by Nicholas Orth, yoga instructor
I believe that adopting a sitting meditation practice into one’s daily routine is one of the healthiest decisions a person can make. Whether you’re looking to take your yoga practice to the next level or just seeking to improve your overall quality of being, taking a few moments a day to be still and observe the breath has the potential to bestow incredible benefits upon your life. This article is a beginner’s guide to meditation, offering basic instructions and answering common questions and concerns designed to get the aspiring practitioner started down the path of mindful living.
The instructions are simple: find a pleasant space to practice and sit down with the back erect. I recommend sitting upon a pillow or blanket on the floor, with legs crossed in pretzel fashion or in any other comfortable sitting position you may have learned in yoga class (If your body does not tolerate sitting on the floor, a chair is fine too. Just don’t lean back or slouch). Rest the palms on the knees and begin to breath through the nose, observing the breath but not controlling or manipulating it. Witness this simple activity with curiosity and undivided concentration: the soft flow of air in and out of the nostrils, the slow, steady rising and falling of the chest, the beating of the heart. Try not to fidget or move the eyes, keeping the entire body as still as possible and the gaze fixed upon one point ahead of you. Do not actively attempt to block out thoughts. Rather, when one arises, simply observe and take note of it, and then redirect your attention back to the breath. When thoughts continue to arise, do not get angry at them or frustrated with yourself; just acknowledge that the thought exists, that it is there, and then redirect concentration to the breath once again. The activity itself is as simple as simple can be, but the mastery of it is a lifelong journey that leads to the innermost depths of one’s being.
How long should I practice?
This is a common meditation question to which there is no real answer besides as long as your mind, body, and schedule tolerate. Start at five minutes, 15 if you’re feeling ambitious, and gradually increase the duration as your ability to sustain contentment and concentration increases. Eventually you may be able to sit in meditation for hours at a time, but you must start from somewhere, and the benefits of a daily five or ten minute practice should not be underestimated. Consistency is the key: ingrain meditation into your daily routine (I recommend the early morning, right after your coffee or tea) and its effects will become manifest as the weeks and months pass by.
How do I know if I’m doing it right?
This common concern reflects the beginning practitioner’s anxiety regarding the simplicity of the task at hand and the intangibility of its progress. To many the instructions of sitting and observing the breath seem too simple: there must be something more to it than that! Others don’t see clear benefits within days or weeks of adopting a practice and become discouraged: This seems pointless and silly. I must be doing something wrong! If these concerns creep into your mind just remind yourself that, if you’re taking the time to sit and observe your breath, then you’re doing it right. The activity is incredibly simple but incredibly difficult. Its mastery is the work of a lifetime, and so if you’re looking for a quick and easy fix to your problems then you’ve come to the wrong place. You must be prepared for the long haul and to stick it out without receiving regular, tangible rewards. Progress is slow, and when it comes it won’t be quite as conspicuous as a set of six-pack abs or an ability to dance salsa. But if you are patient and devoted it holds the power to truly transform, bringing steadfast concentration and deeply-rooted contentment to all facets of life.
Nicholas Orth is a graduate of the Yoga Center of Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, holding an inter-disciplinary certification in yoga instruction and a Bachelors Degree in philosophy. He has worked as a yoga instructor in Wisconsin and currently lives in Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras, where he continues his study and practice of yoga. To reach Nicholas with questions or comments, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.