Esalen's Foundational Yoga Teacher — Teaching yoga since 1968

Mindfulness Meditation

How to Relax by Observing Your Breathing

© Pam Walatka

If you want to do something for your health without spending a dime or lifting a finger, perhaps you should consider mindfulness meditation.

To practice mindfulness meditation, you merely sit and notice the present moment. That's all there is to it. It's the simplest thing in the world. But you could spend a lifetime learning to sustain it.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs have been springing up in hospitals all over the country as a result of research indicating that mindfulness meditation reduces stress and thus mitigates a variety of disorders from arteriosclerosis to zits. I do not mean to imply that meditating will cure whatever ails you. Maybe it wouldn't help you at all.

I just want to let you know that many respectable hospitals have been offering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs for several years now. For more information ask your doctor.

The hospital programs are based on work by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His books and audio CDs are widely available, including the book, "Wherever You Go, There You Are," and the audio CD, "Mindfulness for Beginners."

Stress reduction is just one of many benefits attributed to this type of meditation. Learning to be aware of the current moment can be useful in all sorts of situations.

The basic idea is so simple that I can explain the gist if it right here. Find a comfortable quiet place where you are unlikely to be interrupted. Turn off all electronic forms of entertainment. Get into a position where your back is straight, to facilitate easy breathing. Take a breath and notice the sound and movement of your breath in your body.

Don't try to breathe deeply or any particular way. This is a very passive exercise; just observe, don't do. Just let your breath come in and out, and watch it.

You will find watching that first breath easy. Anyone could do this. But try watching a few breaths in a row and you might find your mind wandering to a different time or place. That happens to everyone. Just bring your attention back to the present moment and watch one breath at a time.

You might want to set a timer to let you know when you have been practicing for five minutes, or twenty. During your practice time, anything that happens--especially anything you hear--is part of your meditation. You are learning to be aware of what is actually happening.

Even though this type of meditation is new to the arsenal of western medicine, it was invented more than two thousand years ago. At that time, people walked a lot and usually did physical work. I don't think they sat down as much as we do. In my opinion, we tend to sit too much. Our backsides get tired of bearing our weight. That is why I encourage my students to practice meditation while lying flat on the floor, or lying on the floor with feet propped up against a wall.

Mindfulness meditation costs no money. Mindfulness meditation requires almost no physical exertion. You could try it for a minute right now.

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