How To Do Mindfulness Meditation

NOTE: This practice is not the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (in Buddhism). Instead, this is meant a simple, relatable, and understandable way to begin a mindfulness meditation practice.

Mindfulness practice is basically learning how to become aware of your awareness in a non-judgmental way. Taking a moment to be with yourself, simply and fully, in whatever way that happens, is all that is involved in the cultivation of mindfulness.

You are likely very mindful throughout your day, but you are likely not aware of your mindfulness.

If you haven’t read this yet, you definitely should: What is Mindfulness?

Note: These mindfulness contemplations are completely interdependent and inherently found in each other. There is no one starting point, and in your practice, you may move back and forth between all of them many times. It is not important to strictly adhere to just one practice because they are intimately linked to one another. After learning about them and understanding each one, being able to fluidly move between them without an agenda is a good way to proceed. The way I have them laid out in this article is just a starting point to understanding each individually. This way, when something spontaneous arises, the cultivated awareness knows how to adjust.

Mindfulness of Body

how to do mindfulness of body

You have a body in space.

What does that feel like?

It’s going to feel different sitting down vs. standing up. It’s going to feel different sitting still vs. moving around.

It’s going to feel different sitting still vs. moving around.

It’s easy to overlook the sensations of the body, but your physical body is the vehicle in which you interact with the world, so being aware of how it’s feeling is important.

Practice: In your sitting posture, take a quick journey through each area of the body and see what it feels like. Is it tense? Is it relaxed? Is it sore? Bring your awareness there and let it feel the way it feels. There’s no need to change anything about that feeling. If you feel yourself attempting to tighten or relax or move or anything else, just become aware of what that feels like. What does it feel like to not tighten or relax or move or anything else? Become aware that you have a body and that this body feels a certain way. Just being aware of the sensations of the body is enough. This body is always here. As long as you are living, your body will always be here. What does it feel like? What does it feel like to sit still and just be with this body of yours? It isn’t a”good” feeling and it isn’t a “bad” feeling; it just feels the way that it does… right here… right now. 

Mindfulness of Mind

how to do mindfulness of mind

By now you may have realized that when your body stays still, your mind tends to move.

And when the body is moving, the mind tends to stay still.

This explains why many people take advantage of physical activities such as running, or dancing, or asana yoga, or some other physical practice as a way to “calm the mind”.

However, movement of the mind is perfectly natural and doesn’t need to be quelled with a physical distraction.

The mind thinks. That’s its function. That’s its job.

By becoming aware of it, we are learning to understand it. Why does it do what it does and what is our relationship to it?

Practice: Scan your body again. As you do so, ask yourself what is scanning the body? What does that “scanning thought” feel like? When you relax a muscle or tighten a muscle, what does a “relaxing thought” or a “tightening thought” feel like? As your mind begins to rationalize the experience in whatever way it does, watch it as it moves. Watch it as it thinks. You have the ability to separate yourself from the dialogue. By just being aware of the dialogue, you are already separate from it. Take that opportunity to detach yourself from the movement to just watch the movement. Don’t attach to any thought. The thoughts are just sensations. There’s no need to do anything but watch them. There’s a radio show happening inside your mind. Just tune in and listen. 

****Mindfulness of Breath****

How to do mindfulness of breath meditation

This is what most people think of when they think of meditation. This is where I most strongly invite you to drop all previously held notions about the practice and proceed with a “beginner’s mind”.

You should read this if you haven’t: What is Meditation?

The breath is an integral part of life. It is both something that is completely unique to you, yet also something that every living thing in the universe has.

If it is alive, it is breathing. It can’t be living and not be breathing. The moment it stops breathing, it stops living.

Remember this… You are always breathing.

A mindfulness of breath practice simply allows you to become aware of this fact.

At the same time, the breath does a few things for us in meditation. The first thing it does is provide our mind with an object to focus on.

Practice: Become aware of your breath. What is it doing? How does it feel? Become enthralled by the sensation that breathing brings. Allow breathing to be the most interesting thing you’ve ever done. On your next exhale, hold the exhale at the bottom for a while until your natural breathing mechanism kicks in and you instinctively inhale. This allows you to just watch the sensation happen without controlling the process of breathing. You will breathe, just watch it happen. You don’t need to consciously breathe; your body will handle the task just fine. You just need to watch it do its job. Keep watching this process happen. See the breath come in, see it go out. Know that each breath is neither “good” nor “bad”; the breath is just the breath. It’s not long, or hard, or difficult, or easy, or painful, or anything. Those things are mind-created judgments; the breath is just the breath. Your job is to watch the breath, not the judgments. 

