Meditation for Newbies, Step by Step
Here are simple, guided instructions for the practice of vipassana meditation, a tried and true way to anchor your attention in the present moment, helping you let go of unnecessary worries, fears, and frustrations.
There's no shortage of "spiritual positions" suggested for meditative practices, but really, as long as you keep your spine straight, without being overly tense or rigid in your posture, you'll be fine. You can sit with your legs crossed in half or full lotus position, sit upright in a chair with your feet on the ground, or lie down flat on your back (before lying down, however, be mindful of whether or not you're tired, as it can be easy to fall asleep during meditation).
As far as mudra (hand) positions go, put them wherever feels right to you. You can place them in your lap, palms up, one on top of the other; you can place them palms down on your knees; or fuck it, you can even make those silly circle things with your fingers, which has become the quintessential consumer vision of what we're supposed to look like while meditating. It really doesn't matter, though. Whatever feels most comfortable for you is the right position. Once you've got the hands figured out, close your eyes.
Next, bring your awareness to your Buddha belly (or chiseled vegan abs), roughly two inches above your navel, along the vertical midline of your body. Remember that this is not an exact science, so just bring your awareness to somewhere in that area, wherever feels right for you. (Note: Bringing attention to the tip of your nose, just inside your nostrils, as you breathe in and out, is also an anchoring point in vipassana. If that feels more natural to you, go with it!)
As you bring your awareness to your belly, you'll begin to notice that, as you breathe in, your abdomen expands, and as you breathe out it contracts. The movements of expanding and contracting are often referred to as "rising" and "falling," and are used as anchoring points to focus on during practice.
As your abdomen expands, observe its motion from beginning to end. Then do the same as it contracts. It's that simple. Your breath, and the rising and falling of your abdomen, happen naturally, with no conscious effort on your part, so as you bring your awareness to the rising and falling motions, they anchor you in the present moment. If you find you're having difficulty perceiving the rising and falling movements, it may help to place your hand on your stomach to feel them more clearly.
It also helps to recognize that the rising and falling are actually separate movements. There is a moment, after the abdomen has expanded to its fullest, and just before it begins to contract, that it is completely still. Being vigilant in your awareness of this break point in the motion can be extremely helpful in keeping your concentration focused, as it keeps your awareness centered.
As you practice vipassana meditation, thoughts are bound to arise. When this happens, it's important not to mentally beat yourself up. Simply acknowledge the thoughts whenever you catch yourself drifting, and let them go as you bring your awareness back to your abdomen. Our aim in this practice is to cultivate awareness, not to think, so do your best to just be.
As we continue with our practice, we want to experience the knowing of our abdomen rising and falling. This knowing is experienced as nonverbal, pure awareness. The same goes for anything else that may come up during practice. Regardless of what it is, we know it with pure awareness in the moment, and then we let it go.