4 Core mindfulness, meditation techniques:
Updated: Mar 2
1. The body scan:
For beginners, this is a great starting point for experiencing the immediate sensations, throughout your whole body, of what meditation can offer you. Some people find it very daunting at first while others might switch off instantly, but by vigilantly observing whatever thoughts, feelings or opinions of it you encounter, you are doing everything right, whatever you think. So, smile to yourself and know that this is by far the most comprehensive way (certainly for your whole body) to begin your meditative journey. It is about noticing your breathing and allowing your mind and body to conjoin with each other. Your mind will wander, everyone’s does, but every time you bring your attention back to your breath and whichever part of the body on which you are focusing, congratulate yourself for doing so, smile and then continue. Do not punish yourself for letting it wander, because by just noticing it, you are automatically strengthening your meditative state, so be happy.
You can perform this meditation sitting or lying down or even standing up. I personally like to lie down for this one because it helps with covering my whole body (as you will find out).
Whatever position you decide to take, settle yourself and relax your body into it. Close your eyes and begin by slowly breathing in and then out. On each in breath, feel the serenity, joy and love of life enter into you, and then on each out breath feel yourself sinking deeper into your chosen position.
Notice your left foot and all the sensations that accompany it: the weight of it, the feeling of it resting on the floor, maybe your blood pulsing through it or maybe even the temperature. Starting with focusing on your big toe, breath in slowly. On your out breath, move your attention onto the next toe and systematically guide your attention through each of your toes, slowly breathing in and out; to the sole of your foot, your heel, your ankle, your shins, your knee, your thighs etc., until you eventually reach the top of your leg.
Now move over to your right leg and foot and perform the same routine, slowly observing and feeling the sensations of every part of your body, moving up slowly with each breath until you reach the top of your leg.
Direct your attention now to the little finger on your left hand, again, slowly breathing in and out while moving your attention from each finger to your whole hand, your wrist, your elbow, your upper arm until you eventually reach your shoulder.
Move over to your right arm and perform the same routine that you just did for your left arm. All the time observing and acknowledging the sensations and feelings that occur, upon each breath.
Now move down to the top of both your legs and slowly notice the feelings and sensations of every body part from your torso all the way up to you neck, your chin, your mouth, your cheeks, your eyes, your ears, your hair until you reach the top of your head.
Be aware of your whole body as one now and, when you are ready, slowly open your eyes, smile and congratulate yourself for completing this meditation.
2. Sitting meditation:
Similar to the body scan, this meditation focuses more on managing your thoughts and helping you realise that your mind will wander but that this is never a bad thing, and can only help to strengthen your routine. The sitting meditation uses a variety of different scenarios that can all be experienced sitting down, with the sole purpose of helping bring your mind back to the present moment through seemingly obvious distractions.
First things first, you need to sit down. There is no right way or wrong way. Ideally it would be good for you to keep your back straight and unsupported but if you have a bad back, by all means rest it against the back of a chair because meditation is not meant to be uncomfortable in the slightest, so sit yourself in as comfortable posture as possible. Maybe try a meditation cushion or use some pillows to elevate your hips above your knees. I personally like to cross my legs and sit on my bed or the floor but do whatever suits you.
Like with the body scan, where the intention is to focus on each part of your body without letting your mind wander, this time you will be guided to focus on a variety of different situations and sensations, while all the time observing them non-judgementally, kindly and curiously.
Start by finding your posture with your back as straight as possible, allowing your hands to rest on your lap or by your side. Partially close your eyes or focus on a prominent object in front of you.
Sounds: Bring your awareness to all the sounds around you. The sounds in the room you’re in or the sounds outside. Maybe your tummy is rumbling or the washing machine is spinning in another room. Don’t make any effort to identify the sounds, just allow them to come to you.
If your mind suddenly gets distracted by a conversation you were having with your neighbour earlier, or by what you might be having for lunch, bring it back to a noticeable sound and non-judgementally observe it again.
