What is an anchor in mindfulness?

At the beginning of meditation practice, we give our minds an anchor. The mind needs an anchor, otherwise, it will engage in the narratives and thought-loops that come up.If you imagine the mind as a small bird who is flying around the garden, the branch is the anchor for the bird. It gives us steadiness in our practice.

This anchor takes the form of a neutral point of reference, usually the breath. And we return to this anchor when the mind wanders. And it is important to remember that it is natural for the mind to wander. That is what minds do.

But the breath might not be suitable for everyone, it might trigger anxiety or tension. It might hold trauma. So focusing on the breath as an anchor point might be damaging.

Finding an alternative anchor

The anchor is what stabilises the mind during the meditation practice and at the same time, offers you a sense of ease in the moment.

Instead of the breath, here are some alternatives:

Using the Body

When using the body as an anchor, your focus goes to the sensations of the parts of your body against the chair, the feet on the floor, noticing how they come into contact with the ground. You might like to choose an area of the body, like your heart, to rest awareness on. And when the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sensation of the points of contact, the heart centre, or the body as a whole.

Use Sounds

Another useful anchor is to tune into the sounds of your environment. This is particularly good if you find the sounds aggravating. You need to find a nearly constant sound, like a fan whirring, the ticking of a clock, a sound your home makes. If you meditate outside, tuning into the presence of sounds can be an anchor.

A Mantra

In Loving-Kindness meditation, an often repeated phrase is May I be Happy, May I be Healthy, May I be Free from pain and suffering.A mantra can be a phrase like this, it can be a sound, like Aum. Choose one that is easy to remember, easy to repeat, and helps you concentrate.

What works best today, might change tomorrow

Approach practice with curiosity and gentleness.No one anchor is better than the other, they are all there to do the same job – anchor you into the present moment. Try them out with self-agency. It doesn’t matter which anchor you use, what matters is finding what works best for you to stabilise your mind when you practice.

Our minds will wander, that is what they do. The anchor is here to guide us back, over and over. And every time you notice that your mind has wandered is a moment of mindfulness.


David A. Treleaven, Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

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