It needs no introduction; meditation is widely known as a universal panacea for our wellbeing. With its origins tracing back to India in 1500 BCE, meditation is a central practice in Taoism, Buddhism and has been adopted and developed by people of all beliefs and backgrounds over the centuries. As eastern philosophy made its way into the west, science has measured the long-known benefits of meditation and many of the world’s most successful people are advocates of this daily ritual.
“Meditating is also a means for you to move beyond your analytical mind so that you can access your subconscious mind. That’s crucial, since the subconscious is where all your bad habits and behaviors that you want to change reside.” — Joe Dispenza
To enjoy the benefits, we can’t just know about them, it needs to be a daily practice — no different to brushing our teeth and maintain our mental (instead of dental) hygiene. The problem a lot of us run into is the struggle to make time to sit still — in our world, we’re used to constant ‘doing’ so not only does it feel counter-intuitive to do nothing at all, it’s easy to procrastinate or ‘forget,’ instead of admit that we just don’t want to deal with the discomfort of sitting with our stuff undistracted. If this is your current struggle, here are some suggestions to help you make meditation a daily ritual;
Practice Asanas or any Other Moving Meditation
Widely known as ‘yoga,’ Asana is the Sanskrit term to describe the popular practice of moving and breathing mindfully through postures — but that’s just one part of an 8-fold path. Traditionally designed to help people sit in meditation for long periods of time, yoga is often described as a moving meditation and it’s dynamic enough to occupy the busy western mind and body. A few months of consistent yoga or any other form of moving meditation like walking, drawing or washing the dishes is a great way to accustom the body to stillness and slowing down the mind.
Use a Guided Meditation
There’s plenty of guided meditations out there to choose from; whether the narrator has a calming voice or the background music is soothing and helps us to drop into meditation better, find one that works and stick with it for 30 days. Guided meditation can be viewed as training wheels, although some people like Maria Popova of Brainpickings have admitted to only meditating using a guided tape. You’ll find guided meditations on iTunes podcasts, apps and even Youtube — I like this particular one by the Lama Surya Das, because I find his voice calming and his words grounding.
Timing is Everything
We can all find 10 to 15 minutes in the morning; it feels achievable and leaves us more likely to stick to it every day. People with a meditation practice most commonly do it first thing when they wake up, right before they go to sleep or both. Meditation when you wake up sets you up for success because it’s when your mind is clearest, already relaxed and undistracted by the day’s tasks. Setting a reminder to meditate each morning on your wall or your phone will hold you accountable until it becomes an engrained habit.
Be Kind to Yourself
Loving-kindness is a Buddhist practice that’s helpful in all aspects of life, particularly when directed towards yourself during meditation. When we sit undistracted, we can uncover thoughts and emotions that get buried under daily distraction and sometimes those thoughts can be self-defeating and hard to sit with. Whether we’re thinking about how bad we might be at meditating or about certain aspects of life that make us disappointed in ourselves — counteracting that with kindness and compassion to say “hey, I’m doing my best and this isn’t easy, but I’ll get there,” or whatever words of kindness you might share with a friend that was feeling that way, it’ll help you feel encouraged to continue to matter what comes up as you sit in meditation.
Begin with Gratitude, End with a Mantra
Opening and closing your meditation practice in a certain way over time can slowly accustom the mind follow up these rituals with a meditative headspace — making it easier to drop into that same place each time. Thinking of three things you’re grateful for before dropping into meditation is a great way to connect to the moment and release peaceful and happy brain-chemicals, setting you up for less turbulent and distracting thoughts or emotions. Ending the practice with a mantra of any kind can infuse a higher purpose into your meditation practice. A common yogi mantra that I like to use is “may all beings be happy and free,” because it helps us have compassion for ourselves and most importantly, others — helping us to feel at one with the world around us.
There are many guides to meditating and some will have you sitting in positions that might feel uncomfortable for you, so while sitting straight can help us to concentrate better, I like to stay in bed and support my back with pillows up against my bedhead, it’s a gentle way to wake up and leaves you feeling relaxed but alert in the mornings. What matters most is we’re sitting still and getting caught up in the details doesn’t always serve us.