28 Day Meditation Challenge
Anyone up for joining me for a challenge? How about a month-long meditation challenge? I'll go easy on you, we'll pick the shortest month of the year.
Meditation luminary Sharon Salzberg has challenged a diverse group of people (including you and me) to meditate for 28 days by following the program she outlines in her new book, "Real Happiness." According to her website, Sharon hopes the challenge "fosters a real dialogue about the potential of meditation to change one's life."
The book begins by describing what meditation is and why we should practice, then it quickly jumps into the four week program. During the first week, we're encouraged to start by meditating on the breath to cultivate awareness. Even if you don't have the book right now, you could start today by practicing a simple breath awareness meditation.
Consider giving it a shot. I meditate regularly, though not every day. I blame it on the uncertainty and exhaustion of parenting, but I know this is my mind offering up excuses. I make no bones about this also being a challenge for me too. So, what say you? Ready?
Breath Awareness Meditation
The following are instructions I give to my students when I lead breathing meditation in my yoga classes. Even if you don't end up following the 28-day challenge, tuck this away in your toolbox for when you need it.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. You can either sit on the floor or on a cushion (elevating the hips is often more comfortable for people with lower back discomfort) in a cross-legged position. Or you can sit in a chair if it's more comfortable for you. However you sit, make sure that your spine is long and erect, not leaning against a wall or the back of the chair. Try to be alert, yet relaxed.
Take the first few moments of your practice to scan the body with the intention of relaxing and calming your physical being. Soften around the neck and shoulders, letting go of any squeezing or holding. Become aware of the physical sensations in your bodym as well as your mood, the sounds and the atmosphere in the room.
Then bring your attention to your breath. Try to bring your awareness to where the sensation of breathing is most prominent. For some, this might be the tip of your nose where the breath flows in and out. Others might notice the breath rising and falling in the belly.
Try not to control your breath. Just watch. Notice short breaths as short breaths, long breaths as long breaths, shallow breaths as shallow breaths, deep breaths as deep breaths, and so on.
Notice the changes in the breath and how they correspond to changes in the body, the feelings, and the activity in the mind. You may also notice changes in your breath depending on your level of concentration, the nature of your thoughts, and the nature of your feelings.
Remember that all you need to do is notice the breath.
If you realize that your mind has wandered away, simply take notice of this and bring your attention back to the breath. Be gentle with yourself as you return to the breath again and again.
It can be helpful to count each breath. Count each in breath and out breath until you reach ten. Then start over at one. If your mind wanders and you lose count, start over at one. You may not reach ten, and that's OK. Just keep practicing.