Meditation and mindfulness seem to be everywhere these days – whether it’s in the business world or the mental health field, meditation, and discussion of its benefits have become commonplace in the western world. Practitioners report it helps them feel less stressed, more in control of their emotions, and even more energized and productive.
In recent years, science has looked at these claims and shown that meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce respiratory rate, increase feelings of well-being, and has even been demonstrated to increase students’ test scores!
Given all the benefits (with a notable lack of drawbacks) you may want to give meditation a try. For this, you will need a few things: commitment, an understanding of what meditation is, a little time, and a dose of self-compassion. In this post, we will lay out some steps on how to get started with meditation and remain consistent with it.
What is Meditation?
All this talk of meditation, but what exactly is it? Defined simply, meditation is the practice of awareness. This may sound a little cliche, but it sums it up well: all you’re doing with meditation is bringing your mind’s tool of awareness, of focused attention, under your control.
Awareness is something that is utilized constantly by the mind as we go about our day, but it’s rarely under our control. Usually, our minds are flitting from subject to subject, worrying about the past or the future, instead of really involving ourselves in the present moment.
All that lack of focus and worry contributes to stress – meditation teaches the mind to be disciplined, more under our control and therefore much less troubling.
The Breath – Nature’s Anchor
If meditation is the practice of awareness, that means we’ll have to choose to concentrate on something and gently strive to keep our concentration on it. Nature provides an ideal, rhythmic anchor that comes and goes without our conscious control in the form of the breath. For this reason, the breath has been at the center of meditation practices for millennia.
When concentrating on the breath, it doesn’t matter where specifically you focus, just that you try to keep your attention there. Some people find it easier to pay attention to their diaphragm moving in and out, while others focus on the sensation of air moving into and out of their noses. Choose whatever works best for you.
Set Aside Time Each Day
One of the key ingredients of successful meditation practice is commitment. Many people want to start meditating but feel they are just too busy. “I’m so busy and I want to be productive,” you may be saying to yourself, “I’m really supposed to just sit and do nothing for a set period of time each day?” Pretty much!
A humorous quote from Dr. Sukhraj Dhillon, a spiritual author, reads: “You should meditate 20 minutes each day unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
While we certainly don’t advise starting out your practice with an hour-long session each day, the quote is a pithy response to this kind of question and encapsulates one of the main reasons meditation is beneficial.
This kind of busy-body mentality is probably one of the things that are keeping you stressed and reflective of not being grounded in the present moment. In other words, thinking that meditation is a “waste of time” is a symptom of the problem!
Think of meditation as an investment. If you put in the time and effort you will eventually reap the rewards. There’s not much to lose from practicing meditation and a whole lot of potential gain.
Where and When to Meditate
Obviously, you’ll want to be in an area of your home that’s quiet and where you won’t be bothered. If you don’t live alone, you can inform your family or roommates that you need some time undisturbed each day to cultivate your new practice. Make sure the door is closed and consider blocking incoming calls and texts for the duration of your session.
Many people prefer meditating at the beginning of the day and may tie it to some other habit such as brushing their teeth so they don’t forget. It’s up to you, though – if you can only find time to meditate in the middle or at the end of the day, that’s fine!
You’ll want to use a chair with a firm back when first starting out. Posture is important when meditating, as you’re more likely to drift away from paying attention to the breath if you’re leaning back into a big, cozy sofa!
How to Meditate
Described as “paying attention to the breath,” meditation may seem like a simple thing. Ultimately it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to actually “do” – when you first get started, you will probably notice that it is harder than you thought!
You may be a perfectionist and think to yourself, “Alright, I’m going to start by meditating thirty minutes a day!”, attempt to do this, and quickly get discouraged as you notice you can’t keep your attention on the breath or get very antsy.
Believe us – thirty minutes seems infinitely longer than it usually does when you’re practicing meditation. We recommend beginning with a practice period of 10 minutes. This is a reasonable amount of time for starting as it’s not too short but not too long.
Meditation will seem tough when first starting out – your mind will probably be darting all over the place and it may seem impossible to keep your attention on your breath. That’s okay and is even to be expected. All you have to do is be gentle with yourself, and attempt compassionately to bring your focus back to your anchor.
If you chastise yourself, you will only make yourself tense, which is probably the opposite of what you hope to gain from this practice.
Actually, noticing that your attention has wandered is part of meditation practice. Returning to the breath from a distraction can be thought of as flexing your “meditation muscles.”
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Make sure that the alarm is not overly-loud or grating because that will result in you spending the entire session tensing in anticipation of it. All you must do is gently pay attention to your breath while sitting in an upright posture until the timer goes off.
One of the hardest aspects of developing a meditation practice is remaining consistent. You may know this from experience: it’s possible you’ve wanted to start a meditation practice in the past but have given up, or forgotten, after only a few days.
Building a habit takes time, and you may not see the benefits of meditation for a few weeks. All you have to concern yourself with is practicing each day.
Meditation apps have become more popular in recent years as interest in meditation has gone up, and using one of them can be a helpful way to keep up with your practice.
Apps like Declutter The Mind provide you with timed, sometimes guided meditation along with statistics about your progress. It’s a bit like having a virtual coach who will keep you going, so consider investing in one of these.
Overall, building a meditation practice takes time and commitment. However, the benefits are well worth this effort. If taking some time each day to recharge physically and emotionally and reduce stress increases your quality of life even incrementally, wouldn’t it be a good investment? Get started today!