TOBY MIZZI, COUNSELLING PSYCHOLOGIST, STRONG MINDS PSYCHOLOGY
Not sure where to start with mindfulness meditation? In this week’s blog, I will discuss some of the basics when it comes to practising mindfulness meditation.
I’ve practiced mindfulness and meditation for some time now and I’ve spent a significant amount of time exploring the many different ways one can practice mindfulness meditation. There are so many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation that it can become confusing and even overwhelming for the beginning. I am no expert; I am not a Zen Buddhist monk but I have a bit of experience that I can share with others. Today, I wanted to address some of common questions that beginners might have when starting out with some mindfulness meditation.
Remember our earlier definition of mindfulness as a paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental and accepting way. Meditation is an activity, usually in a seated position, where you focus your awareness on a thought, object or activity (e.g., breathing). In other words, meditation is one way to practice mindfulness. My aim here is to remove some of the confusion around mindfulness and meditation, so try not to get too caught up in the definitions as some people use the terms interchangeably.
How long should I meditate for?
As long as you want is the short answer. In the beginning, aiming for a few minutes at a time is perfectly acceptable. You can always build you way up to longer periods. Some meditative practices prescribe certain times (for example, twice a day for 20 minutes each time) whilst others just encourage you to do so for as long as you feel is necessary. Try for 5 minutes at the start and see how you go. You can easily increase the time as you begin to feel more confident. You can also do it more then once per day (e.g., morning and night) but even once a day is better than never. Generally speaking, the benefits of meditation/mindfulness are associated with increased practice but even small amounts have been shown to help.
Do I have to sit down? What is the best way to position my body?
My answer for this is that you should find what is comfortable. Many meditative practices encourage the use of the lotus position (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_position) but you should always consider your own comfort as well as any medical/personal needs. Sitting on the floor with your legs crossed is desirable, but it can be more relaxed than the lotus position. Aim to keep your back straight to ensure good posture (e.g., avoid slouching). You can also find a comfortable chair with appropriate back support. Some people enjoy laying on their back, which is also fine if that is what is comfortable to you. Lying on your back in bed at night might make it more likely that you fall asleep, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Try different positions (e.g., sitting on floor, sitting on chair, lying down) and see what works for you.
How should I breathe?
While some mediative practices prescribed controlled breathing techniques, others will encourage you to allow your breathing to occur naturally, without any attempt to change the rate (speed) or depth (deep versus shallow) of breathing. That said, it is generally advised that you breathe in and out through your nose. Sometimes, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is also suggested (and this if fine too) but generally speaking we would avoid breathing in and out through only the mouth. Given that our key aim here is to cultivate mindfulness, going with your natural breathing rhythm is a good place to start. I will certainly share some breathing techniques in the future that require controlled breathing, but it is perfectly fine for the beginning to just allow your breathing to occur naturally. Just bring your attention and awareness to your breathing.
Should I focus on anything else?
While the breath is often the main focus in mindfulness meditation, you can focus on other objects (e.g., the flame of a candle), sensations (e.g., bodily sensations) or even mantras (a special word you repeat out aloud or in your thoughts). Again, in some of the suggestions I provide in the future we will look at other sources of focus. However, for the beginning I would focus on the breath. And remember, we are not really concerned with what you focus on, but rather that you are just being mindful of whatever experiences you might be having.
What else should I know?
I think that covers the basics. There are guided meditations you can use, which I will discuss more in the future. I may have record a guided mindfulness activity in the future to share with you. Some people also use background music as part of their practice. Again, we can address this in the future. For now, we are just trying to practice a sense of mindfulness through a meditation activity. My main aim is to encourage you to find a comfortable position and bring your awareness to your breathing.
About the Author:
Toby shares his time between the Strong Minds Psychology team, Swinburne University, and his young family. He is passionate about providing individualised support, and empowering people to enhance their mental health. Toby provides counselling and therapy for children, adolescents, adults and couples – helping with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, relationship difficulties, grief &loss, and family conflict. Mindful Mondays will be a regular blog on our website and Facebook page.
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