If you become distracted by whichever sound has just arrived, perhaps you don’t like it because it is just irritating, look past that emotional distraction and try to just observe it as it is.
Notice the silence between each sound and let it bring a unique quality to the variations of sounds heading your way.
When you are ready to bring your attention back to the room, stretch your arms up in the air, heave a big sigh, and continue.
Breath: Sit in the same position you were in previously, lowering your eyes and resting your hands. Allowing all distractions, thoughts and feeling to pass you by, take a deep breath in and feel the direct sensation of it entering into your body and then leaving on your out breath. Try not to be distracted by where the breath goes or what it is doing, just focus solely on the sensation of it entering and leaving your body.
Notice the way each in breath expands your abdomen and how each out breath lowers it. There is no destination for you or it to reach; you are solely experiencing the present moment with your breath.
If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath, smile for noticing it and then carry on observing it until you are ready to come back to the room to stretch your arms and take another big sigh.
Thoughts and feelings: Resuming your starting position. Notice your breath every time it enters and leaves your body, focus on the sensation it creates as it enters your nose, and the sound of it leaving your nostrils. Feel the temperature difference as it passes.
Now notice any thoughts that are entering your mind and allow them to take a front seat. Observe the process of thinking. Notice how some thoughts are pulling your attention towards them more than others, and how you might want to follow them and get caught up in them, constructing stories to feed their desires. Whatever the thoughts, be they about the past, the future or some cognitive problem you are trying to solve, witness how your mind gets caught up in some stories and is repelled by others. Notice what interests you and what bores you without getting drawn into any of them.
Now practice letting the thoughts be. Observe them for what they are but don’t get caught up in their cogs. If you find yourself being drawn into a thought, observe what is happening, take a metaphorical step back and then visualize thoughts as clouds in the sky, letting the one in which you nearly became entangled slowly breeze past you.
If you come across a disturbing thought that won’t leave you alone, know that you can always go back to your breath, or find a sound that needs to be observed and then let it pass you by. The same can also be said for emotions, be they linked to anger, resentment, sadness, fear or anxiety, knowing that your breath will always be a solid and reliable grounding for you to revert back to if things ever get out of hand.
3. Mindful Movement:
Movement, however strenuous, has the ability to revitalize a stagnant mind. It seems appropriate, therefore, that this very concept can be utilized to boost the benefits of mindfulness up another notch. What better way to look after your precious body than by kindly giving it a workout and mindfully watching over it at the same time. Kindful and Mindful.
I understand that yoga is a similar kind of activity but don’t worry, I won’t be asking you to do any downward dogs in this blog. I am merely using it to emphasize the importance that movement can have on your meditative workings, and dispelling any rumours that meditation is only about sitting still, closing your eyes and thinking about nothing. (which I hope I have proved to you already).
Always focus on your breath, that’s the bedrock of meditating but this time try stretching your body into a certain posture, noticing the stresses and strains throughout your whole body. How is it making you feel? If your mind suddenly wanders, that’s okay, but bring it back to another mindful movement or posture along with noticing your breath.
Like with everything, the more you do it, the better you will get at it; and before long you might even take up a bit of yoga, also. Mindful walking is a key attribute to the eight-week mindfulness course that I am now running through my website, so if you want to learn anymore about this incredible technique, sign yourself up.
4. The Breathing Space: ABC
If you only pick up one thing from my blog, I want it to be this. This is a technique that has the power to potentially retrain an addictive mindset at any given moment, and therefore something I am going to wax lyrical about in later blogs. Obviously you will need to have developed your mindful self in order to benefit profoundly from this exercise but I hope my rather forthright comment and enthusiasm for it will be enough to encourage you to take everything onboard in order to maximize your potential.
The breathing space is a simple, quick (three minute) meditative strategy that has the ability to relax and unwind a cluttered mind at any given moment. You can obviously make it as long or as short as you want but unless you’re in the middle of surgery, realistically, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, we can all break away from most situations – to maybe nip to the bathroom for three minutes to give this a go – so it’s a no brainer.”
