How Do I Practise Mindfulness Meditation… and Become More Mindful?

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Let’s start with mindfulness meditation. Very simply, this involves taking some time out to just notice what is going on in your mind. It can be done anywhere, at any time, but I think it is easiest to start your practice at home in an area where you will not be disturbed. I remember when I first started meditating, I asked my children not to disturb me as I wanted to meditate. The first few times I asked them this, they rolled their eyes at me and called me a hippy. They presumed I would be sitting crossed-legged on the floor making peace signs.

Meditation does not have to involve sitting cross-legged, wearing a bandana or a sarong. If you are comfortable sitting cross-legged, by all means, do that. However, it is often recommended that people meditate sitting in a comfortable chair where you can maintain an upright position without any significant discomfort.

People often ask me about meditating in bed. You can do that if it is your most comfortable position. However, meditation is an active practice, and if possible, it is best to practise outside of your bed, at least some of the time. It is also best if you can try and find somewhere to meditate where you will be undisturbed, where the dog won’t be jumping on you, the phone won’t be ringing, or the children won’t be asking you, “What’s for dinner?”

You do not need to find a perfectly quiet place to meditate.

When I meditate at home, I can hear background traffic noise and the sounds of my family getting on with their lives. That background noise is fine; it just drifts in and out of my awareness. It is best to have your legs and arms uncrossed when you are sitting in your chair meditating. You can rest your hands gently on your lap if that feels comfortable to you.

How Long to Meditate for?

People are often unsure how long to meditate for. There is a misconception that you have to do it for long periods every day, to experience any benefits of meditation.

A lot of people find that a 10-minute daily practice is a good starting point. When people have got used to incorporating this 10-minute daily meditation practice into their day, they sometimes want to increase the time that they spend meditating. Other people remain with a 10-minute daily practice.

Meditation is a skill, and as such it tends to develop with regular practice. Try to practise daily. If this is not possible for you, just try to practise as regularly as possible.

It is helpful to meditate with your eyes closed. If that feels uncomfortable to you, you can find a spot on the floor to direct your focus. When you initially sit down to meditate, you might choose to spend a few seconds noticing how your body feels on the chair, the parts of your body that are touching the chair. You could notice how your hands feel in your lap and how your feet feel on the floor.

When you start to practise mindfulness meditation, it is useful to use your breath as an anchor or a focus. You are always breathing; your breath is always with you. Therefore, your breath is available to use as an anchor 24/7, any time, any place. What this means is just becoming aware of your breath, not trying to practise deep breathing or change your breathing in any way; just resting your awareness on your breath. Just noticing the sensations of your breathing.

Some people find it helpful to count their breaths, especially when they are learning to practise mindfulness meditation. If you want to try this, you can start by counting 1 as you breathe in, and 2 as you breathe out, then 3 when you next breathe in, and 4 as you breathe out again, and so on up to 10. When you get to 10, you can start at 1 again. If you get lost or distracted and do not know what number you are on, don’t worry, just start at 1 again.

Distractions!

As you are counting your breaths, you will get distracted. Thoughts will come into your head, perhaps things like “This is a waste of time,” or “My back is so sore today,” or “I am looking forward to my dinner tonight,” or “I should have gone to the bathroom before I started this,” or “What is the dog barking at?” or “I am so fed up today.” Your only task when you notice that you have become distracted is to bring your attention back to your breath.

You are likely to be distracted by your mind many times during a short meditation practice. This is a normal mind at work, so there is no need to give yourself a hard time – remember, one of the core aspects of mindfulness meditation is about being non-judgemental in your practice. You can just notice where your mind has gone and re-direct your attention back to your breath.

At the end of your meditation practice, it can be helpful to spend a couple of seconds with your eyes closed, just resting. You can then ground yourself back in the present by noticing again how your body feels on the chair, how your feet feel on the floor, and noticing any sounds that you can hear.

People often notice that they feel more relaxed and calmer after meditating. However, that is not always the case, and if you do not experience any feelings of relaxation, it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong or that you cannot meditate.

I have summarised the steps for meditating in the exercise below.

Steps for Practising Mindfulness Meditation

Sit in a comfortable upright chair with your feet flat on the floor. If that is too uncomfortable for you, due to pain, find a comfortable position that helps you remain awake and aware.

Close your eyes. If that doesn’t feel comfortable find a spot on the floor to gently focus on.

Spend a couple of minutes noticing the part of your body that is in contact with the chair; notice how your hands feel resting in your lap and how your feet feel on the floor.

Move your focus to your breath. Notice where – in your body – you feel the breath the most; it may be your stomach, chest, nose or mouth. Do not try to change your breath. Just notice how it feels to breathe normally.

If it is helpful, begin to count the breaths, the first inhale as 1, the exhale as 2, and so on, up to 10. Start again at 1 and continue doing this for a few minutes.

Your mind is likely to wander. When you notice this, bring your attention gently back to the breath. There is no need to give yourself a hard time about this. Just notice that your attention has wandered and bring your attention back to the breath.

Continue to focus on your breath and when you notice your mind has been pulled away, gently bring it back to the breath without judgement.

Finish your practice by moving your focus from your breath back to how your body feels on the chair, how your feet feel on the floor. Notice any sounds that you hear.

Open your eyes and bring your attention back to the room.

Becoming More Mindful in Your Daily Life

When you regularly engage in formal meditation practices like the one described above, you may notice that you will become more mindful in your day-to-day life. You might become more aware of when your ‘washing machine mind’ is on a spin, and you will develop a greater awareness of the chatter in your mind.

With this increased awareness of your mind’s talk, you will probably be able to recognise when your mind is repeating old unhelpful stories about the past or frightening, worrying stories about the future. Through this awareness, you will develop the capacity to bring your mind back to the present when this is helpful for you.

Gradually, you may become aware that going over old stuff in your head, or worrying about the future and running through possible scenarios of how things might go wrong, is a terrible waste of your time. You might realise how many times stories have taken over your mind. There is a saying that you “don’t have to listen to the rumours in your mind” but how often have you done just that and got caught up in all the projections of your brain? Do you ever ask yourself if that time is well spent? Maybe it would have been more enjoyable if you had been able to just live in the moment.

Have you ever been on a car or train journey when you realised that you were almost at your destination and that you were so lost in thought you hadn’t even noticed the places that you were travelling through? Perhaps you were so lost in your thoughts that you forgot to get off the bus at the right place.

We all tend to get lost in our heads; we are present but not really ‘present’. When you practise mindfulness meditation, you get more skilled at noticing when you are not present and you can bring yourself back to the only moment you have, the ‘now’.

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About the author: Dr Nicola Sherlock is a pain management expert and the author of Master Your Chronic Pain: A Practical Guide (see hawksmoorpublishing.com).

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