How to meditate

This post is a resource for those interested in learning to meditate.  Meditation has been shown to have numerous beneficial effects and can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy to increase self-understanding, self-compassion and to develop emotional tolerance. The instructions below can be modified depending on your preferences or constraints. The most important condition is commitment to starting a daily practice and deciding to stay with it.  Also realize that the “right way” to meditate is the one that works for you.

To get started, decide how long you’ll commit to your meditation practice.  Beginners often choose 10 minutes at first and then increase the time as they feel ready.

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit where there are as few distractions as possible.
  2. Depending on your preference, sit on the floor or in a chair with a straight back. If you are on the floor, you can put a pillow under your hips to be more comfortable.  You might also want to sit against a wall at first to maintain good posture.  Whether you’re in a chair or on the floor, sit up straight so that your diaphragm (the muscle that moves up and down as you breathe) has full range.  You can place your hands in your lap or on your legs, palms up or down.   You can close your eyes, or leave them open if you prefer.
  3. Set an alarm or timer for the amount of time you would like to meditate.
  4. Bring your full attention to the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body.  Give that sensation your full awareness.  Notice any other sensations or emotional states and give them your full attention.
  5. When your mind wanders (it will for sure), notice that you’re thinking and return your awareness to your breath.  Some find it easier to count their breaths or to label what they are experiencing, for example, when a thought arises, you can mentally say “thinking” or if you hear a sound, you might say to yourself “hearing”.
  6. You might also find that you’re judging your experience.  Maybe you tell yourself that you’re “not doing it right”, that the experience is boring, not working…etc.  Notice that you’re judging and return your attention to your breath.
  7. Recognize that thoughts and feelings just “are” and that you don’t need to get involved with them.  You can simply detach and return your attention to your breath.

When I talk to patients about their experience meditating, they often say that they try to meditate but “aren’t very good at it”.  They think because they have had thoughts, feelings or impulses during the experience that they haven’t done well.

Remember, you are successfully meditating even if you get lost in thought for a few minutes. It is the moment that you become aware of being lost and return your attention to your breath that you have flexed your meditation muscle! Think of thoughts arising during meditation as dumbbells for your mind.  They present the opportunity for your mind to “work-out” as you disengage from thought and return your awareness to your breath and the present moment.

Happy meditating!

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