MINDFULNESS TRAINING & MEDITATION
People are addicted to daydreaming. We are constantly rehashing the past, or rehearsing for the future. Reliving a bad past experience and thinking about what we should have said, or should have done. Or we are thinking about the future and preparing our responses or speeches for events that may never occur.
Rarely is anyone focused on what is right in front of them.
And this addiction to “rehashing or rehearsing” is also a learned behavior. We have become conditioned to engage in this type of mental behavior.
Realizing how our thought patterns work, and now take into account that all anxiety disorders are rooted in futuristic thinking, it makes complete sense that we should engage in mindfulness training.
Meditation is a very powerful training technique to learn how to remain connected to the present moment. Meditation has often been misrepresented or explained incorrectly over the years. Meditation is simply an exercise for the brain to practice “letting go” of a thought. We cannot stop a thought from coming, but when it does come, how we respond to it will determine its effect on us.
More specifically, if an anxious thought arises when we are exposed to our trigger situation(s), we know that the anxiety will only continue or begin to intensify with additional thoughts. The original thought is basically harmless on its own. However, the initial thought sets off the chain reaction of thoughts that can lead to very high levels of anxiety, and possibly for a very long time.
Therefore, if we were able to “let go” of a thought, we will be able to prevent the follow up thoughts and the following chain reaction of the original thought. Essentially eliminating the anxious thoughts and behavior that was a result of such thoughts.
It is suggested to practice meditation daily. Even if for only 5 minutes a day, practicing every day will have a tremendous effect of recovery for anxiety disorders.
Ideally, the goal is to increase the amount of time each spent on meditating, up to 20 to 30 minutes per day.
Another training technique for mindfulness training is what is known as the Inner Smile.
The inner smile consists of cracking a slight smile; the smile should be almost invisible to anyone else looking, but you feel it in your facial muscles. And counting your breath for three full breaths.
Why this inner smile is beneficial is because you are taking a posture (cracking the smile) and being mindful of counting your breath.
This is a technique that should be practiced once a day regardless of anxiety levels. This can be used to help steady your thoughts before entering, or while in the presence of a trigger situation.
Anxious behavior is essentially a learned behavior, and meditation is a simple yet effective technique to gently change this behavior. Keeping us aware of the present moment, not obsessing over any particular thought or trigger, even if just for a short period of time, allows one to engage life from a different perspective.
The third mindfulness training technique is to just pay attention to what you are doing.
It is very common for us to be on auto-pilot when we are completing our usual daily tasks. Our usual daily tasks actually offer an opportunity for our brains to disconnect from the activity and engage in obsessive thinking.
Our morning routines are typically done without any attention paid to them. Washing the dishes. Doing laundry. These are times when we can easily feed our addiction of daydreaming, and not be aware of what is actually happening in front of us.
When anxiety levels are extremely high, we typically suggest to engage with these every day activities and literally repeat what you are doing to yourself in your head. While putting on your sneakers, literally say in your head “I’m putting on my sneakers”. While turning a door knob to open a door, literally say “I’m turning a door knob”. In doing this activity, we are reconditioning ourselves to pay attention to what we are doing and allows us an escape from the daydreaming.
Even when anxiety levels are at lower levels, we suggest engaging with this training technique on a daily basis. Pay attention to what is in your hands, what your steering wheel feels like, or the water you’re washing your hands with feels like.
This is repetitive training to reconnect you with the present moment and help to break the bad habits of daydreaming that we all have acquired. The more we are connected to reality and aware of the present moment, the less anxiety that exists.
The first thing to pay attention to is the position of the body during meditation. How you position your body has a lot to do with what happens with your mind and your breath. Sitting on the floor is recommended because it is grounded. We suggest using a small cushion to raise the behind just a little, so that the knees can touch the ground. With your bottom on the cushion and two knees touching the ground, you form a tripod base that is natural, grounded and stable.
There are several different leg positions that are possible while seated cross-legged. The first and simplest is the Burmese position, in which the legs are crossed and both feet rest flat on the floor. The knees should also rest on the floor, though sometimes it takes a bit of stretching for the legs to drop that far. After a while the muscles will loosen up and the knees will begin to drop. To help that happen, sit on the front third of the cushion, shifting your body forward a little bit. By imagining the top of your head pushing upward to the ceiling and by stretching your body that way, get your spine straight—then just let the muscles go soft and relax. With the buttocks up on the cushion and your stomach pushing out a little, there may be a slight curve in the lower region of the back. In this position, it takes very little effort to keep the body upright.
