Mindfulness meditations use an object of awareness, called an anchor, where we rest and return our attention during the meditation. A key element of the meditation journey is discovering which anchors work best for you.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of training the mind to be present in the here and now. Being present has its own set of well-researched benefits, not the least of which is a greater sense of happiness. But mindfulness also gives us a platform from which we can radically transform our sense of well-being for the better (even for skeptics).
Once the mind is trained to sustain attention in the present moment, fully attuned to thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations or even our surrounding environment, we can use awareness and concentration to explore deeper into our mind and world. We are able to move past concepts, stories, and habitual patterns and touch into raw reality.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before reaching any radical transformation or Truth with a capital T, we have to establish a baseline level of awareness and concentration.
To do this, mindfulness meditations typically use an object of awareness, often called an anchor, where we can rest and return our attention during the meditation. A key element of the meditation journey is discovering which anchors work best for you.
Below, we have meditations for some of the most common anchors, so that you can find what works best for you. Upon trying them, you will notice they are not mutually exclusive. Each contains elements of the others and you may find that a hybrid of anchors works best for your journey.
Mindfulness of Breath
The most common anchor is the breath. It works well as an anchor because the breath is always there. Breathing happens without conscious effort and constantly changes. Exactly how you pay attention to the breath may change depending on where you receive your instructions.
Some people don’t connect with the breath as an anchor, and there is nothing wrong with that. We may have specific negative or traumatic experiences that are triggered by a focus on the breath. There are a variety of other reasons the breath may not be your best anchor. One is that, surprisingly, many modern people are actually unable to breath properly.
Mindfulness of Body
The sensations of the body can serve as a good anchor too. Awareness of body meditations often scan through the body. And this type of continual movement of attention is useful and in piquing our curiosity. Though at first it may be hard to notice sensations in certain parts of the body, other parts of the body, such as the hands, are often more accessible.
Some people feel uncomfortable being so intimately in their bodies, so a different anchor may be a better avenue into mindfulness.
In a recent episode, meditation teacher Scott Tusa described how an open awareness practice resonated with him and allowed him to deepen his meditation practice. A sense of striving can sometimes arise in a meditation when we try to focus too intently on one object like the breath.
Open awareness practice can use any object that arises in our consciousness as the object of meditation for a continual noticing of what I am aware of in this moment. It could be a sound or smell, our breath or body, or a thought or sensation. The “openness” of open awareness practice helps meditators practice the core idea of mindfulness: being aware of the present moment without judging it or identifying with it or wanting it to be any different than what it is.
The reason this practice may not be best for some is that it takes a certain discipline to stay mindful when the attention is allowed to go anywhere.
Mindfulness of Thoughts
Paying attention to thoughts can be a rewarding practice. New meditators often exert so much energy in resisting thoughts arising (although that’s not the goal), that it can be very freeing to instead turn toward the thoughts; just be with the thoughts as they rise and fall away without indulging any stories about those thoughts or judging those thoughts.
Most people use one of the first three methods to build mindfulness and then layer working with thoughts afterwards, because working with thoughts can easily pull meditators into states of thinking about meditating instead of resting in awareness.