By David Gelles
Meditation is a simple practice available to all, which can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness. Learning how to meditate is straightforward, and the benefits can come quickly. Here, we offer basic tips to get you started on a path toward greater equanimity, acceptance and joy. Take a deep breath, and get ready to relax.
Setting aside time for formal meditation is an important way to establish a routine and get comfortable with the practice. Even just a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
“Some people complain about taking time out of their day,” said Atman Smith, who teaches meditation to underserved communities in Baltimore. “Practice is important though. It’s a tool you can use to bring yourself back to the present in stressful situations.”
But we shouldn’t stop being mindful when we stop meditating. “The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to become mindful throughout all parts of our life, so that we’re awake, present and openhearted in everything we do,” said Tara Brach, a popular meditation teacher based near Washington, D.C. “Not just when we’re sitting on the cushion.”
Mindfulness meditation isn’t about letting your thoughts wander. But it isn’t about trying to empty your mind, either. Instead, the practice involves paying close attention to the present moment — especially our own thoughts, emotions and sensations — whatever it is that’s happening.
In addition to basic meditation instructions, we’ve compiled guided meditations for a few popular exercises including the body scan, walking meditation and mindful eating. “Each of the applied mindfulness practices brings alive an experience that might otherwise be more automatic,” said Ms. Brach.
Though meditating on your own is an essential part of a complete practice, the steady guidance of an experienced teacher can be invaluable, especially as you’re getting started. Our minds wander so easily, and the clear instructions of a teacher can help bring us back to the present moment.
It’s inevitable: During meditation, your mind will roam. You may notice other sensations in the body, things happening around you, or just get lost in thought, daydreaming about the past or present, possibly judging yourself or others.
There’s nothing wrong with this — thinking is just as natural as breathing. “It’s the natural conditioning of the mind to wander,” said Ms. Brach.
When this happens, simply notice what it is you were thinking about or what was distracting you, then take a moment and pause.
You don’t need to pull your attention right back to the breath. Instead, let go of whatever it was you were thinking about, reopen your attention, then gently return your awareness to the breath, being present for each inhalation and exhalation.
“Don’t just drag the mind back to the breath,” said Ms. Brach. “Instead reopen the attention, then gently come and land again.”
After a few breaths, invariably, the mind will wander again. Don’t beat yourself up about this. It’s natural. What’s important is how we respond when it happens. Simply acknowledge whatever it is you were thinking of — without ascribing too much judgment to it, without letting it carry you away — and take a moment to come back to the present, and resume your meditation.
“Where we build our skill is in the practice of coming back,” said Ms. Brach. “Coming back again and again. Notice it — thinking — and then pause, and then come back to the present moment.”
This piece was originally published by the New York Times.