Beginning instructions for meditation
Whether sitting in a chair, on a bench, kneeling or sitting cross-legged on the floor it is important that the back is straight and upright without being tense or rigid. Sit so there is some expansion of the chest and the abdomen, so that the breath can flow easily in to and out of the body. The head rests balanced naturally on the shoulders, with the chin slightly tucked in. The eyes can be closed, to minimize visual distraction. If you are sleepy the eyes can be open and softly gazing downwards. The hands can be resting together in the lap or on the knees.
It is helpful at the beginning a sitting, to scan the attention through the body, being aware of any areas of tension or holding, and seeing if you can relax those areas. So that the body posture expresses qualities of relaxation and alertness.
In meditation we cultivate our capacity to be aware, to be awake to what is happening in the present moment. As an anchor for awareness in the present moment we choose the breath. Just feel the natural movement of the breath in the body. Sense the body breathing in and breathing out. When you become aware that you have been daydreaming, planning, or thinking, quietly let go of the thoughts and gently return the attention to the breath, without forcing. You will need to begin again, and again, and again…
By strengthening this capacity to begin again we are actually becoming more present to life and enhancing the ability to let go of unhelpful patterns of thought. As awareness is strengthened we are able to see our experience and our lives more clearly.
There’s no need to breath in a particular way. Meditation is developing awareness, and is not a breathing exercise. If you are tired however it may be helpful to take some deeper breaths to bring some more energy to the body. Otherwise just be aware of the breath as it is, whether deep or shallow, subtle or gross. The body can breathe by itself. Also see if you can experience the actual bodily experience of breathing, rather than imagining or picturing the breath. Be aware of how the rhythm of the breath changes naturally. It may slow and become more subtle, or become heavier. Either way just be aware of the breath as it is. If the mind and body are restless, give particular attention to the out-breath, experiencing the fullness of the exhalation. If very restless it may be helpful to consciously relax the body as we did at the beginning of the instruction.
The breath is a useful resource which is always available, not only in our meditation practice but in our lives, that we can use to re-establish a more centred awareness of what is happening in the moment. It is particularly helpful in moments of tension, anxiety or fear.
By learning to be more present we are connecting more closely with ourselves, and indeed with all of life. Through this awareness we can begin to discover for ourselves an authentic way of being in the world that embraces living with more joy and inner freedom.