5 Tips to Get you Started on a Daily Meditation Practice
- Plan ahead
A good time to meditate is right after you wake up, before your mind is busy with thoughts and activities of the day. If you normally feel sluggish in the morning, take a look at your nighttime routine. Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old healing system of India, suggests following nature’s rhythm, e.g. waking at sunrise and quieting down at sunset. Try getting a good 6-8 hours of sleep each night and avoid stimulating food, conversation and activities prior to sleep. Even though sitting in front of the TV or computer, may sound relaxing, the bright light produced by TV’s and computers can disrupt a good night’s sleep.
- Wake up 15 minutes earlier
If you use an alarm, choose a quiet setting for the ringer and place it further away from your nightstand. Let yourself slowly wake up rather than jarring your sympathetic nervous system, commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. Try to wake yourself up as you would a newborn baby.
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit
Choose a place in your home that you can dedicate as your “seat.” This can be on a cushion on the floor or if that’s uncomfortable, find a chair where you can sit upright and place both feet on the floor. Try to keep your spine erect so that your breath and energy can flow freely. It’s also healthier for your back.
- Start with breath awareness
Take a couple of minutes to bring your awareness to your breath. Inhale deeply and exhale completely, releasing any tension in your body. If you are meditating in the afternoon, try to let go of the events of the day and bring your attention to the present moment.
- Use a mantra
The word mantra means instrument or vehicle of the mind. A mantra is a tool to help quiet your mind first prior to experiencing moments of silence. You can receive a personal mantra from a meditation teacher or to help you get started, use a simple mantra of “1, 2.” As you inhale, silently repeat “1” and as you exhale, silently repeat “2.” Inhale “1,” exhale “2,” and keep repeating. When you notice that your awareness has drifted off to thoughts, gently bring it back to the repetition of “1, 2.” Be easy on yourself and try not to judge your meditation. Trust that the benefits of a daily meditation practice are present to you and those around you in your interaction with others.
Begin Hacking Your Way to a Solid Daily Meditation Practice
One day a sage and his students were meditating together. At one point the student noticed the teacher floating in the air.
Frustrated, he said to his teacher, “Master, I don’t understand why I’m not floating too. What is the difference between you and me that you can do this and I cannot?”
From his position aloft, the master looked down at the student and said, “Practice.”
How many articles, blogs, or social media posts have you read lately that start like the next sentences?
“A 2014 Harvard research study determined that meditation builds the brain’s gray matter in eight weeks. Grey matter, composed of neurons, makes up about 40 percent of the brain. More is good.”
Then they continue by citing more research.
“Meditation reduces anxiety, according to another study. Meditation reduces age and race bias — meaning that meditation could be an antidote to racism and prejudice — says a 2015 Central Michigan University study. According to the American Psychological Association, “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy [meditation] may prevent and treat depression.”
More research: Vast swaths of first-world societies struggle with self-acceptance, experiencing “body dissatisfaction.” Results of a 2014 study report that meditation increases “self-compassion,” meaning reduced “body shame,” and increased sense of self-worth.
And one more: The Mayo Clinic reported that a growing body of research suggests meditation may help manage symptoms of asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome, and offers methods such as guided, mantra, and mindfulness meditation as well as qigong and tai chi.
At this point, not making the effort to establish a meditation practice might be likened to not flossing your teeth. And the benefits, including emotional hygiene, addiction resistance, enhanced immune system function, etc., are so far-reaching, one might think humans require meditation for optimal function. Just the fact that meditation is proven to increase happiness should be enough to send us running, en masse, to our cushions. So why aren’t we all meditating like a nation of monks?
Good question. Consider this.
We like to imagine we’re “free” to do what we like.
As adults, we’re free of parental regulation — yay — but if, when encountering friction, we give up on creating new habits, we’re slaves to our own resistance. This means we’re not free to easily embrace and integrate habits that dramatically increase our well-being and quality of life.
For many, failing to meet goals on the first few attempts means lost resolve. Initially, when we’re practicing our new thing, be it a musical instrument, a language, or maybe fencing, we feel solid and inspired. Sooner or later we miss a day because (pick your favorite): We didn’t practice but we’re tired and it’s time for bed. Or there’s a crisis. Or a distraction. Or we’re traveling. Or it gets harder and not as fun. Or boring. Or we weren’t in the mood, or we had a sick child, or we forgot (the most insidious). The rationales are infinite. A couple of “misses” can mean a loss of momentum.
Then we beat ourselves up a little (or a lot) and slide back into old routines, waiting for the next upswell of inspiration, the next urge for change, the next training or class, or in the case of meditation, the next weekend retreat. “Maybe a new method will do the trick,” we think.
If this doesn’t sound familiar, and you are someone who seamlessly integrates new disciplines into your life without missing a beat, skip the next section. Flawed mortals, read on.