This week we start adding in a mindfulness practice to increase your emotional intelligence. Mindfulness is the core skill that centers around the ability to be fully present in the current moment. Mindfulness meditation increases awareness of your body and emotions and provides the tools for greater insight into how your mind works. Specifically, a mindfulness practice benefits you in terms of increased empathy, stress reduction, better emotional regulation, and it's even been shown to boost your working memory. A mindfulness meditation practice starts with learning to using your breath as "home."
Posture and Eyes
If you are new to meditation, it's important to start with proper posture. You can sit cross-legged on the floor, upright in a chair, on a meditation cushion, or laying down. The Buddha himself had a notoriously bad back and did most of his meditating laying down. If laying down works for you and you aren't prone to fall asleep in that position, it can be an equally effective posture as the others.
For the upright postures, make sure your spine is relatively straight, your shoulders are relaxed, and your chin is tucked slightly in. If you are sitting in a chair, don't use the back of the chair. Sit more forward in the seat so you can adopt a more alert posture. You can check your shoulder and back position by locking your fingers together and then stretching your arms above your head until you are looking up to face your raised, locked hands. Lower your arms to your sides. This spine erect and more shoulders centered posture works well.
For your hands, you can interlock them in your lap, place them on your thighs, or use any other position you may have been trained in. The main thing to remember about your hands is that they shouldn't be placed in any position where you are pulling your back forward and out of the upright posture.
You can keep your eyes open or closed depending on which you prefer. If you keep your eyes open, maintain a soft gaze and focus down at a 45 degree angle to the floor in front of you.
Count to Ten and Back Again
Meditation is often split into focus-based and insight-based practices. Mindfulness is ultimately an insight-based practice. We start, though, with a focus-based technique and then build from there. This week you are learning the foundational skill of using your breath as a centering device. To do this we teach breath counting.
Breath counting will help you if you are new to the practice. It's a way to maintain focus and to keep returning back to a home more easily when you got lost in thought or become distracted.
For breath counting, you simply count from 1 to 10. You count "1" on your inhale and think "And" on your exhale. You count "2" on your next inhale and think "And" on the exhale. You count "3" ... Once you count to 10, you return back to 1.
If you get distracted, get lost in thought, or even just lose where you are at, return back to "1." You are training your mind to return to "1" and the breath when you've mentally wandered off. By doing this, you are training yourself to return to your breath as home. This will become key later as you build the practice by adding in your body, emotions, and mind in later weeks.
Addressing Your Thinking
When you notice you are distracted by your thoughts, just label them "thinking thinking" for now and let them go. You may find it helpful to use a visualization to release your thoughts and return to the breath.
Many students use a visualization where they imagine pulling their thoughts out like a feather and then placing that feather in a stream to watch them float away. People laying down will sometimes visualize laying at the bottom of a lake and watching their thoughts float away like bubbles to the surface. Others prefer seeing their thoughts disappear as puffs of smoke. More modern teachers will equate this to Harry Potter and use the visualization of pulling your thoughts out with a wand and placing them in a pensieve.
If you don't need a visualization, there is no requirement to use one. Do whatever works best for you. Just make sure that what you select isn't needlessly complicated and that it doesn't add any form of judgment into the process. For example, anything that labels or implies that certain thoughts are good or bad should be avoided.
Start off with 10-20 minutes every day this week
There is a tendency for many people in the west to see meditation as another form of achievement or something new to excel at. Meditation is not one more way to achieve. This is why you are only counting to 10 and then going back and restarting at 1. It's not a contest to see how far you can count before you have to return to 1. What you are learning is to be present and to pay attention to your breath -- not seeing how long you can go without your thoughts or other influences interrupting you.
For this week of practice, find a routine time that works best each day and start off with 10 to 20 minutes depending on how long you are able to sit. This first week is really about building the habit, creating the routine, and learning to use your breath as home.
Once you get the routine established, you can drop the counting and just use the breath itself as your home.
Start this week building this base level skill. You will add to this next week by increasing awareness of your body. Altogether, you will work with the breath, body, emotions, and then mind once everything is added in.
Sundays – Practice Skills and Activities
Daily skill practices and further information to help you grow in your meditation practice or increase your emotional intelligence skills.
My Writing and Other Resources for Students
A growing collection of writing and other resources for students to use to continue their growth.