I've paid brief visits to my mind to try and calm it down in the past, but it's only recently that I've developed an interest in learning more of the "hows" and "whys" available to the non-monastic person. So I'm not a teacher—just an "advanced beginner," as some would have it, and one who's hoping to share some advice to nudge a few others into considering the benefits of slowing down, taking time to watch what your mind is doing, and following one's breath.
One more side note: While much of meditation derives from customs, philosophies, and practices associated with certain faiths Hinduism and Buddhism, in particular , the practice of what most people know as meditation, or mindfulness, isn't indelibly tied to religious practice. In other words, meditation is an integral part of many faiths, but those faiths are not an integral part of meditation alone. Yoga exists in a similar sphere. Keep an open mind. For more on the practice of sitting and achieving a comfortable rest, I recommend the Zen Mountain Monastery's Zen Meditation Instructions.
There are many ways to meditate. Some seem like complete contradictions—"Keep your eyes open and focus on an object or light piece of music" versus "Close your eyes and try to focus on nothing. In The Miracle of Mindfulness , a classic text that introduces the thinking and practice behind meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh lays out a thoughtful case for how the breath is connected to the mind, which controls the body.
By actively watching one's breath, and evening it out, one can bring their entire being to what some call the still point. Written less floridly, you'll be focusing on just one very important thing, and teaching your mind how to engage one thing fully.
Sounds like a skill your boss would really value, no? The instant you sit down to meditate, begin watching your breath. At first breathe normally, gradually letting your breathing slow down until it is quiet, even, and the lengths of the breaths are fairly long. From the moment you sit down to the moment your breathing has become deep and silent, be conscious of everything that is happening in yourself. For some of us, that's easier said than done. You start focusing on your breath, and after a brief victory, in comes the growing wave— oh shoot what about getting cash out for lunch I totally forgot to tell Dan that I'd be late wonder if Susan replied to my email.
Hanh offers the simple, straight-ahead counter:. If following the breath seems hard at first, you can substitute the method of counting your breath. As you breathe in, count 1 in your mind, and as you breathe out, count 1. Breathe in, count 2. Breathe out, count 2. Continue through 10, then return to 1 again. This counting is like a string which attaches your mindfulness to your breath. This exercise is the beginning point in the process of becoming continuously conscious of your breath. Without mindfulness, however, you will quickly lose count.
When the count is lost, simply return to 1 and keep trying until you can keep the count correctly. Hanh goes on to suggest that controlling the breath is useful in many situations beyond the quiet moments of meditation. I've found it helpful in the moments before having to do any kind of public speaking, when feeling overwhelmed at the sheer number of RSS items to read through on a Monday morning, and whenever I can catch my brain trying to seek my opinion or action on 12 different matters at once.
The concept of "mindfulness" is also discussed at length in Hanh's book, and it's very related, but it requires a lot more space and different consideration. Photo by lululemon athletica. HowStuffWorks provides a great overview of getting started with meditation , including a shorter summary of following breath, and some pointers toward other techniques:.
The Ultimate Guide to Meditation for Programmers - Coding Mindfully
Seek inspiration: If you are inspired by Eastern spiritual traditions, you might reflect upon an image or icon of the Buddha. Every time your mind begins to shift its spotlight away from your breath and you get lost in thought, you simply bring your attention back to your breath. And then you repeat this again and again until your meditation timer sounds. Then, over time your focus, concentration, and attention span improve, in addition to the plethora of other benefits mentioned above.
Once you routinize meditation and become more comfortable with it, then I would recommend purchasing a meditation cushion; using a chair at first will help you ease your way into practice. With a chair or a meditation bench, you may be tempted to slump, which can cause you to lose focus.
The Basics of Meditation
Meditation benches also absorb a lot of the weight you would have otherwise applied to your legs, which makes meditation much more comfortable. I recommend that you sit on a chair the first several times you meditate, and then switch to a meditation cushion zafu after you become more comfortable with your practice.
It also takes your body a while to adapt to sitting on one, which will make you sore when you first start out. If you have leg problems, or are just looking for something a little more comfortable than a meditation cushion, I recommend using a bench. Pretty much every phone has a timer built-in, and if you have a smartphone, chances are there is a great meditation app for it too.
When I first started to meditate, I remember being dumbfounded at what exactly I had to do after I sat down. Two things especially confused me: how do I sit, and what do I think about? Those are essentially the only things you need to worry about when it comes to meditation. And a lot of the time, you direct it at more than one thing at a time. Actually, most of the time you do. Six things.
How to Meditate
My goal with this guide was to give you everything you need to start up a meditation practice. If you are have questions about breathing meditation, please post a comment below, or tweet at me! I know of a lot of people that follow this hashtag, so if you post a meditation question with it, you are bound to get an answer.
Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need. Behavioral and Brain Functions , doi Attention is a weird beast. A bird watcher and a hiker will look at the exact same forest and see something completely different.
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