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How to Meditate for Beginners – The Art of Breath

meditation tips

About 20 years ago I was introduced to meditation through the book – “Zen Mind, Beginner Mind.”  It opened me to the idea of using my breath to control my state-of-mind.  meditation tipsI spent 30-45 minutes, 6 days a week sitting on a zabuton (meditation cushion) and zafu (meditation pillow) for about 4 years.  meditation tipsThis was the beginning of the awareness that breath control was the key to relieving my mind of its perpetual overthinking state.

It was a tumultuous time in my life and each day of my practice took me further away from mental preoccupation and helped me to live in the present.  This awareness allowed me to combat negative patterns and move forward in an open way to the experiences of the day.

 

How Do You Get Started?

First you need to achieve a good posture so that you provide your breath an open pathway.  There are many postural positions to try depending on your flexibility.  Sitting in a chair with grounded feet and a straight spine can be just as successful a position as the more extreme lotus.  All six pictures to the right show a straight spine with relaxed shoulders.

Awareness Exercise:  Let’s take the easiest posture – sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor.  It is important to completely connect the sole of the foot to the floor feeling heel, big toe pad and pinky toe pad.  When your feet are grounded on those points you should feel your body sit more upright and be able to relax your lower back against the back of the chair. When the lower back is stabilized then the shoulders can drop down.

How Do You Find the Breath?

When discussing breath with clients I find that most of them lean towards being chest breathers and not belly breathers.

Chest breathing is when the chest expands by drawing air into the chest area using the intercostal muscles rather than throughout the lungs via the diaphragm.  This is an inefficient and detrimental breathing pattern to overall health.  It reduces blood oxygenation and causes lymphatic stagnation.  See article on chest breathing and how to change the pattern at Breathing.com .

Belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. Air enters the lungs and the chest rises and the belly expands during this type of breathing.

Awareness Exercise:  Let’s focus on belly breathing.  meditation tipsReturn to a stable, grounded chair posture.  Place your hands on top of one another right below your belly button.  This gives you a reference point of where to direct the breath.  As you take your breath in gently allow your abdomen to expand and fill up your hands.  Gently push back with the hand to have the exhale come from the lower abdomen and not the chest.  This exercise can be done anywhere you are sitting.  I use it when I need to be in the car for a long time.

How Do You Harness the Breath?

The mind cannot think about more than one thing at a time.  There are techniques you can use to keep the thinking mind occupied while gaining the great benefits of the breath.  Once you have developed breath awareness it is time to harness it in your meditation.  In my early practice I found counting to 10 in sequence with each breath or chanting through the chakras the most effective at silencing thought.

Counting technique:  In the meditation posture start your belly breathing.  Count 1 on inhale and 1 on exhale, then 2 on inhale and 2 on exhale …. to 10, then repeat the sequence.  By counting on both the inhale and exhale you combat stray thoughts from interrupting your practice.  If thought intrudes while counting stop and begin at 1.  Over time you can tame the brain from intruding by using the breath.  For an in-depth discussion on this topic see “Breath Counting Meditation: How to Build Mental Power.”

Chakra techniqueIn the meditation posture start your belly breathing.  Inhale and on the exhale you will chant the sound associated with the first chakra then the second and so on.  On the seventh chakra there is a moment of silence and then the cycle repeats.  This is an effective method if counting is difficult because the chanting of the chakras can become song like giving further distraction to the brain.

meditation tipsmeditation tips

How Can You Benefit from Meditation?

Daily practice can give you both neurological and psychological benefits.  The breath can lead  you to an oasis of sanity when faced with any stressor.

  • A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators have better preserved brains showing that meditation can be an anti-aging tool for the brain.
  • A pubmed study discusses the positive effects on psychological well-being that extends beyond the meditation session.  The research shows that meditation can be helpful in reducing symptoms of a number of disorders including:  anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and chronic pain.
  • Since strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is the goal of meditation practice.  The immediate benefits of meditation are increased focus and concentration for every aspect of our lives.  The breath can be used like a light switch to turn on awareness/psyche and tune out negativity.  See blog post “The Brain and Transformation – Willpower, Enthusiasm and Synergy.”

