The basics of establishing a practice.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT MEDITATION PRACTICE
ESTABLISHING A PRACTICE
How do I start a period of meditation practice?
It’s helpful to begin by settling yourself and calling to mind your aspirations and intentions—perhaps to calm and steady yourself, to find balance and kindness, to live more fully aware and present. Let your own sincerity and heart be the energy that guides what unfolds.
How long should I sit each day?
Deciding in advance the duration of your sit can help support your practice. For many, a good time frame is between 15–45 minutes. If you sit each day, you’ll gradually experience noticeable benefits (e.g., less reactivity, more calm) and be more inclined to increase your sitting time.
If you’re just beginning a meditation practice, you might want to experiment with the length of time that you meditate. You might choose to meditate for just five minutes once or twice a day, and increase the time by five minutes a day until you reach a length of time that you can commit to on a daily basis.
Does it matter when I sit?
Sit every day, even if it’s for a short period. Intentionally dedicating this time of quieting is a true gift! Morning is often preferred because it sets the tone for the day, and for some the mind may be calmer than it is later in the day.
However, the best time is the time that you can realistically commit to on a regular basis. Some people choose to do two or more short sessions, perhaps one at the beginning and one at the end of the day.
It’s also helpful to pause whenever you remember during each day. Establish contact with your body and breath, feeling the aliveness that is here. As you pause more and more—the space of a mindful pause will allow you to come home to your heart and awareness.
Do I need a special place to do meditation?
It’s helpful to find a relatively quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. It can also be helpful to use the same place each time because the association of that place has the potential to help you to settle into your meditation more quickly.
That said, many people meditate on public transportation, in their offices at lunchtime, and in public parks. As part of the “art and science” of meditation, you can creatively experiment with what works for you and use that feedback to decide on an optimal meditation location.
Is there a particular posture I should use?
Similar to finding a meditation place, you can experiment with different postures. One posture is not better than another. Sitting in a chair is fine, as is sitting in a cross-legged posture. The important thing is to respect your body and do your sitting, standing, walking, or lying down meditation in a way that balances relaxation and alertness.
That said, here are some helpful tips for sitting posture:
Sit in a way that allows the spine to be upright and relaxed, following its natural curves.
Allow the shoulders to relax back and down.
Place the hands on the thighs or in the lap (perhaps resting on a small cushion or towel) and allow the arms to relax.
Allow the back of the neck to lengthen and the chin to slightly tuck in. Relax the face; allow the brow to be smooth, and the eyes, jaw, and even the tongue to soften and relax.
SOME OF THE BASICS
How do I know what to use as an “anchor” or “home base?”
It is helpful to select a meditation anchor or “home base” (or several anchors) that allow you to stabilize and steady the mind and to deepen embodied presence. Remember that it is quite natural that your attention will be present with experience of the anchor for a short time and then will wander away from the anchor. When you notice this, gently shepherd your attention back into your body, re-relax and reconnect with the anchor. No need to judge yourself. This remembering and coming back over and over develops the muscle of mindfulness, and in time the mind will naturally settle and quiet.
Useful anchors are:
The breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
The rise and fall of the chest or the expansion and release in the belly. You can also put your hand on your belly and feel the breath in the palm of your hand.
The experience of the whole body as your breathe.
Other physical sensations as they arise, e.g., sensations in the hands or through the whole body.
Combining the breath with sensations in the hands.
Sounds as they are experienced within or around you.
Listening to and feeling one’s entire sensory experience (i.e., receiving sounds and sensations in awareness).
Take time to experiment with different anchors to discover what works for you to be fully present. It is helpful to select sensations that are neutral or even pleasant because the mind will be more inclined to rest there.
What if I can’t follow the breath?
If you can’t follow your breath, you might use your hand on your belly as a way of further stabilizing attention. Alternately, you can choose another meditation anchor, like sounds, body sensations, or the breath combined with body sensations.
Do I always keep the same meditation anchor?
It’s helpful to use the same meditation anchor on a regular basis, but there may be times when you want to choose another anchor. For example, if you usually follow the breath but you have a cold or allergies that make breathing difficult, you could use sound or sensations such as those in your hands. Or if sound is your regular anchor but your mind is especially restless and needs more grounding, you could anchor your attention in the body or breath. Also, your practice may evolve naturally to include a different meditation anchor.
If your attention is relatively stable, you might choose to explore practice without a specific meditation anchor. Rather, simply be aware of prominent experiences as they arise from moment to moment—for instance, bringing mindfulness to a thought, to an emotion, to body sensations, to sounds.
What if I want to follow a thought? Can that be helpful? When do I go back to the breath?
It can be skillful and wise to dedicate time to reflecting upon particular ideas or life circumstances in order to understand them more fully. However, this is a separate process from formal training in mindfulness. When practicing mindfulness meditation, we are learning to recognize thoughts without becoming lost in their content. This gives us the capacity to later choose what thoughts to engage with, and to have increasing access to present moment experience.
The ability to choose is precious. While some thoughts serve us well, many are repetitive and often stir up fear and grasping. Especially when thoughts are compelling, we tend to go into a trance and forget they are thoughts—rather, we take the thoughts for reality. In mindfulness practice we learn to simply recognize that thinking is going on and then we relax, open, reconnect with our senses—relaxing back into awareness of our body, and reconnecting gently with our breath or chosen anchor. With practice, this pathway of awakening from thoughts and arriving again in full presence becomes increasingly natural and ease-filled. In time, our lives become guided by the wisdom that “I am not my thoughts; I don’t have to believe my thoughts.”
When do I use the lovingkindness and forgiveness practices?
The heart practices of lovingkindness, compassion, and forgiveness go together with mindfulness practice like two wings of a bird. They are a natural outcome of mindfulness. When we bring a gentle allowing attention to the present moment, we are cultivating the respect and appreciation of lovingkindness. When we bring mindful presence to physical or emotional difficulty, our heart opens in compassion. And moments of love and compassion soften and open us in a way that allows us to deepen mindfulness and enhance clear seeing. Love and wisdom need each other, belong to each other.
To strengthen these heart qualities further, it can be very helpful to take time to focus directly on practices of lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion practices. Use them whenever you feel they will support your overall practice.
Here is a link with more information on the formal heart practices: //www.tarabrach.com/meditation-forgiving-ourselves-and-others/
And here is a lovingkindness meditation: https://www.jackkornfield.com/meditation-lovingkindness/
Kornfield, J. and Brach, T., 2022. Healing Trauma Program. [online] Healing Trauma Program. Available at: <https://elearning.soundstrue.com/courses/take/the-power-of-awareness/texts/11484399-frequently-asked-questions-about-meditation-practice> [Accessed 1 February 2022].