Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

 Why practice meditation and mindfulness?

Meditation can be used for many reasons such as reducing stress, anxiety, relaxation, and to build a balanced life. There are many studies available online on the effects of mindfulness and meditation now more than ever. The common findings of these studies are as follows:

When practiced regularly (at least 10 minutes a day) meditation can reduce stress related health problems ranging from anxiety to digestive disorders.

It also improves:

  • Happiness
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Immune system function
  • Attention

In my experience meditation practice helped me find my purpose, pursue the occupation that I have which is aligned with my purpose, and to create joyful, relationships everywhere I go. This practice helped me see that it is from looking within that I can manifest in my life as I wish. There are many approaches as to how to practice meditation as a beginner. As you follow the suggestions below note that your practice will improve gradually just like one’s abilities improving with regular practice in physical fitness.

  1. The posture must be set well first. Spine should be upright and head centered over the shoulders with chin slightly turned upwards to stay alert and awake during practice. You should be able to sit there at least 10 minutes without needing to adjust your posture, so prop yourself up if you need extra support.
  2. Set your timer to not mind the time so you can focus on stillness.
  3. Then scan your body to note how you feel with your eyes closed. Let go of any unnecessary tension that your muscles are holding such as on the face, neck and shoulders. A little smile on the eyes and the lips helps relaxing the facial muscles, and grounding yourself well on your chair or blankets can help relax your hips and back.
  4. Begin with calming breathing exercise such as 4-7-8 breathing technique. (4-7-8 breathing technique: First exhale completely through mouth then inhale for 4 counts with the tip of the tongue pressed gently against the upper front teeth, then hold for 7 counts, followed by exhaling 8 counts with mouth open making a whoosh sound with lips slightly pursed. Your rhythm can be fast if you have difficulty holding your breath for as long as you maintain 4-7-8 ratio. This is one cycle.). Repeat 4-7-8 breathing for 5 cycles.
  5. Once you complete 5 cycles of relaxing breath (4-7-8 breath) keep your awareness on the breath without counting or holding your breath and sit quietly. It helps maintain the focus when you mentally say “breathing in” as you inhale and “breathing out “as you exhale. A steady breathing helps still the mind and body. This way you begin to turn your attention within. Stay with this practice until your alarm rings. When distractions arise such as thoughts or sounds in the environment return to your breathing. As you keep bringing your focus back to your breathing you will increase your ability to focus without getting caught up in the distracting elements in the exterior or interior (mind/thinking) environment. Your ability to focus gets stronger with regular practice just like building strong, lean muscles through regular exercise routine.
  6. Your goal for your first week of practice (10 mins a day= 70 mins a week) can be sitting quietly with stillness for relaxation and ease of mind, which is the foundation of your evolving meditation experience. Later on you can improve your practice by taking it to different directions such as effortless presence, zen meditation, vipassana etc.
  7. Once you complete your 10 minutes experience sit comfortably and slowly open your eyes, scanning the body and mind to note how you feel after the practice. Journaling about your experience can take as little as 2 minutes will also help you observe your progress.

Common Challenges That Beginners Express:

  1. Body discomfort, digestion and fidgeting. It is easier to meditate before food so that your body is not dealing with digestion and your attention is sharper. Before meals are the best times to set aside for meditation especially mornings which will help you eat mindfully and to continue your day energized with rapt attention. Physical discomfort can be alleviated by stretching the body prior to sitting to meditate. There are several yoga poses that allow the spine to move 5 directions (flexion, extension, lateral flexion, axial extension and rotation) which can help you sit comfortably. Sitting on a chair with spine upright or on firm pillows/yoga blocks and allowing the knees to rest below the hip level are some ways you can arrange your seat for your meditation practice. As your practice grows your body will be more comfortable in sitting longer time with less to no discomfort. Consider the alignment points given below at the beginning:
  • Pelvis and spine in neutral position
  • Shoulders relaxed and over the hips
  • Ears over the shoulders with head centered
  • Chin slightly upwards without letting the head tilt backwards
  1. Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

    Lack of ability to stop thinking. A beginner at the start of her journey sits as the observer of her mind and begins to witness the mind’s nature which is to produce thoughts. During meditation practice acknowledge that you are the observer of the thinking mind and not the mind itself. The more you identify with your thoughts the easier you will be captured by them. You can call your first week of practice “being un-captured”. During this stage acknowledge and congratulate yourself for each time you catch your attention drift. Then simply bring your attention back to your breathing. This will strengthen your ability to focus on your breathing longer without your mind wandering.

  2.  Not having enough time or right place to meditate regularly. Any new happening we add into our life has to be planned with care if we want them to be well established in our schedule on a regular basis. If you take your meditation practice seriously enough to put it on your calendar based on your general availability each day and practice it at the same time and same place as much as possible you will begin to build a structure that is solid. This choice in return will help you with the benefits I mentioned in the beginning. It is always up to you to make space for what matters in your life. Take a close look at your activities in a day, and you will see that there is always enough space to build something new and meaningful. Your life deserves paying close attention to, so sit with yourself with your eyes closed in stillness at least once a day for at least 10 minutes. And all the benefits will be within your reach when you need them.