Focus on the Body and Breath
The starting point in meditation is the body.
What does this mean, exactly? It means that when we become present in our bodies, we become steeped in present moment awareness. So, if we practice meditating on the body, we learn how to get present. This is the perfect place to start a meditation practice. (Learn 6 techniques to staying present here.)
The starting point in meditation is also the breath.
And what does this mean, exactly? Like the sensations of the body, the breath is also happening in the present moment. So, if we practice meditating on our inhalation and exhalation, we get really grounded in present moment awareness (Learn about some yogic breathing exercises here.).
Be Mindful of Vritti
All the vritti, or fluctuations of the mind, are not reliable indicators of what’s really happening in the present moment. They’re not a good reference for reality. This is because all the thought waves that come and go in our minds are based upon the past and future. Sometimes they’re stories that we conceive of in our minds according to a really vast array of experiences and ways we identify with our egos.
But in the moment that we bring our focused attention to our breath, or to the sensations in our physical bodies, we leave those mental stories and become present. In the present moment is where reality lies. It is where we experience life and where we learn how to become mindful.
Think about how often you get distracted by your thought waves – your vritti. Think of how you become a sort of daydreamer, sleepwalking your way through life. Sometimes we do this because the reality of our life feels too painful, so we create fantasies and stories to get out of the present moment. This is natural, but it’s not ultimately healthy. We do this because we all want to cling to pleasure and avoid pain. This is our biology speaking. But, in the end, it makes us unhappy because we rely upon conditions outside of ourselves to feel good.
The practice of meditation on the breath and on the body allows us to become aware of our thoughts, and aware of how we make up stories in our heads. It makes us aware of all the ways in which we distract ourselves from the present moment.
So, when you find yourself sleepwalking through life – being lost in the clouds, so to speak – simply bring your attention back to the breath and to the sensations in your body. You can do this when you’re out in the world and you can do this on your meditation cushion. You can even do this lying in bed at night. It’s a beautiful practice because you can do it anywhere, anytime.
The meditation cushion is a good place to practice non-judgment. You can close your eyes and bring your awareness to the breath. You don’t have to judge it at all. You simply get really present with your breath. Next, you can bring your attention to your body. You might want to notice where in the body there’s tension. Don’t judge it. Simply be aware of it. From here, you can merge the body and the breath by bringing your breath to the places in the body where you feel tension. The breath is an effective tool for releasing tension. (Read more here about not judging your meditation practice.)
Yoga Poses as Meditation
Our yoga practice is a type of moving meditation as it allows us to become embodied. We get to synchronize our breath with our bodily movement in order to become rooted in present moment awareness.
Take a moment to consider how much easier it is to feel present when you’re deep into your yoga practice. This is because you’re more focused on the sensations of your body rather than the thoughts running through your head. It’s in this way that our yoga practice can also be a starting point in meditation – especially if you’re the type of person who has a hard time sitting still on a meditation cushion.
Scan the Body
Another way to become present by becoming aware of our bodies, besides the practice of yoga, is to do what’s called in Buddhism, the "body scan meditation." You can do this anywhere – when you’re out for a walk, lying in bed at night or sitting on your meditation cushion. All you do is get comfortable and relax as best you can.
Next, bring your awareness to the crown of your head. From here, you’re going to scan your entire body – every body part and even every organ (if you know where each is located). As you place your attention on your head, neck, shoulders, etc., gently release tension that might be hiding in each place. Do so without judging. Remain open to what arises. Scan all the way down until you reach the bottom of your toes. This is the body scan meditation and it’s a really good way to get in touch with the sensations of your body, which are always happening in the present moment.