Meditation 101: Mindfulness of Breathing

The following meditation instructions are the author’s views only, and the author is not an ordained monk or teacher. If you’re unsure about a meditation technique, consult a meditation teacher or social worker. If you have a history of mental illness, please talk to a doctor, psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, or other licensed professional before attempting to meditate.

Sit in a way that’s comfortable. It could be in a chair, or siddhasana. Lotus poses can be problematic due to their strain on the knees, but if that works for you, go for it. To keep the back straight, you push in your lower back: it feels like you are pushing out your butt. Hold your head as though you are balancing an egg on top of it. Tuck in your chin. Place your hands either on your knees: palms down or up; or in the cosmic mudra, with the recessive hand holding your dominant hand, and your thumbs coming together to form a circle. Let your shoulders relax.

To keep track of time, a smartphone on airplane mode can do wonders. For Android, I recommend the Meditation Helper app. For iPhone, Zazn is a delightful app.

Take some deep in and out breaths, let the breath energy soothe the body. In Buddhist thought, there are the four elements of water, earth, fire, and air: a less mythical translation that Thanissaro Bhikkhu provides is liquidity, solidity, temperature, and oscillation.

When you breathe in and out, you will notice feelings of oscillation throughout the body. For the scientifically inclined, it could be red blood cells flowing or neurons firings. The labels are irrelevant. This, for our purposes, is the breath energy.

If the breath feels comfortable, keep breathing in that way. If not, you can adjust the in-breath and the out-breath until it soothes the body. If your mind wanders, and it will, bring it back to the breath with your complete attention. If you notice your mind starting to wander, ask yourself “Does this concern how to breathe and notice the breath energy?” If it does, apply it and see how it works. If not, you can drop it.

Abide in the oscillations throughout the body. There’s no need to reach out to find them, the body is already there. Just stay with the breath energy and awareness about these sensations will spread. If any gross pains arise in the body, bring your attention to the pain’s periphery and imagine the breath energy going through the pain. From my experiences, there are intentional elements behind all feelings, and you can turn down the dial on discomfort.

Refrain from moving your posture. A good benchmark for a beginner is ten minutes. Work your way up to twenty minutes, then thirty, then forty-five, then an hour. You will experience pains and numbness in the body, it rarely leads to long term damage — just be cautious when you stand up, as your legs will fall asleep.

Before you exit your pose, assess what worked and what didn’t work. Was the mind sharp or dull? Distracted or calm? Were there helpful qualities? Unhelpful qualities? Assess these things for yourself and develop your discernment.

Finally, wish for the happiness of all beings. May they be happy, may they do good and refrain from causing harm, may they be safe and secure. It’s one thing to chant it, and it’s another to visualize your friends and loved ones in states of happiness and good health, and viscerally wanting for everyone to experience that without exception.

Be happy.

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