By: Greg Spicer, Upper School English Teacher and mindfulness advocate // MDS Musings Blog
The practice of mindfulness is prehistoric, yet modern interest in the ancient practice is surging. Many regular meditators claim reduced stress, lower anxiety, better overall emotional health, better self-awareness, longer attention spans, lower blood pressures, better pain tolerance, and better well-being. Scientific study, though not yet robust, bears this out. Schools across the world have begun teaching mindfulness, and many of these schools report improved student learning and better behaviors and attitudes. Some schools have even substituted mindfulness practice for detention.
Many good meditation apps are available online, and most of these offer guided meditations that many new meditators find helpful. Headspace, Insight Timer, and Calm are three such popular apps.
Anyone can practice mindfulness meditation without an app. Here’s one way:
Set your timer. Any timer will do, or a clock or watch, or you can just estimate. Pick a length of time that you can complete, even if it’s only a few minutes. You will get more benefit when you build up to longer meditation sessions, but there’s no rush. Beginners might start with five-or ten-minute sessions. If you can afford to devote twenty or thirty minutes to meditation, you’re likely to realize even better results.
Choose a relaxed but alert posture, without leaning against anything. If you’re sitting on a chair, sit near the edge so that your back is on its own. Your feet can be comfortably flat on the floor. Your hands can be in your lap or anywhere relaxed. Straighten your back a little (straight, but not ramrod straight) and let your shoulders relax.
Allow your attention to rest on your breathing. You don’t have to breathe in any particular way. You should not try to control your breathing. Just let your attention rest on your breath. Pick the spot where the breath is most clearly felt to you. That might be a particular sensation, like in the rim of the nostrils, the sinuses, the chest, or the belly. Or it might be the whole body breathing.
Try to stay with your breath until your meditation session is over. Sometimes another sensation, thought, or feeling cries out for your attention. If so, take a little time to observe it without judgment, and then return your attention to your breath.
Try to be physically still. It’s okay to move if needed, but don’t move without being aware that you are moving. Adjust your posture with that same attention that you are bringing to the breath.
One of the first things that you’ll become aware of is that it is hard to keep your attention on your breath. Your mind might bombard you with other thoughts. You see that you really can’t stop thoughts from arising. And some of those thoughts will carry you away and cause you to think of other thoughts that cause you to think of other thoughts that….
When you realize that your attention is not on your breath, stop. Don’t scold yourself for having lost your focus on your breath. Every time that you realize that you are not in tune with your breath, you have become more mindful and aware!
Soon enough, you’ll be able to stay with your breath longer, to relax and enjoy your breathing.
You’ll probably feel some benefit of a meditation session right away, but you might also feel like you were lost or didn’t do it right. There’s really no way to get it wrong if you can manage to sit your way through it. You might wonder if you’re doing it right for a long time. Meditators get better with practice, though, just like athletes or musicians.
Mount de Sales Academy is a private Catholic school located in Macon, GA, which is sponsored and inspired by the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1876, MDS has served a diverse college-preparatory community of learners—students and teachers alike—who are poised to discover, challenged to innovate, and motivated to serve.