The first time I ever tried to meditate, I thought I’d found hell on earth. Cross-legged and straight-backed for an interminable hour, I wondered which would kill me first: the pain, the claustrophobia or the boredom.
If someone had tried to tell me then that I’d become a meditation junkie, I’d have laughed them out of the zendo.
Yet here I am: a three-times-daily meditator who credits the practice for my health, happiness and peace of mind.
It didn’t happen overnight. Before meditation brought me joy, it brought me a whole lot of mental and physical agony.
My problem? I didn’t seek advice or help. Yet again and again, life backed me onto a meditation cushion. Finally, I found a spiritual mentor and figured it out. I gave myself to the practice. In return, it dissolved my anxiety, fear, addictions and pain. Not completely, of course – I’m a work in progress. But meditation transformed me.
If you are a beginning meditator or considering a new practice, start with these tips. They’ll help you face down pitfalls and discouragement and build a strong foundation for your practice.
1. Start Small
I recommend starting very small — just 5 minutes a day. Jumping right into 30-minute sessions will be overwhelming and lead to burnout, but 5-minute sessions are doable and will get your routine started. As you progress you can move up your sessions by 5-minute increments until you find a practice time that is perfect for you.
2. Get Comfortable
Wear loose clothing and make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature. It doesn’t matter if you sit on a cushion, in a chair or on your bed — just find a quiet, comfortable place to practice. The lotus position is not required, just sit (or lie down) in a position that’s comfortable for you. Gently close your eyes (if you want — again, not a requirement), take a deep breath and relax!
3. Use a Timer or an App
A timer can be helpful (at least in the beginning) to keep you aware of how long your practice lasts. It also removes the distraction of wondering how much time has passed and how much longer you have to go. Alternatively, many people find using an app helpful with their practice. There are many meditation apps available, some for payment and some completely free. Do some searching and see if there’s an app that would fit your needs and enhance your practice.
4. Remove Distractions
It’s important to eliminate as many distractions as you can to stay relaxed and focused. Before beginning your practice, turn off your cell phone (or put it in another room). Silence any notifications from your computer or phone. If possible, let people in your household know when you’re meditating so that they won’t disturb you. (This can be tough if you have children. Try enlisting your partner’s help during your practice time – if they meditate as well you can return the favor!)
5. Focus on Your Breathing
Once you’re settled in, turn your attention to your breathing. Try taking slow, deep breaths, holding them for a count of 5 and then slowly releasing to a count of 5. Don’t worry if this doesn’t come easily at first; just keep your attention on your breath and your mind and body will relax.
6. Don’t Worry If Your Mind Wanders
Your mind will wander, that is completely normal. The goal of meditation is not to ‘stop’ your thoughts; rather, you can observe them, acknowledge them and let them go. Just keep returning your attention to your breathing and focus to calm your mind.
7. Observe Your Body
Observe what physical sensations you’re feeling as you practice; this will help you stay connected to your body. Don’t ignore (or judge) any feelings of physical discomfort, simply observe them and focus on your breathing.
8. Relax and Don’t Judge Your Practice
Don’t worry that you’re doing it wrong; there is no right or wrong way to meditate, only the way that works best for you. Trust yourself, trust the process and allow your experience to unfold in its own way, without expectation or judgment.
9. Commit To Your Practice
Give meditation time to become a part of your life. Add reminders to your calendar every day for the first month when it’s time to meditate. Eventually the habit will be established but in the beginning it’s important to make a conscious commitment.
10. Find A Community
Some people enjoy meditating alone; others find their practice is enhanced by sharing it with others. Many communities have Zen or Tibetan meditation centers where you can go and meditate with a group. Or you can find many online groups that you can join and get support and encouragement for your practice.
A guest post by Kate Taylor