Meditation is helpful for reduction of stress and anxiety and can help us to become more aware of the messages we send to ourselves. This practice can help you learn to become more aware of what you say to yourself, how many thoughts come into your mind at any given moment, and to become more adept at noticing them when they come throughout the day and night, when you aren’t engaged in practicing meditation. Over time, this practice can help you become better at not getting involved, or hooked into, every thought that may come at any given moment.
There are many different meditation techniques and none is necessarily better than others, it depends on individual preference. Because the breath is always there with you, I suggest using the breath as a returning point. I encourage labeling the thoughts as they come because labeling during meditation can help us to notice thoughts more easily when they come during non-meditation times. Additionally, labeling our thoughts help us break self-identification with the thought.
You are not your thoughts. And you don't have to believe everything you think.
I usually suggest starting with a small goal of 2-5 minutes a day and work up slowly, adding a minute on to your time weekly. Always use a timer so that you don’t feel compelled to check the clock. Turn off your phone (or all other sounds if you are using your phone as a timer) and other technological devices that could interrupt you. I use an app just for meditation from Insight Timer. You can get the Insight Timer for iphone, ipad, or for Android.
Next, find a comfortable spot—you may sit in a chair or on the floor. If you sit on the floor, you might want to use a pillow or a folded blanket to sit on. If you use a pillow or blanket, place it under the sitting bones, so the hips are slightly elevated, allowing the knees to rest comfortably. If this is painful, you may need a higher elevation for the hips, or choose to sit in a chair. It is also okay to sit with the back against a wall or other support. A comfortable position is important.
If you choose to sit in a chair, let your feet be flat on the floor. Allow your hands to rest in your lap, on or your knees in a comfortable position. Allow the spine to be long and tall, but not stiff. Roll your neck from side to side to release tension. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths deep into your belly, expanding your abdomen on each inhale and exhaling fully each time. When you feel ready, allow your breathing to return to normal.
Then, get centered by simply beginning to notice.
Notice how the floor feels beneath your feet. Notice the feeling of your body at the points where it rests either on the floor or against the chair, how your clothes feel on your body. Notice the feeling of the material of your clothing against your skin. Notice whether you feel any tension in any area of your body.
Begin to notice the temperature of the air, notice how it feels on the parts of your body that are uncovered.
You don’t have to do anything or change anything, just notice.
Begin to notice the sounds that you hear around you; outside the space, inside the space. Not having to change anything, simply noticing.
Notice any sounds you may become aware of within your own body—again, not having to change anything, simply noticing.
Begin to bring your awareness to your breath.
Notice how it feels as it moves in and out of the body, not changing anything, just being with what is and noticing. If you are breathing, you are doing it right. Allow your attention to remain with the breath moving gently in and out. Notice the temperature of the air as it enters the nose, notice how it moves down the trachea and into the lungs. Notice that the air is warmer and more moist as it gently leaves the body. Notice the movements of the abdomen, the ribs and the chest as your breath moves in and out of your body.
Just breathing and noticing.
Continue to simply stay with your breath.
If you wish, you may choose to count the breaths, in and out, 1, in and out 2, and so on to ten, and then start back at 1.
You might want to use color visualizations with the breath--imagine breathing in a color that you associate with a feeling state you would like to achieve, such as peace or calm, and then breathing out a color you associate with a feeling you would like to be rid of--fear, stress, anxiety, etc.
You might want to use a mantra with your in/out breaths. A mantra is a repeated thought or sound to help calm, center and focus our attention.
On an in breath, you may choose to think, "I am…",
on the out breath, think, "Calm."
Breathing in, "I am..." Breathing out, "Calm."
Some other examples might be:
In breath: "All is…" Out breath: "Well."
In breath: "I am…" Out breath: "Loved."
You get the idea. Come up with whatever works for you to help you stay with your breath.
Eventually, you will notice you are no longer aware of your breath and instead, you are thinking about something else. This is totally okay, and it will happen. When you notice a thought (or an emotion), simply label it and then bring your attention back to your breath. You don't have to get involved or take the thought or feeling to the next place it might go. Simply label it and come back to your breath, knowing that if you really want to think or feel it, it will be there when you are finished with your practice for the day.
"Labeling" your thoughts and emotions means that when you notice that you are thinking or feeling something, something, interrupt the thought or emotion, and call the thought or emotion what it is: thinking, worrying, planning, doubting, judging, fantasizing, daydreaming, anxiety, fear, impatience, hunger, irritation, etc. And then, bring your attention back to your breath. If you are distracted by a sound, label those as well: car, dog barking, laughter outside, heating unit, fan, birds, etc.
"Thinking"…come back to the breath…"Planning"…come back to the breath…"Anxiety"… come back to the breath…"Judging"…come back to the breath.
Continue in this way until your time is completed for the day’s practice. After the timer goes off, take a moment to notice how you are feeling. Take a couple of deep breaths and go on with your day.
Some final thoughts and advice on practicing meditation:
Try to suspend judgment of yourself and the practice. Or if you cannot, then notice the judgment and label it. Many people become frustrated, saying, "I just can't quiet my mind!" or something similar. This is also okay. Our minds are almost never quiet. It is the job of the mind to chatter all the time. Try not to think of the goal of this practice (or any other meditation practice) as quieting the mind. Think of the goal as learning to observe what happens in the mind with kindness and compassion. The way you might smile and look sweetly at a small child who just can't stop chattering and playing and running around. Maybe he is really tired, or she's had too much sugar. Bless her little heart. She just can't calm down. This is very similar to the way the mind chatters and distracts and goes on and on.
We can know that this is just the mind doing what it does, talking and thinking and comparing and making connections and deductions and running its near constant commentary. And thankfully too, because the mind works hard for us, almost all the time doing what it does. We can learn to know that we do not have to become involved in the process if we do not wish. When we know that, we can feel a greater sense of peace, calm, and control over the thousands of things the mind tells us all day. Many of which are not even true.
An old Asian proverb tells us, "The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master." This is so very wise. This practice, and other kinds of meditation, can help you learn to be the boss of your thoughts instead of the other way around. You can learn to be much more aware of things the mind is saying even when you are not practicing meditation. You can know through this practice that you can observe and witness the mind's processes rather than being pulled unwillingly onto the thought train, going at top speed to someplace you didn't want to visit. Or you can choose to go there and notice what happens, knowing that you can shift your attention when you want to do so. You get to be the boss of your thoughts. Not the other way around.