• Paula Cristina Azevedo

Seven steps to starting a meditation practice


Seven steps to starting a meditation practice

You’ve been reading my blog posts, doing your own research on meditation, and you’re ready to embark on this beautiful meditation journey. Congratulations! This is already a huge step to starting your own meditation practice. Now you just need to actually start practicing. You can read all of the latest books and blogs about meditation and other people’s experiences, but meditation is truly a personal and an experiential process. You really can’t learn about meditation until you actually start meditating. But you may be wondering: Where do I go? What do I need? What do I do? No worries. I’ll guide you in the first steps into developing a mediation practice.

1) Find the time

We all know that our time is precious and we’re always scrambling to find more of it. To some it may seem like meditating will encroach on the little time that they have, but I think it’s the way we perceive and use time that matters. First, meditation shouldn’t be a burden or another thing that we cross off on our to-do list. Meditation should be a time of stillness and presence that we give to ourselves. By taking time to be present and reconnect to the present moment you are giving yourself a gift of dignity, grace, and well-being. What a beautiful gift! So, why not find time everyday to give yourself this wonderful gift?

If you’re ready to commit to a daily practice of meditation it’s easy to keep up with the practice if you find a consistent time in the day to do your practice. First, consider if you’re a morning person or a night owl. If you’re an early riser and love the stillness of the morning before everyone in the house gets up then the early morning hours are a perfect time for you to meditate. However, if you’re not a morning person don’t even consider meditating in the morning, because you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you’re a night owl then meditation at night before you go to bed might be a good time for you to have your meditation practice. You might find that a nightly meditation practice is a good way to slow down and end your day. Maybe you have time during your lunch break and want to use that time for your meditation practice, that also works. It doesn’t matter the time of day as long as it’s a good time for you to be still and be present. Just make sure it’s a time of day that you can consistently meditate. I like to schedule my mediation in my iCalendar so I know that that time is protected and it’s my time to meditate.

You may be wondering how long the meditation session should be. I always suggest to start slowly. Start with a 5- 7 minute meditation or even less if that seems too long, and build yourself up to a 20-minute daily meditation practice. You can even build the practice up to two 20-minute meditation sessions daily. However, the length of time is up to you. You may find that there are days that all you can squeeze in is a 5 minute meditation and on other days you can practice for 40 minutes straight. It’s really up to you, but start small and increase the time as you begin to understand the experience.

2) Find a dedicated space

zafu

I’m lucky that at this point in my life I can dedicate a small spare bedroom to my meditation and yoga practice. This space is a sacred to me, and I know when I enter into this space with the intention to meditate that it’s time to calm down and practice meditation or yoga. However, you don’t have to have an entire room for your meditation practice. The space doesn’t have to be large, because you won’t be moving at all during your practice. It can be a corner of your bedroom or living room. Ideally, the space should be quiet during the time you meditate. It’s hard to meditate with toddlers

screaming around you. So, a playroom with children would not be an ideal place. The space doesn’t need to be decorated in any way. It can be sparse and simple or have items in the space that are a part of your practice or that calms you. For instance, some like to have and use a meditation cushion or zafu, singing bowls, incense or essential oil diffuser, small water feature, live house plants, fresh cut flowers, a religious symbol or figure, prayer flags, candles, etc. As I mentioned my meditation space is sacred to me, so I have an alter with items that are important to me and represent my spiritual practices, but this is just me and my personal history and journey into meditation. Your space may even evolve over time as you continue to practice and develop your own meditation style. Everyone’s space is going to be different. Just make the space your own and make sure this space reflects you and your meditation practice.

3) How do I sit?

Alright, you’ve found time and space to start your practice. What’s next? Well, you need to know the proper sitting posture to meditate. We sit all the time and you would think that sitting for meditation would be easy, but as simple as it seems it’s actually quite difficult, because now we’re sitting with intention and awareness. The key is to sit dignified with your head, neck, and spine aligned. This allows the breath to flow easily. You may choose to sit on a chair, meditation bench, or on the floor with folded blankets, cushions, or a zafu. It is key that you find a sitting position that is comfortable and dignified for you.

On a Chair

If you have a hard time going down or getting up from the floor then choose the chair. The chair should have a straight back to it. I find that the typical kitchen chair is ideal for this. When you sit on the chair your back should be straight and both feet firmly touching the ground. If you’re short, like me, you might realize that your feet don’t firmly touch the ground or that you are on your tippy toes. It is important that you have four corners of your body fully grounded. So, in a chair your buttocks should be firmly on the chair and your two feet firmly touching the ground. If you can’t comfortably reach the ground with your feet just place a firm pillow or folded blankets under your feet.

On the Ground

I personally find chairs sometimes uncomfortable and prefer to sit on the ground with a cushion. There are a couple of ways you can sit on the ground. You may choose a simple cross legged position or what is sometimes referred to as the Burmese posture. You may find that your knees easily touch the floor, which makes the posture a bit more comfortable. If your knees don’t touch the floor don’t worry about. However, if you find that it’s really not comfortable to have your knees up off the floor you can choose a different posture or you can place some yoga blocks under your knees. The other sitting position on the ground is the kneeling posture. In this posture you kneel on the ground, place the meditation cushion between the feet and sit on the cushion. There are also meditation benches that are built specifically for this posture.

It really doesn’t matter what sitting posture you choose as long as it is a position that respects your body’s limitations, that is comfortable to sit in for a period of time, and that it is dignified. Ultimately, it’s the attitude and attention that you bring to the posture that matters the most.

