When most people think of meditation, they think of sitting still on a cushion and Zening out. Yet, there are several ways to meditate that build on the foundational breath meditation and can be incorporated thoughout the day to bring deeper mindfulness to your everyday life.
Breath Meditation (Shamatha) – This is the practice most people think of when they hear the word “meditation.” It starts with taking a good posture. If you are seated on a cushion, your sits bone should be firmly rooted and your knees should be below your hips with your legs crossed in front of you. If you are seated on a chair, you should take a tall posture with your seat rooted and your feet planted on the floor about hips width apart. Hands should rest comfortably on the thighs and your gaze should be four to six feet in front of you or closed, if you prefer. Spine should be long with the chin slightly tucked and the muscles in your body relaxed. Once you’ve done this, start to take the focus to the breath. Don’t try to control it, but really feel each inhale and exhale. When your mind wanders to a thought, taking you away from the breath (which it will do!) gently label it “noticing” or “thinking” and then allow yourself to come back to the feeling of the breath in your body. Continue like this for 10-15 minutes.
Walking Meditation – Walking meditation is one of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness. Most of us walk for some part of the day, so this is a great “on the go” mindfulness practice. The focus during walking meditation is on the feeling of your feet or shoes connecting with the earth. Pace is not too fast and not too slow. Your hands are gently cupped and your attention is on each connection you make with the earth as you alternate between left and right foot. If you get distracted, that’s okay. The idea is not to zone out from what is happening around you (that could be dangerous if you’re outside on the street). But allow yourself to notice what has distracted you and then go back to feeling your connection with the earth. How does this feel? Explore it.
Eating Meditation – This practice is one of the harder ones for me, but I love it because every meal, snack, and sip of tea or coffee is an opportunity to practice. The idea is to focus on the process of eating. Noticing the texture of the food, the smell, the colors. Is it hot? Is it cold? Where did your food come from? Eating meditation is a contemplative practice. It allows us to be aware of the interconnectedness of the world. For example, if you’re eating an egg, begin to consider all of the people that worked to bring that egg to your plate — the farmer who raised the chickens and harvested the eggs, the distributor that brought the eggs from the farm to a grocery store, the person that prepared the eggs so you can eat them (this may be you!), and so on. When you start to think about your food in this way, it becomes apparent how truly fortunate we are for all of the wonderful foods we have access to in convenient and easy ways. I like this practice because it promotes a feeling of gratitude for others, especially people we don’t necessarily know personally.
Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta) – This may be my favorite meditation. It’s a practice that starts with the self and then beams out to others across the board — from those we cherish to those we struggle with to those who are complete strangers. The idea is to think of the person you are sending this meditation to (e.g. yourself, your best friend, your frenemy) and genuinely send them positive energy though the mantra: May you be happy, may you be well, may you be safe, may you be peaceful and at ease. The words and phrases don’t have to be exactly this, but should carry the same positive attributes. This meditation cultivates compassion for ourselves and for others. Once you do it a few times, you will start to notice how it allows us to see others in a different light – especially, people with whom we struggle. It’s a positive and wonderful way to soften our rigidity and reconnect with basic goodness. I often practice loving kindness meditation when I am walking and passing random people on the street. Feel free to incorporate it into your day as works best for you.