Conclusion

After years of working with meditative breath I have developed a pathway easily accessed in a 10 breath count.  My body and mind crave the peace that come from taking to time to JUST BREATHE.  I hope you find inspiration from this blog to start your brain train journey.   It can be a real life changer.

Stacy Gallagher

12 Comments

  1. Thanks Stacy this is a great article. Although I’ve been meditating for years you never can ‘know it all’. Great images especially explaining the points of contact for the feet on the floor. We really underestimate the importance our feet have on our overall well being including how much is absorbed through our feet too. Thanks for sharing I am going over again.

  2. I use a lot of belly breathing techniques to help with my free diving practice. It is so amazing how the mind can relax then the smallest thought can derail it straight out of a relaxed state. Practice is definitely the key!

    How good are those chakra sounds! I must admit I can see myself giggling a little when I chant them 😀 Do they really work? I might give them a go next time I go for a dive! Wait, can I chant them in my head or are they most effective when spoken?

    • Free diving! Wow! It is so great to be able to clear the mind and become blank using meditation. Chanting really does work once you get over giggling. If you have ever listened to chanting monks the sounds form like that. Maybe on your drive to the free dive chant and then go to silent breathing. I use both in that way. Good luck in your practice!

  3. I enjoyed reading your article on mediation, you explained how to meditate very well and clearly in your article.

    I do simple meditation which has been a big part of me learning to cope with anxiety much better, I have found there are many types of meditation how would recommend someone finding the right type for them?

    • Thanks for the read.  The whole goal of meditation is to use the breath to train the mind.  Over time the practitioner learns how to quiet or silence thought and follow the breath.  The two easiest methods to follow are counting and chanting that I mentioned in the blog.  Both give the mind something to do while trying to hone in on breath.  Other people find guided meditation more helpful because they can use the voice of the experienced meditator to guide them through the process.   I think it depends on the comfort level and confidence of the practitioner.  

  4. Hi

    Great information on how to mediate for beginners.

    This is quite a tough one as when we are trying to begin with this it is difficult to see any initial results.

    Do you think meditation is good for clearing a cluttered mind which starts from being fairly busy?

    Can you recommend any programs for beginners to help develop some meditation skills?

    Cheers

    • Thanks for your comment.  Meditation is a great tool for clearing the mind and keeping your focus in the moment.  You may want to try the guided meditations at http://www.insanity-mind.com/1…They have a great progression of sitting time over 20 days that starts with a minute on day 1 adding a minute each day to the meditation.  Guided meditations let you sit still and have a professional talk you through breath and relaxation.  Please let me know how your meditation journey goes. 

  5. Good afternoon Stacy,

    Thank you for this informative post. In the beginning, you said you found this book some 20 years ago and you were in a difficult situation at that time. Is it not amazing that in life these things happen? When one is in need help will be provided in multiple ways, I have experienced that myself.

    There is a big fishpond a bit away from the house and a very big and old tree is standing there. Must be well over 100 years old. A small stone bench stands under the tree. I personally find it an ideal place for meditation as one is surrounded by nature, nature sounds and smells

    I would like your opinion on this. To have your feet standing on the ground, like direct contact with Mother Earth, I suppose is beneficial?

    Regards, Taetske.

    • Your meditation spot sounds amazing!  Ideally we want to take our practice out into the world and be able to call upon it at will.  I use my breath to meditate while driving or standing in a bank line to name a few.  But the development of that skill comes from quiet practice in special places like you described.  I love the symbolism of rooting your feet to Mother Earth.  Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Hey Stacy,
    I’ve definitely learned a thing or two from this article. I’ve been meditating for a few years and have watched its wonderful benefits!
    I think the way you position your affiliate links and how they flow with your article is awesome.

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