How to Practice Sitting Meditation
The mindful sitting practice comprises several stages. To begin with, try just the first stage – mindfulness of breath – daily. Then, after about a week, you can expand the meditation to include mindfulness of breath and body, and so on.
Find a comfortable upright sitting posture on the floor or in a chair.
Ensure that your spine is straight if you can.
The intention of this practice to be aware of whatever you’re focusing on, in a non-judgmental, kind, accepting and curious way.
Remember that this is a time set aside entirely for you, a time to be aware and awake to your experience as best you can.
Become aware of the feeling of your breath.
Allow your attention to rest wherever the sensations of your breath are most predominant. This may be around the nostrils, as the cool air enters in and the warmer air leaves the nose. Or perhaps you notice it most in your chest as the rib cage rises and falls.
As soon as you’ve found a place where you can feel the breath, simply rest your attention there for each in-breath and each out-breath. You don’t need to change the pace or depth of your breathing, you simply need to feel each breath.
As you rest your attention on the breath, before long your mind will wander off.
That’s absolutely natural and nothing to worry about. The fact that you’ve become aware that your mind has been wandering is a moment of wakefulness. Now, simply label your thought quietly in your own mind. You can label it ‘thinking, thinking’ or if you want to be more specific: ‘worrying, worrying’ or ‘planning, planning.’
This helps to frame the thought. Then gently, kindly, without criticism or judgment, guide your attention back to wherever you were feeling the breath. Your mind may wander off a thousand times, or for long periods of time. Each time, softly, lightly and smoothly direct the attention back to the breath, if you can.
Continue this for about ten minutes, or longer if you want to.
At this point you can stop or carry on to the next stage which is mindfulness of both breath and body.
Expand your awareness from a focused attention on the breath, to a more wide and spacious awareness of the body as a whole.
Become aware of the whole body sitting in a stable, balanced and grounded presence, like a mountain. The feeling of breathing is part of the body, so get a sense of the whole body breathing.
When the mind wanders off into thoughts, ideas, dreams or worries, gently label it and then guide the attention back to a sense of the body as a whole, breathing as in Step 4.
Remember that the whole body breathes all the time, through the skin.
Get a sense of this whole body breathing.
Continue this open, wide, curious, kind and accepting awareness for about ten minutes or longer if you feel like it.
If certain parts of your body become uncomfortable, choose to breathe into that discomfort and note the effect of that, or slowly and mindfully shift your bodily position to relieve the discomfort.
At this point you can stop or carry on to mindfulness of sounds.
Let go of mindfulness of breath and body and become aware of sounds.
Begin by noticing the sounds of your body, the sounds in the room you’re in, the sounds in the building and finally the furthest sounds outside. Let the sounds permeate into you rather than straining to grasp them. Listen without effort – let it happen by itself. Listen without labeling the sound, as best you can.
As soon as you notice your thoughts taking over, label the thought and tenderly escort the attention back to listening.
Continue listening for ten minutes or so.
At this point you can stop or carry on to mindfulness of thoughts and feelings.
When you’re ready, turn your attention from the external experience of sound to your inner thoughts.
Thoughts can be in the form of sounds you can hear or in the form of images you can see.
Watch thoughts arise and pass away.
Neither force thoughts to arise nor push them away. As best you can, create a space between you and your thoughts. Notice what effect this has, if any.
Every so often your attention may get stuck in a train of thought.
As soon as you notice this, calmly take a step back from your thoughts and watch them once again from a distance, as best you can.
Now try turning towards emotions.
Notice whatever emotions arise and whether they’re positive or negative. As far as you can, open up to the emotion and feel it. Is it new or familiar? Do you feel like running away or staying with it? Breathe into the feeling as you continue to watch it. Observe your emotion in a curious way, like a child looking at a new toy.
Continue to practice for ten minutes or so.
These subtle activities take time to develop. Just do your best and accept however you feel they’ve gone, whether successful at focusing or not.
At this point you can stop or carry on to choiceless awareness.
Choiceless awareness is simply an open awareness of whatever arises in your consciousness.
It may be sounds, thoughts, the sensations in your body, feelings, or the breath. Just be aware of it in an expansive, receptive and welcoming way.
If you find your mind wandering, come back to mindfulness of breath to ground yourself before trying again.
Become curious about what’s happening for you, rather than trying to change anything.
Practice for about ten minutes, then begin to bring the sitting meditation to a close.
Gently congratulate yourself for having taken the time to nourish your health and wellbeing in this practice.