How to Start Your Meditation Practice
Tips and tricks to building a consistent meditation practice for beginning yogis and non-yogis.
Do you ever think to yourself in a yoga class during Savasana – why won’t my mind be still? How long do I have to lay here? Can I get up and leave yet? You are not alone! When we start a yoga practice, we often don’t understand or connect to the purpose of savasana (corpse pose). We think it’s just rest for the body, but in actuality it is the time during our practice where we can let ourselves abandon our thoughts, and calm our senses. This all-important practice at the end of yoga class can be transmitted to our daily lives through meditation.
Why Should I Meditate?
One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to explore ways in which to let the mind rest. We are constantly busy and our minds are thinking non-stop (“monkey mind”). Spending just a few minutes everyday to allow the mind to relax and focus on the present is incredibly beneficial for our brains. In fact, meditation is shown to increase GABA and serotonin levels in the brain (the brain’s main neurotransmitters), increase DHEA, and reduce cortisol levels. Not just that, but meditation physically CHANGES the brain! There are countless articles out there about the benefits of meditation – here is just one of many if you want to read a little more on the subject.
Ask a regular meditator if he needs the science to back-up these theories about how meditation can help calm the brain and reduce anxiety, and he will likely tell you “no.” People that meditate regularly do so for a reason – it is a lot like working out or doing a regular yoga (asana) practice – once you know how good you can feel from it, you want to keep doing it again and again. The problem for many people is that they think they can’t sit still, and there is just no way to calm the mind (believe me I know – I live with one!). So what is a person to do?
Start Small and Build a Habit
Start small and commit to trying meditation out for an extended number of days. It takes a range of time to form a habit, but research shows that after about 2 months (66 days on average) we are able to form habits. This may seem like a daunting task and a long time (were you hoping for the quick-fix?), but instead of feeling overwhelmed, commit to the task in a very small way. Try and work towards the 2 months of doing daily meditation, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day here and there.
Culturally we tend to have this “all or nothing” mentality, which research tells us doesn’t work. It’s like dieting – we think if we commit we can lose weight – it’s all about will-power and strength, right? No, it’s not. In reality, if we mess up we tend to beat ourselves up, becoming self-critical with negative thoughts. This often leads to overeating because we feel defeated, less-than, or without worth. The same can happen in our meditation practice if we approach it with this “all or nothing” approach.
Start with 3-5 minutes of meditation in the morning (or whatever time of day you can commit to), and mentally commit to that as your first week of meditation practice. Then recommit the next week – maybe it’s 5-10 minutes a day. