It can be overwhelming to think about sitting down to clear your mind, but the very point of meditation is to let your mind take a break from all that thinking! With a little preparation, I think you’ll find meditation a relaxing and important part of your day. Here are some practical tips that may help you start to meditate.
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Regular meditation helps with the immune system, lowering your blood pressure and reducing stress levels. Your brain pattern changes with a consistent meditation practice. After just a few weeks practicing 20 or 30 minutes a day, you can improve your cognitive functioning, self-awareness and empathy, along with other aspects of your humanity. (Source: In Search of Buddha’s Daughters: The Hidden Lives and Fearless Work of Buddhist Nuns)
When to Meditate
Probably the most important thing about starting your practice is finding a reliable time when you can realistically make the time to sit every day. A sporadic schedule makes things difficult. The easiest way to form a new habit is to tag your new task on to an existing responsibility you take on every day– like you could meditate every day before breakfast or you could meditate every night after you brush your teeth. You will always have that original responsibility to remind you to meditate. It takes 21-28 days to make a new habit so until meditation is one of your habits, it may help to attach it to an existing one.
It’s also very important to set the stage for yourself. You need a comfortable clean environment that can become sacred for you. You want a spot that’s as distraction-free as possible. It helps if you have the time and space to make a meditation space– use a meditation cushion, candles, meaningful images, etc. Click the image to the right to see more about creating your own yoga and meditation space.
Take a moment before you begin to set your body up for the practice as well. Maybe take a couple of easy stretches. Maybe bow to each direction, acknowledging the universal presence around you. Definitely take a couple of calming breaths. – allow yourself to slowly succumb to the mood of meditation.
You’ll definitely want a timer to start. That way you won’t have to keep peeping through one creased eye to glance at the clock. Start simple; I recommend 10 minutes.
It’s typical to be seated on a small pillow during meditation. If you elevate your hips above your legs it can help to keep your legs from falling asleep. It’s ok if you want to set up next to a wall and use it to support your back. It’s also ok if you prefer to sit in a chair. It’s even ok if you want to lay down (though this is a potential sleep danger). You can even stand to meditate or take a slow walking meditation. There isn’t a right way; whatever position suits you best in the moment is the best one. Meditation is about your mind not the shape you set your body in. The only goal is to find a position that keeps you comfortable so you can give yourself the best possible chance at staying focused.
It’s super hard to sit down and just clear all of the thoughts out of your mind. Many people find it easier instead of give the mind one specific thought or mood to focus on. Here are some ideas.
- Follow your breath- watch it go in and out of your body, feel it coming through your nose and going down into your lungs and your belly, feel each molecule coming back up through your body and exiting your nose again. Try not to control your breath, but observe it.
- Look for the spaces between your breath at the top of the inhale and exhale- focus on that eternal space.
- Imagine a light at your heart center or your third eye. Focus on watching it grow with each inhale and spread with each exhale. Watch the light glow.
- If you’re struggling with thoughts, let a cloud come and carry each one away in turn. Watch the beautiful sky.
- Also, you can attach your inhale and exhale to a phrase.
- in (on your inhale) and out (on your exhale) that being the universal energy, everything at once
- so hum- I am that- or that I am if you accidentally flip the phrase around
- Thich Nhat Hanh style
- Alternatively these phrases can be attached to each bead of a mala necklace
- Also, you can meditate on a poem, idea or feeling
All of these thoughts and suggestions are for giving you a good chance at making it work. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, especially at first. Expect that at some point you’re going to wonder how long it’s been, or you’ll notice something about your position is becoming uncomfortable or you’ll start to make a to-do list or you’ll remember something very important and feel compelled to go do it immediately. It’s normal. All of it and more. Some days will be easier than others, even for experienced practitioners. The key is not to be upset at yourself- to acknowledge the thought or the pain or the idea and let it pass. You can meditate with a notebook beside you to jot ideas down if you struggle too much at letting them go.
After your Meditation
Before you rush off to your next task, take a moment to thank yourself for the gift you’ve given yourself. Even if it was not your most successfully quiet-minded practice, it’s still a wonderful way to honor yourself. Also, you can dedicate your practice- choose someone you know and love, a deity, eternal oneness, someone in need, a worldwide issue, whatever you like and send the good vibes of your meditation off to that cause.
Another really beneficial thing to do after meditation is to take a moment to journal about your experience. It helps to see how far you’ve come and solidify your experience.
However you choose to seal off your practice, re-enter this world slowly and carefully. You may be in a dreamy state and it make take worldly awareness a moment to return to you.
When you get to a point where the timer surprises you or after a few weeks, try increasing the length of your meditation.
Look for new ideas and inspirations for your meditative focus. Try out new positions, try meditating outside, try everything! See what works for you and what doesn’t and remember it may be different tomorrow.
Whatever you do,
Continue offering yourself the gift of meditation.