Mindfulness and More

Meditation for Beginners
By Anne Scherer

“At the heart of meditation is the practice of mindfulness—the cultivation of clear, stable and nonjudgmental awareness. It is this training of attention that wakes us up out of our habitual thinking patterns and reveals the nature of who we are, our ‘basic goodness’ and our natural wisdom and compassion.” This is according to Paula Smith, a school psychologist, professional harpist and certified Dynamic Mindfulness Trainer through the Niroga Institute. Smith is also a certified pre-K through fifth grade yoga teacher through Yoga Ed International. She believes, “Meditation includes many practices, with breath meditation being the central foundation.”  

WHY IT HELPS

Smith—who serves on the steering committees for both the Rochester Meditation Center and Compassionate Rochester MN—has been practicing meditation for 40 years. “For myself,” she says, “the whole process was made so much easier when I realized that mindfulness is an innate quality that every human being already possesses.” Being present can be cultivated through seated, walking and standing meditation. 

At first, meditation may seem overwhelming because our minds are in the habit of making things more complicated. “Meditation is not obscure or exotic, nor is it a special added or ‘conjured up’ thing to do. It is entirely doable and cultivates the best of who we are as human beings,” reassures Smith.

HOW TO MEDITATE

“Basic mindfulness meditation follows the breath, which helps synchronize and calm the body and the mind. When we breathe, we feel the essence of being alive,” says Smith. Follow these steps: 

1. Take a comfortable position either on the floor, on a cushion (“zafu”) or in a chair.

2. Set a time limit (start with five minutes). Any amount of time spent meditating is helpful.

3. Establish a sense of presence with your body, eyes open with a slightly downward gaze or closed.

4. Notice the physical sensations of breathing without controlling your breath. 

5. Notice when your mind has wandered and simply return your attention to the breath. “Rather than participating in thoughts and stories, try gently naming the state of your mind with a mental note, such as ‘thinking,’” suggests Smith.

6. Be kind to your wandering mind. Release and return.

7. Relax and show appreciation for your practice.

“We often regard our meditation as formal practice—with a definite beginning and end—and the rest of our day as post-meditation. Ideally, the two are equal partners,” says Smith. Eventually our meditation practice spills
into everyday experience. Then we begin to notice mindful pauses in our internal dialogue, and we ask ourselves: Where can I find other places in my life to just be present?

Take moments in the day to check in with yourself. Close your eyes and turn your awareness inward. Practice mindful eating or try drinking a cup of tea slowly. Take a mindful walk; slow down.

Smith explains, “The training isn’t difficult; it’s remembering to take a pause that’s the hard part. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Most of us have lived lives of such constant distraction that learning how to be more present takes some time.”

AN ANCHOR TO THE PRESENT

“Your thoughts, feelings and perceptions will likely be present in your meditation,” says Smith. “There’s no way to completely quiet your mind, and that’s not the goal. A more workable approach is to change your relationship with your thoughts.”

When a thought comes into your mind, let it be. Don’t engage—release it. Your mind will calm down. “Meditation is all about returning your attention again and again to the present moment, to the breath,” Smith says. “Each breath is an anchor to the present moment.”