zen habits : breathe

The 44 – Practice 1: Breath Meditation

By Leo Babauta

So you’ve contemplated the preliminaries, and you’re motivated to begin again … I recommend you spend a few moments at the beginning of each day thinking about the preliminary contemplations, to keep you motivated.

Now we’re ready for Practice 1! It’s breath meditation, where you simply sit still and pay attention to the breath for a few minutes.

If you’ve never done this before, I highly recommend you try it before judging it. If you’re an experienced meditator, I highly recommend you put aside all your experience and try to fully inhabit the breath as if you were a beginner. Either way, it can be a simple but profound practice.

I have a short video talking about the setup, then a guided meditation you can use to help you practice for the next four days (or do it without guidance, that’s cool too).

This is a fundamental practice that sets up all the other practices, so don’t skip it!

The Setup

In this video, I talk about how to sit, how to set up your posture, and about setting a timer before you start.

[Download video or download audio]

You can sit anywhere that’s quiet and fairly comfortable: on a chair, on your couch, on your bed (on top of some pillows), or on the floor sitting on a cushion or two.

The Practice – Breath Meditation

In this video, I guide you through the practice of bringing your awareness to your breath.

Please note that if you want to do it for shorter (or longer), you can do it without the guided meditation after watch the video for instructions.

[Download video or download audio]

Answers to Common Problems

The questions and problems every faces when doing meditation are perfectly normal, and nothing to worry about. Here are a few answers to common ones:

Q: My mind wanders all the time or thoughts keep coming up…

Answer: This is normal! Everyone’s mind does it. It’s your mind’s habit, and in fact your mind does this all the time. Meditation just helps you to bring awareness to it, because you’re trying to focus on one object (your breath) and you can now see when your mind wanders away from that object. This awareness is what we’re going after! So if you notice your mind wandering, you’re successful. Keep at it, the wandering won’t go away but you’ll learn to be more patient with it.

Q: I’m always feeling like I’m doing it wrong or I’m confused about whether I’m doing it right.

Answer: Yep, everyone feels this way. You’re not doing it wrong. There’s no right way. Just showing up and staying with yourself is doing it right. So keep showing up. And the feeling of uncertainty that’s coming up is the perfect thing to notice for this training.

Q: I keep feeling like I suck at this!

Answer: This, too, is a normal feeling. You don’t suck at it, but everyone feels like they do, because you have difficulty keeping your attention on your breath, you get lost in thought, you get frustrated, and you don’t feel as calm as you hoped you would be. So it’s good to work with this feeling too — see that you have some ideal that’s causing you to feel bad about how you’re doing, see that you are feeling disappointment, allow yourself to feel this. Stay with the feeling.

Q: What do I do if frustration keeps arising?

Answer: If you aren’t as focused as you like to be, you might feel frustration. That’s OK. Let yourself feel it. Notice how it feels. Stay with the feeling. Turn towards it with gentleness. We’ll get into this practice, for dealing with all of these struggles, in a few chapters.

Q: I notice difficult feelings coming up.

Answer: You might experience fear or anger or depressing feelings as you sit in meditation. This is completely OK. Normally we want to run from these feelings, go do something else, so you might get the urge to get up and avoid what you’re feeling. Try not to get up, but just sit still, and face the feelings with courage. See how it feels. Notice that it’s not a big deal. More on this in future chapters.

Q: I get the urge to quit or check on email/social media.

Answer: If you’re sitting, you might want to get up before your timer is done. That’s OK, but instead of getting up, sit for a moment or two longer, noticing the urge. The urge will probably go away after a bit. When the urge comes back, sit with it and don’t get up. It will go away soon. When it comes back a third time, allow yourself to get up. This is finding the edge between working with discomfort and not overdoing it.

Q: I get uncomfortable when I’m sitting too long.

Answer: Some physical discomfort is OK, but you don’t want pain or extreme discomfort. If you’re only meditating for a couple minutes, you might be sitting in an uncomfortable position and should try to find a better position and make sure you’re relaxed. But as you go longer, there will inevitably be some discomfort, and learning to deal with that struggle is a skill you can learn during meditation with practice.

Q: I get bored!

Answer: We’re so used to being busy, to getting lots of information from computers and phones, that sitting still and doing nothing can quickly bring on boredom. It’s good to be aware of the mind’s wanting to run from stillness, wanting to go check on things and do something more exciting. This is your mind’s resistance to staying present. It’s actually wonderful to develop awareness to this resistance, and sit and watch it arise in you. It goes away if you don’t do anything but watch the resistance.

Q: I don’t have time for meditation.

Answer: Thinking that you have no time is actually a form of resistance to meditation (see item above). You have time … even one or two minutes is all you need to do to practice. You just feel rushed, feel like there are other things to do. That’s normal. And again, like the resistance above, you can sit still and face this feeling. Again, more about this process in future chapters.

Q: I can’t find peace or clear my mind of all thoughts.

Answer: These things aren’t the goals of meditation. That’s a misconception. Sometimes it does happen, but we’re not shooting for that. Let that goal go, and instead allow whatever thoughts you have to arise, notice them, and be OK with them. They’re just things that come up, like clouds or wind, and seeing or feeling them is a good thing to practice.

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