The Basics of Mindfulness: Practice Instructions
Like every other skill, mindfulness develops through actual practice. It does not develop by reading books about it, listening to lectures, or even by thinking long and hard about its benefits. Mindfulness is experiential – meaning that you have to experience it to learn and understand it.
I often compare mindfulness to skiing, in that to become great, good, or even decent at skiing, you have to actually strap on the skis, hit the slopes, actually feel the weight of boots, the coldness of the wind, the rush of speed, the pressure of braking, etc. Those things are all part of it. Thus reading a guide on “How to Ski” does not take one very far. A curious and related exchange between an experienced meditation teacher (Charlotte Joko Beck) and a journalist comes to mind:
Journalist: I read your books.
Teacher: Oh you read. Well, give up reading, OK?
J: Give up reading your books?
T: Well, they’re all right. Read them once and that’s enough. Books are useful. But some people read for fifty years, you know. And they haven’t begun their practice.
So without further ado, here is a set of basic and reliable instructions to begin or continue your own mindfulness practice.
A timer (a smartphone is fine)
A chair or cushion to sit on
A relatively quiet space where you are unlikely to be disturbed. But if you are disturbed, that’s OK.
Set your timer. For beginners, I suggest starting with 5 to 10 minutes per day.
Sit with your back straight and upright (but not uptight). Your hands can be clasped, or resting on your legs – whatever feels comfortable to you.
Close your eyes.
Begin by paying attention to the experience of breathing – the sensations of the air moving in and out of your body.
Find the spot where you feel the breath most clearly and allow your attention to rest there. Some people feel it most strongly at the nostrils, others at the belly, others at the throat, etc. Whatever spot is most obvious for you is fine.
Feel the breath as it enters and leaves the body at this spot. See if you can feel it through the inhale, and through the exhale, as it happens, each time.
If at any moment you notice that your attention has wandered away from the breath, gently bring it back to the breath and resume.
When the timer goes off, open your eyes.
That’s it, really. I suggest you try it for 5 minutes and see what you notice. I have included a video below for further help.