Since I try to do this at the start and the end of my day, I’m usually barefoot, wearing loose comfortable pajama pants and a soft cotton shirt. Hair tied back out of my face.
Sit on the floor, on a nice thick squishy mat. Turn down all the lights except for warm, soft light–twinkly lights or candles. Put on a fan if the weather is really warm, or for white noise.
If someone interrupts you, don’t get mad or shut them out. Put your practice on hold and give them your full attention, whether it’s a cat asking to be petted or a friend who wants to say hello. Let them know that you are going to be meditating and you would like a little while alone, but that you will be done soon and can help them with whatever they need. (Unless it’s the cat– then you wait until they are ready to leave, or do your best to meditate with their fluffy, insistent company).
I sit cross legged with my hands resting naturally in my lap, clasped loosely together. I close my eyes but you don’t have to, I just find it less distracting. Mouth slightly open, breathe naturally in a relaxed way. Try to focus on your breathing, in… out… in… out…
Inevitably I get drawn into flights of fantasy, ruminations, memories, plans for the day…there are so many different ways to get distracted, it is impossible to ward them off or prevent this from happening. When this happens, Thich Nhat Hanh says, don’t punish yourself, just label these thoughts “thinking” and try again. That is, recognize that you are thinking again and, with compassion and kindness, allow yourself to return to the breathing.
Doing this over and over and over again might seem futile but it is in fact a powerful exercise of self discipline. Not harshness, but a kind, gentle self discipline–the kind of practice that is sustainable and nonviolent, that helps you instead of hurting. You are not in an oppositional relationship to yourself, you are just Being with yourself in a kindly way. Imagine you are sitting next to a precious friend, and you have no need to talk, you are just sitting in each other’s company and breathing quietly, being in the moment, feeling the stillness. That is the relationship to myself that I aspire to.
One trick I learned from a dear friend for focusing on your breath is to imagine you are sitting in front of a candle, quite close to the flame, and you do not want your breath to make the flame move. That is how still and calm you are, that your breathing does not make the candle flicker. Now imagine that little flame is inside your chest, it is the flame of life inside you, and you are so calm that it does not flicker, but burns steadily. Breathe calmly, focus on keeping that flame still and steady.
After meditating I like to stretch, or do some light calisthenics/ weights. I mean very mild–no jumping up and down, no running in place, just a gentle enlivening of the whole body.
Meditating can help me feel more balanced when I am slipping into an anxious state. Especially in the evening, my mood can drop, and this little bit of breathing followed my mild exercise is just what I need to bring myself back into a happier place.
It can make difficult interactions easier–for example, if you need to make a telephone call, but you are anxious about how the person you are calling will react to you…if you are dreading having to write an email to someone…if you have been meaning to write to a relative but you’ve been putting it off…Meditating first can help you return to a calm place, acknowledge your fear and set it aside…the practice of gentle self discipline gives you internal strength you didn’t know you had, or amplifies your resolution to do the thing, whatever it is. But instead of coming to it from a place of fear, you are now starting from a place of calm strength and the gentle but steady determination to engage openly with the world, without an agenda, without bias, without letting your fear or anger or past experiences cloud your perception of the present moment. This makes it more likely that the interaction will be positive for you and the other person, and that communication will be successful, and that you will not inadvertently do or say things that make the situation worse, whatever it is. More importantly, it puts you in the right frame of mind for whatever you may receive from the other person. Whether it’s an unexpected kindness that you can express gratitude for, or some form of abuse from which you can quickly distance yourself in the least aggressive way, avoiding further pain to yourself or the other person. Basically, I meditate because it makes dealing with difficult people a lot easier.
Of course that is just one of the many reasons. I hope this was helpful. Also, I’m in no way trying to offer meditation as a fix-all substitute for depression and anxiety! I am a strong proponent of talk therapy, psychiatric methods (when you are in a position to pick and choose the best remedy for YOU, that helps with your moods but does not have bad side effects), and all the various tools we need to make life easier. To make it bearable. Meditation is not THE answer, but it is part of the whole, and it has been helpful for me.