4) Placement of hands

Whether you choose to sit on the ground or on a chair your choice of hands placement will be the same. You can choose to gently place your hands palms up or palms down on the tops of your quads. If your palms are up then you may be feeling more receptive. If you decide to have your palms down then you may be focused on grounding yourself. You may also want to try placing your hands in a mudra, or a yogic hand gesture. It is thought that by using hand mudras you can signal to your mind and body that it’s time to calm down for meditation.

chin mudra

There are two mudras that are common in meditation. First, is the chin mudra, which is when you hold the forefinger to the thumb and extend the other three fingers out. The circular shape made by the thumb and finger symbolizes a break of patterns of thinking about the past or future so we can focus on the present. You may choose to have your palms up or down in the chin mudra. The second mudra you may choose is the dhyana mudra. If you choose this mudra you will place the left hand (palm up) on top of the right palm, making the shape of a bowl, and your

dhyana mudra

two thumbs will gently touch. Your hands will be at the height of your navel. This is a common mudra in Buddhist meditation (you don’t have to be Buddhist to use this mudra), and it brings upon the meditator a sense of calm and concentration. Just like everything in meditation, do what feels right to you and your body and state of mind. Of course, be open to trying some other hand positions as you continue your practice.

5) The importance of the breath

We all breathe. It’s a necessary part of living and so common that we don’t even pay attention to our breath until we notice a dramatic change in our breathing pattern such as, a sudden increase of our breathing or a lack of oxygen entering the lungs. In meditation the breath becomes the focal point of our awareness. This is because our breath is always with us. You can meditate anywhere and at any time, because all you need to do is focus on your breath. Therefore, there is never an excuse to not meditate, because your focal point, the breath, is always present. Another reason the breath is so important in meditation is because breathing connects us all. All living beings breath, and as a result the breath is a reminder of this beautiful connection between all living beings on Earth.

So, how do you focus on the breath? Again, just like sitting, focusing on the breath during meditation appears to be a simple task, but it is actually quite difficult and takes practice to be able to do. Once you found a comfortable sitting position for your mediation and settle in for a minute start to pay attention to your breathing. Where is the breath entering? Follow the breath through your body? Where does the breath go? Does it get “stuck” somewhere in the body? Where does the breath exit? Focusing on the breath during meditation is not about forcing your breath to go anywhere, but rather to just follow the breath's natural pattern. You may notice that you actually can’t feel the breath. Don’t panic. You’re alive and breathing, but you just haven’t noticed the breath, and it can take some time. No judgement is needed during this process. Just continue to breath naturally.

6) Practicing with non-judgement

You’ll notice that shortly after following the breath three or four times your body may want to move and/or your mind begins to wander, a thought pops in, or you are restless and bored. This is all normal and happens to everyone who meditates, even to experienced meditators. You’re asking your body and mind to focus on the breath, which

Seven steps to starting a meditation practice

it rarely pays any attention to. Our brains and bodies are wired to go, go, go, but with meditation you’re training the body and mind to sit still. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990) uses a wonderful metaphor for meditation practice of training a puppy. When you train a puppy to sit on command the puppy, of course, will have the tendency to wander off, jump, play or misbehave. Instead of getting upset with the puppy, you gently and with kindness bring the puppy’s attention to the training and ask it again to sit. That is the same idea with meditation and focusing on the breath. Inevitably the mind will wander and you’ll eventually notice that you’re no longer paying attention to your breath. Instead of getting upset, frustrated, or using negative language towards yourself, you just pick up from where you were and notice the breath and follow the breath with awareness. You continue to gently refocus your attention every time you notice you lost your attention. The key is to do this with non-judgment. Meditation is a practice and there is no true end goal, because you’re constantly practicing. There are other helpful attitudes to maintain during your meditation practice, which I’ll describe in another blog post, but to get started non-judgement is essential and one that most struggle with.

7) Journaling

I find journaling after meditation helpful, especially when starting. You’ll begin to notice certain thoughts that pop up, emotions, physical sensations, etc. During meditation you simply notice, but afterward you may want to explore the thought, emotions, or sensations a little more with curiosity. You may begin to notice a pattern in your meditation practice due to the journaling or notice common themes. The journaling isn’t meant to be a place where you judge yourself. Remember the practice of meditation is non-judgemental. Anyway, doesn’t the world judge you enough? Why do you want to do it to yourself? Even if you don’t feel or notice anything in particular just jot down a note about that. The journaling doesn’t have to be long or even profound. Just a few sentences or bullet points is enough.

Summary of starting your meditation practice

  1. Find a consistent time during the day when you meditate.

  2. Create a dedicated space that you feel comfortable meditating in.

  3. Find a sitting position that you will be comfortable in for an extended period of time.

  4. Sit in your favorite posture. Settle in and make sure that you are grounded in your seated position.Place your hands on your lap or in a mudra. Close your eyes (if you’re comfortable closing your eyes) and just notice the breath. Follow the breath and just be aware of your natural breathing patterns. There should be no judgement about your breathing. You’re just noticing. Your mind might wander. That’s okay and it’s perfectly natural. When you notice just gently, and without judgement bring your attention back to the breath. You’ll do this throughout the meditation.

  5. Start slowly and meditate for a couple of minutes the first few times you meditate. Then build up from there to 5 minutes, 10 minutes, then 15 and 20 minutes and so on if you so choose. The length of time doesn’t always matter. It’s giving yourself the gift of stillness, awareness, and well-being, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.

  6. Journal your experience, especially as you are beginning.

Are you enjoying creating your meditation practice or revisiting your practice with a new perspective? I hope so. Keep me posted on how your practice is going. You can leave comments or ask questions on The Meditating Teacher Facebook page or email me at paulacristina@themeditatingteacher.com

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