An Introduction To Meditation

The basic technique of mindfulness meditation is to bring attention to the breath, to the sensations that arise as we inhale and exhale. This attention to the breath brings a quality of relaxation. At the same time, it tunes us in to the various thoughts that come and go, and to the underlying tensions in the body. Meditation opens us up to our moment-to-moment experience, both positive and negative. As we continue to bring attention to the breath we see how this experience is continually changing.

As soon as we begin to quiet down we see that our mind is constantly filled with thoughts that tend to pull or push us away from our present experience. When we notice that we’ve gotten lost in a train of thought, we gently redirect our attention back to the breath. We connect into the present moment, get lost, and reconnect by bringing attention back to the breath. That is the basic technique.

Meditation is not about being perfect, nor comparing oneself to others. By practicing meditation we are simply creating an opportunity to understand ourselves deeper and relax into who we are.

There is some effort involved in this activity, a gentle discipline of awareness, but the effort is one of relaxed attention rather than trying to force things to be different. With practice one develops a gentle steady effort that allows us to rest our attention on the breath more easily.

Mindfulness meditation is best done sitting in a comfortable upright position, but it can be done in other positions as well. If you sit, try to use a flat chair or a meditation cushion, as that will help you maintain better posture and be more alert; but you can experiment and find a method that works best for you.

It is often recommended to use the word “thinking” as a silent label to bring your attention back to the breath when your mind has wandered. It is just a simple and gentle reminder to bring us back into the present moment.

For those just beginning to practice meditation, the following counting technique may be very useful:

Bring your attention gently to your breath. Silently count your breaths, beginning with “one” on the first inhale, “two on the exhale, and so on until you reach “ten,” then starting again. When you get caught in thoughts and lose the count, simply bring your attention back to your breath and resume the count starting with ‘one’.

You can begin to practice this technique for a few moments at a time, and gradually allow yourself to increase the length. Meditating for twenty minutes or more will help you deepen your practice and experience more of its benefits.

One can use this meditation as part of a spiritual practice, for developing awareness, or simply as a technique for reducing stress.

If you enjoy the process of meditation and want to develop it further, it will be helpful to read books on meditation and Buddhism, and to find a place to practice meditation with others. There are many excellent books available and various traditions of practice.

Dr. Martin Rappeport
Copyright © 2009