How to Start Meditating

Meditation instructions to learn how to meditate
A meditation morning at The Hermitage Buddhist Retreat Centre, Criccieth, North Wales

Basic Meditation Instruction

These basic instructions will allow you try out some meditation for yourself. Unfortunately, this is a poor substitute for receiving transmission of instructions from a qualified teacher.

Some people take to meditation very naturally, but almost everyone finds that they need help and guidance, so do not feel put off if you find the meditation difficult, you are not alone.

After trying the meditation on your own, we recommend contacting a qualified meditation teacher or mentored course such as Living the Awakened Heart.

Below is a free, ten minute guided body scan meditation that can be done sitting or lying down. The body scan is a good introduction to meditation, as it teaches us how to become aware of our body as it is, acknowledging and opening to whatever is present, without trying to change anything. It’s also good practice of how to bring our attention to our breath which we use for the main practice.

These audio guides are led by Tara Dew, an experienced mindfulness teacher and a senior student of Lama Shenpen. Tara uses these mindfulness exercises to help set students up for deeper meditation practice.

AudioFile

 Setting Up

Begin by deciding how long you are going to sit and resolve to keep to that. Ten minutes might be a good place to start.

Place your hands on your thighs, palms down over knees. You need to check that the position feels open and relaxed for you. If you need to draw the hands in from the knees to feel comfortable that is fine. It is not a problem to have the palms together in the lap, but the hands on the thighs [is more of] an opening out gesture rather than enclosing and inward-facing.

Feel the support of the ground in buttocks and legs. You don’t have to dwell on this, but somehow when you have been rushing around and feel pulled out of yourself, just to bring your awareness into that connection with the good solid ground beneath you can have a surprisingly stabilising and calming effect.

The back is long, straight and broad. Interestingly, just thinking this can physically affect how you hold your back. It is almost like giving your back permission to be what it really wants to be. The spine needs to be erect, but not rigid or strained.

The shoulders need to be relaxed, but neither slumped (too loose) nor thrown back (too tight).

Let the head feel suspended as if from a thread at the crown. You might imagine that a thread runs up the length of your spine, through your neck and head, out the crown of your head and is attached to the sky, gently lifting you upwards towards the sky, but without any strain or effort. This can feel literally uplifting. The rest of your body can then relax all the way down from that thread. Your head, neck and shoulders should all be vertically aligned and feel naturally comfortable.

The Main Practice

As you settle into your meditation session, remind yourself of why you are doing it. Whatever your motivation, it has arisen from wanting clarity and understanding. It has arisen from some kind of weariness at the constant struggle of life.

Meditation is about waking up out of all of that into the stark simplicity of your immediate experience, opening from the heart and being fully present to respond in an open and honest way.

This is what it means to come alive, to wake up to our full potential as a human being. There is more to us and our experience than we realise, and meditation is the path to discovering that.

Next, simply wake up and become aware of what you are experiencing right now. Let go of the past and let go of the future.

Be fully present and turn towards all your experience with interest in an open-hearted, confident, and easy way. Meet each experience as if it were a guest, not rejecting or ignoring anything.

Help yourself to become fully present by exploring your experience of the physical body. Become fully aware of your physical presence, starting from the sensation of your buttocks on your seat and then moving on through the whole body. This may mean noticing tension, a sense of ease and comfort, or a sense of pain and discomfort. Whatever it is that you are experiencing, it is essentially awareness itself being aware of something appearing in awareness, right here and now.

After a few minutes, when you have a good sense of your physical presence, let yourself become aware of the breath. Gently notice the rhythm of the breath as it goes in and then goes out. Paying attention to the breath can be very grounding. Relaxing around the simple movement of the breath can be a very integrating and stabilising experience.
If you are too heavy-handed as you do this, you will find yourself getting tense and having even more thoughts. So be gentle with yourself and don’t let it get complicated.

The following ten minute guided meditation explores the natural rhythm of the breath, and the practice of returning to the breath:

AudioFile

 

Every time your attention wanders off during meditation, gently and firmly bring it back to the rhythm of the breath again and again. Treat the wandering as part of the whole experience of meditation. It is not a problem, let go of wandering thoughts and come back again and again to your experience.