A Basic Meditation and Mindfulness Toolkit
I was an anxious person in my youth. Now, in adulthood, I have a relatively calm mind. It’s hard to tell exactly what led to this change. My hunch is that my daily mediation practice– established a few years back– was a big reason for the change.
The following are a few mindfulness and meditation practices I picked up over the years. They are broken down by Daily Practices and Quick Practices. Daily Practices are best done once or twice a day (I like mornings) for at least 15 minutes. Quick Practices are tools that can be used within certain contexts like feeling stressed out during the day or unable to sleep at night. Hopefully, they will help you as much as they helped me!
Meditation is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. The practice involves focusing on one thing– breath, an external noise, a mantra. Thoughts will pop up that shift focus away. The practice is to notice focus has shifted and gently refocus back on the meditative object. The greatest benefits of meditation come when committing to a daily sit down practice, usually once or twice a day for ten to thirty minutes. The following are a few types of daily practice. Experiment with a few to find one that works best for your lifestyle and wiring.
Daily Practices are usually done sitting with eyes closed. Sitting can be done either on a chair with a backrest, or on the floor with a bolster of some sort– (bolster cushions or a folded blanket work great)– the main thing is that the spine is kept straight. Legs can be crossed or rest however feels comfortable. Hands can sit on the knees or in the lap (if you want to get super fancy, you can use a mudra). Have a time piece close by (something that will not buzz or beep); it’s alright to look at the timepiece anytime during meditation.
In a mantra-based meditation, the object of focus is a word softly repeated in one’s mind. The word can be anything as long as there is no strong emotion tied to it. It is sometimes best to use a nonsense word like sharila. For my practice, I use the word, “one”.
This is great form of meditation to start with because it is mostly effortless. Unexpectedly, I found this form of meditation to help with sleep.
- Sit down and close eyes.
- Take a moment to bring your attention into the present.
- Slowly let the mantra float up from the back of your mind.
- Let the mantra gently repeat in your mind. It should be effortless.
- After 15-20 let the mantra go and slowly bring your attention back to the present.
With breath meditation, one simply focuses on breathing. The focus can be on air entering and leaving the nostrils, noticing the change in air temperature and feeling of air flow. Or focus can move down into the chest and belly, noticing the rise and fall of the belly and/or expansion of the rib cage. Or focus can be on the overall act of breathing, taking it all in. Either way, the act is to focus on breath, once focus is lost, notice it and re-focus on breath.
Tip: There are times when the mind can be become very active like a sea in a storm. It can be very hard to focus on breath when random thoughts keep popping into mind. In times like these, adding a visualization like tying a balloon to the thought as it enters the mind and watching the balloon and thought float away into the clear blue sky can be helpful.
A mantra breath meditation takes the breath meditation and adds a word or phrase on the in breath and out breath. Unlike the mantra-based meditation, the mediation can and should have meaning. One of my favorites in a peace/love breath.
Mantra Breath Instructions
- Take a mindful breath in. On the inhale, think of the word “peace”. Feel yourself being filled with peace.
- Take a mindful breath out. Think the word, “love”. Feel yourself spreading the joy and love in your heart with the world.
Meditations can also be guided by an instructor. There are apps like Headspace or Peloton Meditation that provide a convenient way to experiment with this type of mediation. Along with Vedic above, this is a great form of meditation to start with.
These practices are good to do when feeling stressed or anxious with little time for a formal sit down practice.
One Mindful Breath
This is a mini version of Anapanasati meditation. It comes from Chade-Meng Tan’s Joy on Demand book. The practice takes a few seconds. Simply, when you notice yourself feeling stressed out during the day, take a time to pause, and focus on a single in and out breath.
Dr. Andrew Weil is a big proponent of 4-7-8 breathing as a technique to reduce anxiety.
To do 4-7-8 breathing, breath in through the nose for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds, and breath out through the mouth for eight seconds. Repeat for four to five rounds. Side note: longer exhales, in general, have a wonderful calming effect.
Pause during the day– can be multiple times throughout the day like the top of every hour or random times throughout the day– think of a person in your life– the person could be someone close like family member or an acquaintance or a work colleague. Picture them in your mind’s eye. Wish for them to be happy, healthy and free. Picture them joyful with a smile on their face.
Relaxing Body Scan
The relaxing body scan is a good one to do before bed. The practice is to start at the soles of the feet, ask them to be relaxed, and then move to the top of the feet, ask them to be relaxed. Keep moving up the body, focusing on a single part and asking it to relax.
When establishing a meditation practice, remember to be kind to yourself.
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