I giggle when people tell me I have a calm and grounding presence, "Ah, but you can't see the inside of my head" I think. Internally I am hyperactive squirrel, leaping from thought to thought, hoarding thoughts and feelings. But largely thanks to a daily(ish) meditation practice for the last eight months that frantic energy has calmed, ever so slightly.
If you are anything like me, meditation is something you've known about for years, you're vaguely interested, and think it might eventually help you focus or relieve stress and anxiety (and who doesn't need that?). But actually sitting down and doing it consistently is hard, in fact building any new habit is hard.
WTF is Meditation Anyways?
Meditation is an introspective practice aimed at cultivating awareness and stillness in the mind and body. Generally it involves sitting in stillness and silence for a period of time, and using something to "anchor" your mind. This can be a mantra, idea, feeling, visualization, but most commonly the breath. The practice then becomes noticing when your mind wonders away from your chosen anchor, and gently, without judgement coming back to your anchor. That's it, you're sitting and breathing. It doesn't matter how many times you wonder off, the only thing that matters is how many times you're able to bring yourself back.
If you're looking for more detail I really recommend this article from Yoga International!
You'll have your own reasons for wanting to build a meditation practice, but lets break some barriers to get you started:
1. Set a clear goal for a set amount of time.
Be practical here an give yourself permission to experiment.
- Where are you going to sit?
- When? For how long?
- Are you going to use any specific technique?
- How long are you going to try this for?
- If that doesn't work setup a backup plan?
Example: I told myself I was going to meditate for 10-20min in my livingroom every morning right after I woke up for a month. If for some reason this was absolutely not possible for an unforeseen circumstance I would sit before I went to bed.
2. Set up you environment
What excuses do you give yourself? Start to notice what arguments arise, and figure out how to remove the causes of excuses. The idea here is to make it as easy as humanly possible to say "yes!" to meditating.
Example: I identified that I had more success and consistency with my morning routine, and I have to wake up everyday so that was a natural trigger for my new practice. BUT to fit it in I had to get up 30 minutes earlier, and in the dark and cold winter mornings this was not appealing. I ended up setting up everything I needed the night before so I wouldn't have to think about it in the morning: I laid out my sitting pillows, left a blanket drapped over my radiator so it would be warm and cozy, I put my alarm clock outside of my room so I had to get out of bed, and finally I left by big fuzzy bathrobe right next to my bed so I'd have something warm to put on before I even got out of bed to turn my alarm off.
3. Remind yourself it's a practice
Practicing is about doing the thing you set out to do, not being perfect at it every time. Acknowledge that you will have off days, this doesn't mean you've failed and should give up. In fact, if you've still done the practice then you've succeeded, the goal is sitting down and trying to meditate, not "how well" you meditated. You showed up, that's the most important part.
Example: Some days I feel blissful and calm after I sit, but most days I don't. I have to constantly remind myself that all I'm doing is sitting and breathing, that's all. If I've done that, then I've done what I set out to do.
4. Build in accountability.
Who can you be accountable to? Maybe it's a friend or family member, maybe it's an app, a checkmark on a calendar, whatever works for you!
Example: I turned to social media and used a daily Instagram story to keep myself accountable.
5. Get help
What makes you the most comfortable? We all need a little support sometimes, and just sitting there is hard, so make it your own. If you're adiment about doing a traditional seated and silent meditation you can think of these as training-wheels, but honestly, if you get a benefit from any practice do whatever works best for you.
Here are some examples:
- Listen to nature sounds or music without vocals
- Sit in a chair or lay down
6. Reflect on the benefits.
This can happen on any timeline, maybe it's right after you finish you take an extra minute to notice how you feel and reflect on what might have worked and what didn't that day. Maybe you take sometime at the end of you set experimentation period and see if you feel any different, if you do, great! Celebrate!
And if not, that's okay, meditation isn't a one-size fits all, but it's worthing taking some time to understand what parts were working for you, and what parts weren't and next time you won't be starting from scratch.
Personally, I've found I'm far more aware of my own thought patterns: I'm able to tell when I'm fluctuating from my baseline emotions, catch negative self-talk, I'm more aware of the physical sensations tied to emotions, and I can pull myself out of emotional spirals faster. It's not easy, but so far it's worth it.
P.s. I'll be back with a couple more of my favourite meditation techniques in a couple weeks.