Much of the time we can find ourselves in a state of mindlessness. Caught up in the stories our mind conjures up, planning and thinking about the future, worrying and ruminating about events in the past, distracted by technology or aimlessly scrolling through social media. Difficulty comes when we are unable to tell the difference between the helpful thoughts and the unhelpful ones, or when we become intertwined with our thoughts which can lead to unease or feelings of stress. Being mindful requires us to be aware of what is going on right here and right now; awareness of physical sensations (sights, sounds, smells, feelings, even taste), awareness of thoughts, and awareness of emotions. Being connected to the present moment rather than on the magical journey through our minds.
Meditation is one way we can strengthen our ability to be mindful and aware of the present moment. In the same way that exercising regularly will build your physical fitness and allow you to be better able to cope with the physical demands of every day life (such as running after the children/grandchildren, walking up several flights of stairs, or running for the bus), regular meditation practice can build your mental fitness to be better able to cope with the mental demands of every day life (such as pressures at work, difficult family situations, etc).
Below are a selection of guided meditations to help build your mindfulness muscle. When practising mindfulness meditation, allow whatever experience to be as it is; not wanting anything to be different. Some days it will feel great and you may get a sense of joy from your practice, but other days it may feel hard to hold your focus and you may feel distracted by lots of mind wandering. This is absolutely fine, in the same way that some days your exercise sessions will feel great or difficult. We are not trying to empty our minds of thoughts, but rather notice when we become distracted so that we can guide our focus back to the present moment and be less controlled by them. If we build a mindfulness habit over time we can feel the benefits in our everyday lives; greater focus, less distraction, and an enhanced sense of wellbeing.
There are a few tips when practising meditation to help you get the most out of your practice;
Find a quiet place to sit or lie
Meditating in the morning can be beneficial for maintaining focus as the difference between meditation and relaxation is one of awareness. It is much more difficult to maintain awareness if you are tired or mentally fatigued.
Set your intention for the practice by maintaining an upright and composed posture. For the body scan it can be helpful to lay on the floor, but for the other meditations either sit on a cushion on the floor, or a chair. Keep an upright posture and if sat on a chair try to keep your shoulders and upper back slightly away from the back of the chair.
Start your meditation with a sense of kindness to yourself. Allow whatever will be to be and don’t try to force it to be any different.
Three Step Breathing Space - Bonus track
This is a short practice that can be done anytime anywhere to check in with what is going on at any given moment. It is a useful technique if we notice we are starting to feel a little overwhelmed, or it can used to bring a little mindful moment into the day.
Week 1 - Mindfulness of breathing
Mindfulness of breathing is a great introduction to meditation. It teaches us to use our breath as an anchor to the present moment as it is always with us. If we notice we have become distracted by our thoughts we can guide our attention to the sensations of the breath.
Week 2 - Body Scan
The body scan brings the focus of the meditation to the sensations in the body. We probably spend much of our day completely unaware of all the sensations and feelings in our body, and this meditation brings us closer to them and overtime allows us to be more comfortable with what is going on in our bodies.
Week 3 - Sounds and thoughts
Sounds pop in to our awareness without any effort from us. They just arise and then disappear without our control. Using a sound meditation brings us closer to the sounds that are around us, noticing the rise and fall of sounds and the spaces between the sounds. If we switch our focus to thoughts, we can notice how these too arise without any effort from us and they to also disappear without our control. This meditation allows us to see thoughts as transient parts of our experience and not part of us.
Week 4 - Phone usage
A slightly different practice to bring awareness to the psychological or physical pull of your mobile phone. Our digital devices can often control us rather than the other way around. As you go through this practice notice any discomfort or desires that arise and aim to sit with them rather than act upon them. Notice any thoughts that come up with a degree of distance and curiosity as if you were narrating them for a movie
Week 5 - None of my business
Our minds can take us on a magical journey, and sometimes we can get entangled in thoughts, take things personally, or have a desire for things to be different. This meditation introduces a useful technique for decoupling from our thoughts
Week 6 - Compassionate Body Scan
Our bodies do so much for us and we can often take them for granted or even treat parts of them with loathing for not being the way that we want them to be. A compassionate body scan allows to hold our bodies with a sense of kindness and to treat our bodies as we would a close friend.
Week 7 - Compassion meditation/Loving Kindness
A meditation based on the Buddhist principle of Metta. Compassion is the desire to reduce suffering and to acknowledge ourselves and others with a wish for happiness and wellbeing. This meditation uses the repetition of a phrase or mantra to build a sense of kindness and compassion.
Week 8 - Mountain meditation.
The mountain meditation uses visualisation to create a sense of stability and strength. By embodying the essence of the mountain we can build the resilience to help weather storms and hold both the good and bad in our experiences with a sense of resolve.