Meditating is one of the most powerful things I have learned. It is a key practice that lays a foundation for a mindful life.
Meditation is a way to train and strengthen your mind, much like training and strengthening your muscles when you go to the gym.
Your ability to be aware of and to recognize what the mind is engaging with — and choose how you respond — is a skill that can be helpful in all aspects of life, from the workplace to family relationships.
I like Tara Brach’s definition: “Meditation is commonly described as a training of the mental attention that awakens us beyond the conditioned mind and habitual thinking, and reveals the nature of reality.”
In fact, self-identified “fidgety and skeptical news anchor” Dan Harris predicts meditation will be the next public health revolution — much like running in the 1940s.
However, with an already packed schedule, it can be difficult to start and keep a meditation practice.
It’s tempting to think, “I’ll develop more mindfulness after my job is less time consuming, my kids are in school, and I have more time.”
We are all waiting for the perfect schedule to magically align with our goals. Yet we need the benefits of mindfulness the most when we believe we have the least time to pursue them!
Although I started a mediation practice over 15 years ago when I was in college, I had many, many years where I did not mediate at all.
My career, or other busy aspects of my life, seemed to get in the way. The main excuse that held me back from keeping up with my practice was always “I don’t have time.”
Sound familiar? This is the most common issue I hear when I ask people if they meditate.
However, here are some ideas that I have discovered that help me stay focused on my meditation practice.
First, meditation doesn’t have to take a lot time.
You don’t have to go to a silent meditation retreat for a week or even meditate for an hour (although these activities won’t hurt).
Research shows that you can gain benefits from only 20 minutes of meditation a day. However, everyone is different. Ten minutes may work for some, while others may need an hour.
The point is to do a short practice each day. Daily consistency is the key.
Second, a mediation practice doesn’t have to be a regimented to-do list item.
There are lots of ways to fit meditation into your existing life. While some people schedule a formal sitting meditation each day, such as first thing in the morning or right before bed, your meditation practice doesn’t have to be so regimented.
If you are having a hard time sticking to a schedule, try spontaneous meditation. Spontaneous meditations, woven throughout your day, can be very beneficial.
For example, if you are about to have a potentially stressful meeting with a co-worker, taking a couple of minutes to meditate beforehand can be a great way to focus your mind and get yourself to a place of emotional stability.
Or meditating for a few minutes in your car before you come home from work can be a great way to unwind and get ready to connect with your family. You can also meditate while standing in line for a coffee. (Yep.)
With spontaneous meditation, you practice a few minutes of meditation throughout your day, whenever you need it most.
Lastly, meditating can actually help you manage and use your time better.
Why? Because research has found that meditation can help us improve our focus and use our time better.
In addition, mindful meditation can help us become aware of, and even decrease, the “mind chatter” that is distracting us from the task at hand.
What is holding you back from giving meditation a try (or trying it again, if you have given up on it)?
Let’s get started.
Here are seven simple steps to start your mindful sitting meditation practice today:
1) Start with a simple sitting meditation practice of five minutes a day. Once you can do five minutes a day for about a week, you can try 10 minutes a day. The important thing is not how long you do it, but that you consistently do it each day.
2) If you decide to schedule a time to meditate each day, it is helpful to set this time in advance. Is it when you wake up, after lunch, or before bed? For folks with busy lives or children, the early morning is often the best time.
3) Find a place that is fairly quiet. (It’s fine if you can hear the sounds of your neighborhood or street.) When you start, try not to listen to any music. This is just a way to distract the mind and you will not have the benefits of the moment by moment awareness.
4) It’s important to sit with an uplifted spine and head up. If you slouch or slump, you may become tired. You can sit on a pillow, cushion, or chair.
5) You can let your eyes be softly open, gazing at the floor or wall, or you can close them. See what works best for you.
6) Choose a “home base” or anchor to quiet and collect the mind. The breath coming in and out of your nose is a good anchor point to start with. You can use it as a focal point. Retain a gentle awareness of this focal point in the foreground of your mind and use it to calm and focus the mind on the present moment.
The sensation is not a forced concentration on the breath but a sense of calmly noticing your breath with each passing moment.
7) Getting distracted is totally normal. Your mind will wander. That’s okay. Be kind to yourself.
Think of every time your mind wanders as a moment of awareness, and as an opportunity to learn something. Each time your mind wanders, give it a gentle reminder to come back to your home base.
During your practice, you may notice many thoughts and emotions such as agitation, anxiousness, or perhaps fear or stress may arise. This is totally normal.
You can notice those thoughts floating by, and use the anchor to come back to the present moment.
That’s it. Try this for a week. Then the next.
Once you have practiced for about a month it will become natural, and you are on your way to forming a habit.