This past Monday marked the start of a new class series I’m teaching entitled Being Here Now. I just recently taught a 6-week series by the same name that ended last week. Essentially this is the same class with different students, although this one is an 8-week series. Since I had to reformat a bit in order to add two more weeks worth of material I decided to elongate the instructions for sitting meditation and also allow more time to go over the practice of deep breathing, which is what I’ll be doing for our next class – both are very simple but not at all easy to execute. This post will be my brainstorming platform of what I’ll be covering in next week’s class.
Sitting meditation is one of the largest tools that we can use and develop in terms of building a strong foundation for becoming more mindful in our daily lives. Sitting meditation allows us the opportunity to practice simply being with our genuine experience as it’s unfolding, without trying to manipulate, judge, or distract ourselves. The “aim” of sitting meditation is to be with our sitting, to be with our breathing. That’s it. As I said, simple but not easy. Note: I put the word aim in quotation marks because we want to be careful not to set any specific goals or purpose during our sitting meditation, as this can be a pitfall to practice. We do however want to be clear as to the intent behind our desire to cultivate a sitting meditation routine. The act of sitting meditation, over time, will allow us to create more spaciousness in our lives. It can teach us to learn how to slow down in order to experience and appreciate all of the wonders of life that reside within and around us in any given moment. This development of spaciousness is also crucial if we have a desire to live more happily and joyfully with less stress and anxiety. If we want to improve our quality of life we must learn how to start slowing down, at least a tiny little bit. This doesn’t mean we necessarily have to stop doing the things we’re doing physically – for many of us this slowing down involves our internal mental activity more than our physical output of energy. Sitting meditation puts us in touch with our mental landscape so that we can start seeing the habits and patterns that fuel and propel us forward, which is a necessary component in creating effective change.
The practice of sitting meditation is a re-training of how we relate to ourselves and our surroundings. Sitting meditation is a very good place to start digging the well, so to speak. If we need to have water on a piece of remote land we can dig a well to gain access to it – in the same light, if we want to live happier lives with more ease and connection we can develop a sitting meditation practice. When we practice sitting meditation we’re practicing to be with the present moment. This translates into our everyday life in the sense that most of our struggles can be rooted not in the fact that certain things happen but in the fact that we don’t want them to be happening and fight against them. In learning how to dwell in the present moment we’re practicing to go with the flow of life, rather than trying to swim upstream against it. Everything that happens in life is inherently and intrinsically part of life. Nothing is separate. No matter how challenging or painful that something is. Just as when thoughts arise during sitting meditation they too are part of us and part of the process of sitting. This doesn’t mean we need to fall victim to them and become lost in their meandering, largely un-beneficial ways but instead it means we can shed light on these thought processes and practice to recognize, accept, and release them in order to return back to the sensation of our in-breath and out-breath and enjoy the simple act of sitting and breathing. The miracle of the present moment is that it is always available to us – we need only to de-cloud our internal environment in order to fully engage with it.
Learning how to breathe deeply is an important aspect of both sitting meditation and our ability to bring our practice off the cushion in the form of everyday mindfulness. Deep breathing means bringing our breath, which is often contained solely in the upper register of our lungs, down into our stomachs so that our in-breath and out-breath can move through our diaphragm. We can tell if we’re primarily using that upper register if when we take a large in-breath our chest very visibly inflates. In order for us to receive the benefits that deep breathing offers we want to bring our breath into our stomachs so that when we take that large inhale it’s our stomachs that can be seen and felt rising more so than our chest. Some benefits of deep breathing include lowering blood pressure, boosting immune function, promoting circulation and blood flow, releasing toxins, aiding in healthier sleep function, and reducing stress.
Learning how to breathe deeply from our diaphragm is similar to learning how to do sitting meditation in that they both take practice. Both sitting meditation and deep belly breathing involve very different ways of engaging ourselves. We’re not familiar with sitting simply for the sake of sitting and most of us are not familiar with the act of deep breathing. Both will take time and patience to evolve and unfold. At first it may feel very uncomfortable and foreign to practice breathing deeply from our belly. But try to stick with it and not rush the process. If you keep practicing it will develop. Over time it will become second nature to breathe from your diaphragm and be quite easy.
Our breath is our anchor to the present moment, helping to bridge our minds and bodies back together. So often our minds and bodies are disconnected from one another. Our bodies are one place but our minds are somewhere else entirely different. It is our mental activity that pulls us out of the here and now and it is our breath that can help us to return. When we practice to stay with our breathing during our sitting meditation we are cultivating our capacity to then take our abilities off our cushion into our everyday life.
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out
Breathing in, I am aware of my body
Breathing out, I release the tension in my body
Breathing in, I enjoy my in-breath
Breathing out, I enjoy my out-breath