LEVEL: BEGINNER

     First of all, what is meditation? We all have some idea of it, and most people think it's simply to promote relaxation and breathing techniques. Some might continue to explain it as the release of stress and anxiety. These factors are small portions of the whole, and come as a result of meditating.

     To begin- get comfortable. You'll definitely want a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for 15-20 minutes. Sit down, relax and rest your hands on your lap. You can sit on the floor cross-legged with the support of a pillow, or on any chair where your feet rest on the ground. It is not necessary to force yourself into a lotus position if you are not used to it. In fact, forcing any position will do more harm than good. Regardless of how you sit, it's important to be mindful of your posture and maintain the natural curve of your back. That means no slouching. People with chronic back problems who cannot sit for a prolonged period of time can explore other postures to alleviate any discomfort. The most common is flat on your back with your palms up. It is important in this position to stay aware, so as not to drift off to sleep.

     Take slow, deep breaths. Gently close your eyes. Direct your soft, unfocused gaze downwards and start taking a few slow and deep breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Let your breath come naturally, and focus on it. The first few intakes of air are likely to be shallow, but as you allow more air to fill your lungs each time, your breaths will gradually become deeper and fuller. Notice the change. Take as long as you need to breathe slowly and deeply. Focusing on the breath will help the mind from wandering. Should you notice your thoughts trailing off, consciously bring your awareness back to your breath. It may happen many times. Don’t be disheartened- just gently return your focus to your breathing. What’s important is to realize that you have wandered and bring your attention back to where it should be. As you develop greater focus power, you will find it easier to concentrate.     

     Aim to have the length of your exhalations as long (or longer, if possible) than your inhalations. By expelling more used air, you make more room for fresh air to fill your lungs. If the weather is on the cooler or cold side, keep yourself warm with a blanket or shawl during meditation. I have found that meditating with an empty or full stomach may be distracting or even uncomfortable. Try to have something in your tummy, but not so much that you're uncomfortable. 

     Some people find it easier to meditate with light music or other relaxing sounds in the background, while others prefer total silence. I happen to appreciate both. If you like music, choose an appropriate music that helps you to calm down. Nature sounds like rain or waves and traditional Native American music, as well as singing bowls are popular choices that will sooth, yet won’t distract you from your practice. Use a meditation timer or any countdown timer. It reminds you your time is up without you having to think about it.

     Once you feel as though you've mastered breathing meditation, you can choose to continue with it or try other meditation techniques. There are many types of meditation techniques that can help develop your inner qualities. When you're ready to end the session, open your eyes and stand up slowly. Stretch yourself for a minute or two and extend your increased awareness to all of your daily activities. You did it- well done!

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