When you realize you’re no longer watching your breath, acknowledge that the mind has wandered from its task of watching the breath, and simply return the sensation of breathing. Become the breath. Be with every movement your body makes as it breathes. Does your chest rise and fall? Does your midsection rise and fall? Does your throat take in most of the feeling? Or maybe the tip of the nose? Find the spot where you feel the breath the most and be there 100%. Commit yourself to staying in that spot as you watch the breath come in and go out. Carefully study every millisecond of every inhale and every exhale. When you realize that you’re no longer watching your breath, acknowledge that the mind has wandered from its task, and simply return, once again, to the sensation of breathing.

Another thing the breath does for us is it brings our awareness into the present moment.

Often times we are stuck in the past: Ruminating over events, circumstances, things we did, things we should’ve done, things we wished had happened differently, etc.

And sometimes our minds are stuck in the future: Planning events, managing our next career moves, thinking about what to make for dinner, trying to figure out when to get a haircut, etc.

We are very often not aware of what is happening in the moment.

But our breath is. Breath can’t exist anywhere other than the present.

It is not possible for any part of the breath to be anywhere other than right here, right now. There is no scrapbook of “best breaths ever”.

By being aware of the breath, we are aware of the present.

Practice: Mindfulness of the Present. Become aware of your breath. Feel the sensations that breathing produces. Breathe with those sensations. Recognize the presence of your breath and begin to slowly shift the awareness from the anchor of the breath to the physical space in which you are occupying. Are you in a room? Are you outside under a tree? Are you at the beach? What does the air feel like? What does it smell like? How does the air sound? Don’t attempt to answer these question; just use them as a means to explore the infinite sphere of the present moment. What does it feel like to be 100% present? Any time you find yourself drifting from the present moment, bring your attention back to the inherent presence of the breath. Use the breath as an anchor to explore the brilliance of the moment. When you notice that your mind is judging the experience, simply notice it, and return to the inherent presence of the breath. The moment is not “good” and it’s not “bad”. All judgments are just thoughts. We don’t need to pay attention to thoughts right now. The moment exists as the moment exists, and all you need to do is be aware of it.

Putting It All Together

Mindfulness practice is the foundation of most meditation practices. Mindfulness allows us to be aware of our situations and to let those situations occur as they naturally occur. That is, we don’t need to impose our unruly thoughts onto anything.

There is never a time when nothing is happening. Everything is always happening. And regardless of whether or not you choose to pay attention to any of those things, they will continue to happen.

And they all happen right here and right now. No experience you have ever had nor will ever have has existed anywhere other than the present moment.

There is only right now, and right now will never cease to exist.

▪  Practice: Throughout the day, take a moment to stop and become aware of your situation. Become aware of your thoughts. Become aware of your body. Become aware of your surroundings. Listen to the sounds in the room. Pay attention to the way you and those around you are moving. How are they living? Are they living in the moment, or are they somewhere else? Where are you right now? Are you involved in the drama of your cell phone, or are you experiencing the natural brilliance of a tree subtly swaying in the breeze? Are you drinking your coffee, or are you reading the words on this screen? Where is your focus right now? Take a minute to connect with your breath and use it to drive your awareness into the moment. How can you mindfully continue the activities of your day? How can you mindfully walk down the street? How can you mindfully converse with your co-workers? How can you mindfully send text messages? Where is your attention right now? Where is your attention at this moment? Wherever it is, be there 100%. And as you put your attention there, notice if any judgments, thoughts, or mental states come into your awareness. Are you “happy”? Are you “angry”? Are you “sleepy”? Do you think your life sucks? Do you think the weather sucks? Do you think your life is awesome? Do you think the weather is awesome? Whatever mental process you become aware of, acknowledge it, don’t dwell on it, and as soon as you can, return to basic, inherently neutral and emotion-less existence of being alive.

Eric Michelson

Eric Michelson is a writer, blogger, philosopher, activist, artist, Buddhist, and mindfulness enthusiast. He is the founder of and editor-in-chief for Perspective Earth - an online discussion space for revolutionaries and thinkers. His lifelong mission is to serve and serve he will. You can follow him and PVEarth on Facebook and Twitter.

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