Meditation is a word that often triggers expectations of how we are supposed to practice it. When I introduce mindfulness meditation to people who are new to the practice, they often respond with a degree of resistance and hesitance. In situations like this, it can help to approach meditation from a different standpoint, which views it as a life-long practice.
Approaching mindfulness meditation
People are quick to assume that they can’t meditate or that they are bad at it because they can’t get themselves to “stop thinking”. Assumptions like these are all understandable but, unfortunately, they often get in the way of people giving the practice a try in the first place. I would therefore like to offer some insights into how we can relate to mindfulness meditation in a way that opens up a path of curiosity and exploration whereby we do not carry the pressure of expectations and outcomes.
Whether meditation is familiar to you or not, I hope that you find these personal reflections useful for your own practice. If you are curious to explore meditation further, I have created a 6-week program, with a simple progressive structure.
What is mindfulness?
According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness can be defined as “The ability to pay attention to the present moment to moment experience without judgement”. It is a way for us to practice concentration and through this channel of consciousness, to immerse ourselves in our present lived experiences. By allowing ourselves to become fully involved in our lived experiences, we cultivate a stronger awareness of what we are experiencing in the present moment, and thus can choose to become more mindful of how we live our lives, both in relation to ourselves and others.
Meditation: a method of practicing mindfulness
Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways. It can be applied to driving your car; having a mindful conversation; being mindful of your own feelings and the feelings of others; paying closer attention to playing an instrument; or being fully immersed in a physical activity.
Meditation is one of many methods of practicing mindfulness and is often referred to as mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a westernised approach, incorporating eastern influences, which derive from ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese philosophies and meditation practices. Traditional mindfulness meditation is a practice of concentration that is most often practiced sitting with the eyes closed. By bringing the body into a comfortable seated posture, one can focus one’s attention on the breath. According to yoga philosophy, our state of mind and our breath are interconnected. For example, a passage from one of the ancient yoga texts, Upanishads, suggests that the mind and the breath are bound together:
"Just as a bird tied by a string, after flying in various directions without finding a resting place elsewhere, settles down (at last) at the place where it is bound, so also the mind, my dear, after flying in various directions without finding a resting place, settles down on the prana [energy], for the mind, my dear, is bound by the breath." - Extract from Tias Little book “Yoga of the Subtle Body”.
Thus, we can regulate our mind by allowing it to rest on the focus point of the breath. In western psychological science, this has been demonstrated through studies that link the breath with our autonomic nervous system. These studies highlight that our breathing has a direct influence on our mood regulation, which is interlinked with our thoughts and feelings.
“But what if I can’t get my mind to quieten down?”
Meditation is not about stopping or supressing your thoughts or feelings. However, this is unfortunately a common misconception, which stops many people from trying it. Rather than forcing ourselves to stop thinking or feeling certain things, one can stay with the experience of what is unfolding by allowing oneself to be present, compassionate and accepting of whatever arises. Thus, there is no need to burden ourselves with the idea that we need to stop thinking/feeling and that we fail every time this human trait surfaces. In fact, the attempt to force ourselves to quieten down our experiences often makes things worse. Instead, we can allow the thoughts and feelings to be there in the background and rather direct the spotlight of attention away from fluctuating ruminations towards the core of our breath. When your “bird mind” flies away and becomes distracted by thoughts (which it will at times), then notice that distraction and gently draw your attention back to the breath. By doing this, we consciously choose to make our breath the focus point, which serves as an anchor for the birds to settle down.
The key is to notice this continuous cycle of birds flying wild and settling down by witnessing this process from a loving distance. In this way, you can create a bigger space for consciousness to notice your present moment experiences without judgement, as if you’re watching nature move from afar through binoculars. Undoubtedly, your thoughts create judgements. However, you can observe these “thinking judgements” through non-judgemental observation. This extra space also creates more distance between having an experience and reacting to it impulsively. Thus, the more you practice, the more skilful you become at slowing things down and approaching life from a place of mindful action.
Embrace the process over the outcome and remember that it is a life-long practice without a means to an end.
Learn mindfulness meditation with our new 6-weeks program
In collaboration with Yogobe I have created the 6-weeks program "Explore mindfulness", a guide for you to learn mindfulness meditation. The program is for everyone who are interested in mindfulness meditation, whether you are new to yoga and mindfulness or an experienced yogi that wants to start meditating more.
Mindfulness meditation videos
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