About six years ago, I decided it was time to dive deeper into my yoga practice. And to me, that meant establishing a dedicated meditation practice–not just the natural quieting of the mind that happens in savasana–but a seated practice that I could do anytime, anywhere. My mind was restless and I was going through many life changes at the time, which drew me to meditation. But where to begin?
I enrolled myself in a six-week mindfulness meditation tele-course, taught by an American artist-turned-Buddhist monk who eventually became ordained by the Dalai Lama. He was a sweet and enlightened man, and in that mindfulness course he taught his students exactly where to begin. He taught us that the starting point for our practice happened within us. And we could pinpoint it by bringing our attention to our bodies, and then to our breath.
Here are six steps to getting your meditation practice started.
Start With the Body, Then 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. (To help get you started, here are 6 Techniques to Staying Present.)
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. (If you're wondering what this phrase means, learn more in Getting Grounded: What it Means and How to Get It.)
Mind Your 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.
Be Judge-Free on Your Meditation Cushion
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.
Incorporate Yoga Poses
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. (For more in-depth information on this type of meditation, try Discovering Yourself Through a Body Scan Meditation.)
Find Your Teacher
For all of you getting started with meditation, it’s a really good idea to find a teacher. An experienced teacher can show you just how to tap into that starting point, so that when you’re on your own, you have the tools to practice anytime, anywhere. Meditation is a truly beautiful thing, and it’s changed my own life in amazing ways. My hope is that it does the same for you.