation is learning to stop identifying with our thoughts. Daily lives are made up of experiences that we classify as good or bad. Internally we also categorize our thoughts.
With leaves in a stream, it is tempting to get caught up in what each leaf is doing. Does this leaf look pretty? Is that leaf spinning too fast? With this mediation try to take a step back and just view each thought as if it were a leaf floating by. These thoughts come and go. Some thoughts are fleeting, others are nagging and persistent. As you learn to just view your thoughts as external events that are neither good nor bad, you will find the stream flowing more smoothly.
3 – Making time doesn’t have to take any time at all
Awareness extends beyond just breath and thoughts. The next time you eat a meal I invite you to turn off the TV, put your phone away, and just be aware of your food. Really focus on how the food feels on your tongue, how it tastes, and how it makes you feel. This is actually a very powerful form of mediation.
At the start I said that awareness is the first and the last step. It turns out, it is the middle steps as well. Meditation can be applied to eating and other activities. Try it brushing your teeth, walking down the street, or tying you shoes. Changing what you consider to be meditation, you can turn not having anytime to meditate into meditating throughout the day.
4 – What are you doing right now? Are you sure?
How many times have you been driving somewhere and found that you passed your stop five minutes ago? When showering, do you ever realize that you’ve conditioned your hair when you meant to grab the shampoo? This is a clear sign that you are not being mindful in the present moment. This is a perfect time to practice – take a step back and turn your focus onto what you are doing at this very moment. As in the eating experiment, really focus on what is going around you.
5 – Awareness
Well, we did it! Here we are, at the last step. This is better live, so here is a short mediation for you to try. If you are not able to play the audio file, there is a transcript of this brief meditation below.
(audio) <-- Follow the link to the Patient Portal page and click the audio link on the right hand side.
You have just meditated. How do you feel?
Remember, we are human BEings not human DOings.
All you have to do is take a breath and
If reading this instead of listening to the audio, I recommend that you briefly read through this description then set aside 5-10 minutes to try the meditation for yourself.
Find a comfortable position – it can be either sitting or lying down – and take just a moment to settle into wherever you are. Be aware of any sounds in the room. Are there voices or a clock ticking? Just try to observe these sounds. Don’t view these sounds as good or bad or try to identify them, but, instead, just try to see them as background noise.
Now, bring your awareness to your breath. Without trying to change it or control it, can you just be aware of what the breath is doing right now? Is it fast or slow? Are you breathing more with your chest or your stomach? Can you feel the breath coming in and out of your nose or mouth? Can you feel if the breath is stronger out of one nostril? Just sit with your breath for a moment. At any point, if you feel your mind start to wander, just bring your attention back to your breath.
Remember, as we do this, the goal is to be aware of the different sensations in the body without viewing them as either good or bad. Just be mindful of the different feelings and move on to the next area.
Let’s start at the top of the head. To the best of your ability try to focus all your attention on a single area for just this moment. Just be aware of any sensations.
And now move down the head to the forehead… and the ears… and the back of the head…
Move your attention to the face starting with the area around the eyes… and now the nose… and mouth. Move your awareness down the chin and to the neck.
Move your awareness down your right arm… to the elbow… to the wrist and hand. Now focus on your left arm… down to the elbow… to the wrist and hand.
And, remember, if your mind begins to wonder, just return your focus back to your breath.
Move your focus to the top of the chest and slowly move your awareness down to your abdomen. Any sensations that you feel are not good or bad, they simply are.
Focus on the top of your back and bring your awareness down your back, not staying with any area but just keeping the attention slowly moving.
Move along the waist and the hips and the pelvis.
Bring your awareness down your right leg… to the knee… to the shin and calf and now the foot. Come back to the top of the left leg… down to the knee… the shin and calf and the left foot.
Now briefly bring your awareness to the whole body, not focusing on any one area. How does the body feel as a whole?
And bring your focus back to your breathing. Feel the breath come in and out. And just notice how that feels.
And when you are ready, start to wiggle your fingers and toes. Move your arms and legs. And gently open your eyes.