A Guide to Practicing Sitting Meditation

A Guide to Practicing Sitting Meditation

I like to think of practicing mindfulness meditation as being like walking a labyrinth. This labyrinth, however, begins at the center and spirals outward, then returns to where it began: the center.

Come to a comfortable seated position.

If you are sitting on a chair, sit with feet flat on the floor, hands resting in your lap or on your knees or thighs, spine erect but comfortable and head level, chin slightly tucked.

If you are seated on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably, hands, spine head and chin as above. It is not necessary to sit in lotus or half lotus position, though it’s fine if you can.

Observe your breathing.

Begin by bringing your attention to the activity of respiration. Gently observe the movement of your breath as it enters and leaves the body. You might consider one of three focal points for observing the breath

  1. At the nostrils, where the breath enters and leaves the body,
  2. At the abdomen, which rises and falls with each in breath and out breath,
  3. Follow the entire movement or journey of each breath as it enters at the nostrils, as the belly rises, then falls, and then leaves the body as it leaves at the nostrils.

Let your body do what it naturally does. It knows what it is doing; it has been breathing since the day you were born.

Stay with focusing and following your breathing for as long as seems right for you, until you feel comfortably grounded at the center.

When ready for a shift, imagine you are taking your first turn walking your inner labyrinth.

Taking your first turn in the spiral outward, you are practicing grounding yourself in your body.

Focus on your physical self

Focusing first on your feet, simply notice your feet making contact with the floor or earth. Next bring your attention to your bottom where it makes contact with your cushion or seat. Next bring your attention to your hands, just noticing their weight and where they make contact with your lap, thighs or knees. Next bring your attention to your lips where they press together, then your closed eyes, feeling the weight of your eye lids.

Once your feel grounded in your body, take another turn in the spiral, by observing or noticing sensations in the body just as it is. Sensations such as temperature, tension and relaxation, contraction, and any aches, tremors, or itches.

Focus on your mental self

When you are ready, take another turn by shifting your attention to noticing any thoughts and emotions that arise. Simply be aware of them just as they are. Bring a gently curiosity to them. You need not follow them down a rabbit hole or lose your attention by creating a storyline about them. Simply observe, notice what is present and let them go, returning each time to the breath. (This by the way is how we learn letting go).

You may notice some thoughts are strange or bizarre. Some may be horrible. Do not judge them. Do not be alarmed by them. Just notice them and let the go. Some may be pleasant and attractive, some may be juicy. Do not become attached to them. Just notice them and let them go. (This by the way is how we learn that we have thoughts, yet they do not have us.)

Focus on your emotional self

You may notice all sorts of emotions that may arise. They usually arise, you may notice, in the company of thoughts. Some are pleasant. Some are painful. You are learning to create a holding place or environment where feel them, accept them without judgment, be curious about them, learn from them and let them go. (This is by the way, how we learn that we have emotions, but they do not have us, or necessarily have to carry us away with them.)

Focus on your senses

When you are ready, take another turn by shifting your attention outside yourself to anything your senses present from the environment around you. If your eyes are closed, you will likely be relying mainly on your sense of hearing. Simply notice the sounds as they appear. If it is steady sound, just notice that. If it is a temporary or transient sound, just notice it come and go. Notice whether it is loud or soft, whether it intensifies or fades. You may notice sounds that originate from your body: digestive sounds, your heart beat, or with respiration. Your other senses may notice sensations too, smells or tastes.

When you are ready, make the final turn into choice-less awareness, simply notice whatever comes (and goes) into your awareness as sensations, thoughts and emotions, or through your senses. Stay with it as long as it feels natural and comfortable to do so.

When you are ready, bring your attention full circle, back to your breathing.

Return to your center from whence you started. Stay with your breathing for as long as you wish. When you are ready, allow your eyes to open slowly (if they are closed) and give your vision time to adjust to your surroundings. When you are fully alert and oriented, rise and go about your business.


David AgeeDavid Agee, LMSW, is a therapist at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic and is providing teletherapy during the pandemic.

He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Detroit, an MDiv at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. and an MSW from Grand Valley State University.

As a therapist, David is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, narrative therapy, motivational interviewing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, and mindfulness based cognitive therapy.

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