The purpose of the breathing space is very simple. You are not trying to banish your thoughts, bodily sensations or feelings, you are merely observing them from a fresh perspective which will give you the ability to address them accordingly.
A, B, C: very easy to remember. Awareness, Breath and Belief, Choice.
You should be used to it by now, so after mindfully observing your bodily sensations at the start, during and after a specific bout of addiction, anxiety, stress, depression etc, you will have become acutely aware of how you are likely to feel at any of these given moments. For this part of the exercise, you need to become aware of the sensations you are likely to encounter at the very start of whatever episode you want to manage and, as such, knowingly understand what is likely to happen if you don’t take appropriate action.
You guessed it, you need to breathe. Make a concerted effort to mindfully breathe. Take a deep breath in and notice the sensation you feel as the air passes down into your lungs. Before you breathe out, notice the short pause between the in and out breath and then slowly release the air that has been briefly resting in your body. If you notice any other sensations within your body, acknowledge and accept them, don’t try to change them, just let them be.
Now question the strength and feasibility of whatever potential strain of addiction, anxiety, stress, depression etc, you feel is heading your way. If you have just felt the warning signs that you are moments away from smoking a cigarette or cracking open a bottle of whisky or about to have a panic attack, praise yourself for noticing its potential dominance over you before it hits and then question its authority. You are now fully aware of what might occur, you have taken the appropriate steps to prevent it from happening and the ball is in your court. Smile because you are now in control.
You now have a choice to choose a mindful action. So what’s it going to be?
There is no shame in calling for reinforcements, so if you decide your anxiety is getting the worst of you or your addiction has popped one too many corks, you are now in the perfect position to mindfully make this decision for yourself. See how far you’ve come – you’ve just sensed something was about to happen and prevented it from going any further, through your strength, so it can only get better from now on in; with the added help of a professional or a loved one.
you’ve come this far by yourself so you’re happy to persevere and go all the way. In which case:
The next time you briefly lay to rest whatever personal transgression is bothering you, exercise it out. The benefits of mindful movement are a mere ‘tip of the iceberg’ for what endorphins and exercise can do to your state of mind. And why not try to exercise mindfully and kill two birds with one stone. If you need any advice with mindful exercise contact me.
Do something for yourself and work on kindfully relaxing and caring for your mindful self. Make yourself happy.
Use mindfulness as a benchmark for your next activity. Go for a mindful walk or cook for yourself as kindfully as possible and then mindfully eat it. Try mindful swimming or mindful singing. So many options, just get mindful.
Shamash Alidina who wrote Mindfulness for Dummies lists a selection of beneficial effects that the breathing space can have on anyone who gives it a go, which is more conclusive evidence that this is not something to sniff your nose at.
You move into a restful ‘being’ mode of mind
Your self-awareness increases
Your self-compassion increases
You create more opportunities to make choices
You switch off autopilot mode
You become an observer of your experience rather than feeling trapped by it
You see things from a different perspective
You walk the bridge between formal and informal practice
You create a space for new ideas to arise
In terms of locations, once you’ve mastered the basics of mindfulness and begin to find it less of an effort to accomplish, know that you can do it almost anywhere and anytime, within reason (you can’t meditate with your eyes closed when you’re driving, for example, that’s just silly – but you can put some of the techniques to good use to keep yourself calm behind the wheel. Meditate on your way to work if you’re on the train, or even as you’re walking. Perhaps you just want to take some time out from the busy streets and meditate in the park.
Prayer and meditation can be effectively the same thing so, if it appeals to you, go to a church or a mosque or whatever religious building you align with and draw on the peace and serenity within to help you meditate.
Once you can free your mind from distractions and concentrate solely on the present moment, you can go anywhere. Find something that prevents your mind from wandering and you’ll be there. If you can focus your mind appropriately when you’re out running, use that time to meditate as well as keeping fit. A friend of mine takes so much care over chopping onions that when he is busy cooking his dinner, he is in fact also freeing his mind and meditating, in his own way. Just choose anything that you find frees your mind and you will be opening it up to positive change.
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