Below are some simple meditation exercises, taken from The Mindfulness Manual, by Dr Craig Hassed.
The body scan
The body scan is the most widely used mindfulness meditation practice and generally the best one to begin with. Below are some instructions to take you through the practice, or you can use this audio to guide you through a 20-minute body scan.
Begin by being conscious of the whole body and letting it settle. Now, using the sense of touch, progressively become aware of each individual part of the body, starting with the feet. Let the attention rest there for a while, feeling whatever is there to be felt. Then let the attention move to the legs, stomach, back, hands, arms, shoulders, neck and face, pausing for a while at each point. Take your time with each part. How much time you intend to dedicate to the total practice will determine how long you spend with each individual part of the body.
The object of this practice is to let the attention rest with each body part, simply noticing what is happening there, what sensations are taking place, moment-by-moment. In the process we practice cultivating an attitude of impartial awareness, that is, not having to judge the experiences as good or bad, right or wrong, nor do we need to cling to the bits we like and push away the bits we don’t like. Even if there is a relative lack of sensation in one or other part of the body, we simply notice that lack of sensation. It is helpful to practice being at ease with our moment-by-moment experience just as it is, even if it is uncomfortable. We may soon discover reactivity to emotional and physical discomfort, amplifying our experience of it and the suffering it produces. There is no need to change your experience from one state to another, or to make something happen. Our state will change from moment to moment without us having to do anything. Just flow with it.
You may also observe the mind judging, criticising, worrying or becoming distracted. These are simply mental experiences, like the physical sensations, to observe non-judgmentally as they come and go. As often as the attention wanders from an awareness of the body part you are with at that moment, simply notice where the attention has gone and gently bring it back. It is not a problem that thoughts come in, or the mind becomes distracted. The mind is just doing what the mind does. Thoughts become a problem only if we make them one. A sense of clarity or insight often arises during the meditation practice that leads to a temptation to start planning things or sorting out problems during meditation. As tempting as that is, defer such activities until after the practice is over, and then use the mindful state of mind for useful work. Let the transition from formal mindfulness meditation practice in stillness to being informally mindful while engaged in daily activities be a seamless one.
It may not be obvious to us throughout the formal mindfulness practice, but we are not only practicing attention. We are also practicing cognitive abilities, such as curiosity, an attitude of acceptance, non-attachment, an ability to distinguish between imagination and reality, being present, equanimity, patience and even courage. When we regularly practice it in the chair, we soon find that we increasingly take these qualities into our day when we get out of the chair.
Meditating on the breath
Just as the attention can be focused on the body, focusing on the breath can also be particularly useful for mindfulness meditation practice. The attention can be settled on the breath as it passes in and out of the body. The point of focus could be right where the air enters and leaves through the nose, or it could be where the stomach rises and falls with the breath.
Just as with the body scan, no force is required. Here there is no need to regulate the breathing. Let the body do that for you. Again, if distracting thoughts and feelings come to awareness, carrying the attention away with them, just be aware of them, but let them come and go by themselves. The less we do the better. There is no need to ‘battle’ with them or ‘get rid’ of them. There is no need even to try and stop these thoughts coming into the mind, nor to try and force them out. Trying to force thoughts and feelings out just feeds them with attention, makes them stronger, and increases their impact. Simply practice being less preoccupied about them or reactive to them. They will settle by themselves and all the more quickly if we learn not to get involved in them. Like trains of thought, we don’t have to fight with the trains or stand in front of them, but nor do we need to get on them just because they are there.
Here is a guided 20-minute combined meditation practice.