Finally, it’s fine to sit in a chair. To help ground the body in this posture, keep your feet flat on the floor. You can use a cushion, the same way you would use it on the floor—placing it beneath you on the chair and sitting on the forward third of it. Some people like to place a cushion between their back and the back of the chair, to keep the spine straight and vertical. All of the aspects of the posture that are important when seated on the floor or in the kneeling position are just as important when sitting in a chair.
Keeping the back straight and centered, rather than slouching or leaning to the side, allows the diaphragm to move freely. This will allow the breath to deepen during meditation. Your abdomen will rise and fall much the same way an infant’s belly rises and falls. In meditation it is important to loosen up anything that is tight around the waist and to wear clothing that is non-binding. For instance, material should not gather behind the knees when you cross the legs, inhibiting circulation. Allow the diaphragm to move freely so that the breathing can be deep, easy, and natural. Don’t control or manipulate the breath. You don’t have to make the breath happen in any particular way. It will happen by itself if you take a posture that you can be reasonably comfortable in and position your body properly.
During meditation, breathe through your nose and keep your mouth closed. (If you have a cold, or some kind of a nasal blockage, it’s okay to breathe through your mouth.) The tongue is pressed lightly against the upper palate—swallow once, to create a seal and reduce the need to salivate and swallow. The eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you. Your eyes will be mostly covered by your eyelids, which eliminates the necessity to blink repeatedly. The chin is slightly tucked in. Although meditation looks quite disciplined, the muscles should be soft. There should be no tension in the body. It doesn’t take strength to keep the body straight. The nose is centered in line with the navel, the upper torso leaning neither forward nor back.
The hands are folded in what is commonly referred to as the cosmic mudra. By placing our hands in a specific form, it helps us to be fully aware and mindful of our entire body. The dominant hand is held palm up holding the other hand, also palm up, so that the knuckles of both hands overlap. If you’re right-handed, your right hand is holding the left hand; if you’re left-handed, your left hand is holding the right hand. The thumbs are lightly touching, thus the hands form an oval, which can rest on the upturned soles of your feet if you’re sitting full lotus. If you’re sitting Burmese, the mudra can rest on your thighs.
During meditation, we focus on the breath. Mind and breath are one reality: when your mind is agitated your breath is agitated; when you’re nervous you breathe quickly and shallowly; when your mind is at rest the breath is deep, easy, and effortless. When breathing in, focus on the area approximately two inches below the navel, in the center of your body.
Practicing the Breath
Begin rocking the body back and forth, slowly, in decreasing arcs, until you settle at your center of gravity. The mind is focused on the area below your naval, hands are folded in the cosmic mudra, mouth is closed, and tongue pressed on the upper palate. You’re breathing through the nose and you’re just focusing the breath to the area below your naval.
We begin to steady the mind by counting the breath. We practice by counting each inhalation and exhalation, beginning with one and counting up to four. Inhale— and then exhale—at the end of the exhalation, count one. When you get to four, come back to one and start all over. The only agreement that you make with yourself in this process is that if your mind begins to wander—if you become aware that what you’re doing is chasing thoughts – you will look at the thought, acknowledge it, and then deliberately and consciously let it go and begin the count again at one.
The counting is a feedback to help you know when your mind has drifted off. Each time you return to the breath you are empowering yourself with the ability to put your mind where you want it, when you want it there, for as long as you want it there. That simple fact is extremely important.
When you’ve been practicing counting the breath for a while, your awareness will sharpen. You’ll begin to notice things that were always there but escaped your attention. Because of the preoccupation with the internal dialogue, you were too full to be able to see what was happening around you. The process of meditation begins to open that up.
When you’re able to stay with the counting and repeatedly get to four with minimal effort and without thoughts interfering, you’ll want to just follow the breath and abandon the counting altogether. Just be with the breath. Let the breath breathe itself. It takes some time and you shouldn’t rush it; you shouldn’t move too fast from counting your breath to following the breath. Be patient and let the practice work itself. There is no need to rush, it is simply to start the practice and let it develop on its own. What is most important is persistence.
In the process of working with the breath, the thoughts that come up, for the most part, will be just noise, just random thoughts. Sometimes, however, when you’re in a crisis or involved in something important in your life, you’ll find that the thought, when you let it go, will reoccur. You let it go again but it comes back, you let it go and it still comes back. Sometimes that needs to happen. Don’t treat that as a failure; treat it as another way of practicing. This is the time to let the thought happen, engage it, let it run its full course. But watch it, be aware of it. Allow it to do what it’s got to do, let it exhaust itself. Then release it, let it go. Come back again to the breath. Start at one and continue the process. Don’t use meditation to suppress thoughts or issues that need to come up.