Mindfulness Meditation: Guided Practices
Awareness of the Breath
This practice will help you guide your attention more often to what’s going on in the present, rather than being caught up elsewhere in your mind. The sensation of breathing is often used only because your breath is with you all the time. The practice isn’t about trying to change how you breathe; your breath simply provides a focus for your attention.
With mindfulness, the only intention is to attend to the moment as best you can. You aren’t striving to transcend anything, get anywhere, or block out anything out. There’s not even a goal of relaxation. That often happens, but you can’t force yourself into feeling it.
You also cannot be good or bad at meditation. You’ll never fix unwavering attention on your breath. Some days meditation allows you a few moments of peace; other days your mind will remain busy. If you’re distracted almost the entire time and still come back to one breath, that’s perfect. And if you practice, you’ll find yourself focusing more often on life with less effort.
Below, you’ll find instructions for practicing this type of focused awareness.
Sit comfortably, finding a stable position you can maintain for a while, either on the floor or in a chair. If not using a guided audio track, set a timer to avoid clock-watching.
Close your eyes if you like, or leave them open and gaze downward toward the floor.Draw attention to the physical sensation of breathing, perhaps noticing the always-present rising and falling of your abdomen or chest, or perhaps the air moving in and out through your nose or mouth. With each breath, bring attention to these sensations. If you like, mentally note, “Breathing in… Breathing out.”
Many times over, you’ll get distracted by thoughts or feelings. You may feel distracted more often than not. That’s normal. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking or anything else. Without giving yourself a hard time or expecting anything different, when you discover that your attention has wandered, notice whatever has distracted you and then come back to the breath.
Practice pausing before making any physical adjustments, such as moving your body or scratching an itch. With intention, shift at a moment you choose, allowing space between what you experience and what you choose to do.
Let go of any sense of trying to make something happen. For these few minutes, create an opportunity to not plan or fix or whatever else is your habit. Exert enough effort to sustain this practice, but without causing yourself mental strain. Seek balance in this way; if you find yourself mostly daydreaming and off in fantasy, devote a little extra effort to maintaining your focus.
Breathing in and breathing out, return your attention to the breath each time it wanders elsewhere.
Practice observing without needing to react. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back over and over again without judgment or expectation. It may seem simple, but it’s never easy.
This is a body scan. If you’re a parent, you might choose to do this with your child, or feel free to use the audio as part of bedtime or at any other time of the day. Lie down on your back. Let your legs and your arms relax and fall to the sides. Settle yourself in a comfort-able position and close your eyes.
Start by taking two or three gentle, large breaths. Pay attention to how that feels. Your belly rises and falls. Air moves in and out of your body. If you like, place a hand on your belly and feel it move with each breath.
Now we’re going to pay attention to the other parts of the body. Start with your feet. They might feel warm or cold, wet or dry, relaxed or restless. It’s also okay if you feel nothing at all. If you can, relax your feet now. If that’s hard to do, that’s fine. Take a moment and notice how that feels too.
For these few minutes, let yourself be still. There’s nothing to do. Pay attention as best you can. You might feel a blanket or socks on your feet, or you might feel them pressing against the bed or the floor. When your mind gets busy, gently bring your attention back to your feet again.
Now move your attention to your lower legs, noticing whatever is there. Do they feel heavy, light, warm, cold, or something else? Let go of frustration and trying to do anything. Just do your best and give yourself a few moments of rest.Next, move your attention to your knees and relax them. Feel the front, back, and sides of your knees.
After a few more breaths, move your attention to your upper legs. Whatever you feel, or don’t feel, is fine. Notice your legs and let them relax. If you feel restless or wiggly, that’s okay too. That happens.
Now move your attention to your belly. It always moves when you breathe, rising and falling, like waves on the sea. You might feel something on the inside, like full or hungry. You might notice the touch of your clothing or a blanket. You might even feel emotions in your belly, like happy or sad or upset.
Next, bring your attention to your chest. Notice it rising and falling as you breathe. If you feel that it’s hard to focus, that’s normal. Gently practice coming back again and again to how your chest feels when you breathe.
Now turn your attention to your hands. There is no need to move them or do anything with them. They may be touching the bed, or the floor, or somewhere on your body. Relax them if you can, and if not, simply paying attention to your hands for another moment.
Move your attention up into your arms. Maybe notice if you can find a moment of stillness inside you, like the pause at the end of each breath.
Next, move your attention around to your back. How does it feel against the bed or the floor? Notice how it rocks with each breath. When your mind gets busy or angry or scared, you can always come back to how your body feels in this way for a moment.
Now move attention to your neck and shoulders, letting go and relaxing them. If your mind wanders, that’s fine. No one can pay attention all the time. Just keep returning to noticing your body whenever you find yourself thinking of something else.
And now feel your face and head. What expression do you have right now? What would it feel like to smile? What else do you notice in your face, your head, and in your mind?
Finally, spend a few moments, paying attention to your whole body. If it is easier, continue to pay attention to your breath. If it’s time for sleep, let that happen, remaining still and continuing to pay attention to your breath or feelings in your body. And if it’s time to wake up, open your eyes and sit for a few moments before deciding when to move again.
Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2015 by Mark Bertin, from Mindful Parenting for ADHD