Most teachers start by making you aware of every part of your physical bodies that you touch with your mind by saying to your self this is my big toe and you become aware of how it feel in your shoe and how it connects with your next toe and how that feels, and you work your way up through all the body parts right up to the crown of your head. Once you finish you are either asleep or totally relaxed. It is as if your body had been waiting for this kind of attention for millennia.
The next stage maybe doing some yoga mediation where as you stretch your mind is totally focussed on that activity and last but not least you sit in a chair or on a mediation couching with a straight back and focus on your breath while watching your persistent thoughts float by like frames in a movie reel, letting go each time of each frame.
Sounds easy but is in fact very difficult, as our thoughts rule us we discover, we never actually have a 2 second space between them. Buddhist call it monkey mind.
Sometimes a teacher may start with giving students a raison to eat and tells them to be totally aware of all the sensations in their mouth and to take 5 minutes before they actually swallow. When students share their experiences they often say that they have never been aware of what they eat, just shovelling stuff into their mouths while on the run. When people eat mindfully they generally stop having a weight problem, one way or the other.
All living can be done mindfully, so why don't we live that way? Because we are trained to have our minds focussed on either the past or future as we grow from childhood to adulthood. As children we were totally present in the moment and as a result saw the wonder in each thing, an ant carrying food to their community was a miracle in our eyes, but later we started worrying careers, money, etc. and the wonder of life slowly turned to anxiety and fear and a desire for stuff.
It turns out that a different part of the brain is actually activated when you live in the past and future of flight and fright, pumping adrenaline.
If we stay in the present however and focus on the now, our para sympathetic nervous system is activated that produces the opposite chemicals making us feel relaxed and happy. The present is actually the only reality, the past and future are but illusions, perpetuated by our hopes and fears and desires.
"A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh examined the brains of long-time meditators specifically when they were not meditating. "MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s 'fight or flight' center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker."
I taught meditation and it was wonderful to see how people bloomed over time and transformed from judgemental, critical, unhappy beings to relaxed ones enjoying life and accepting things as they come with greater ease.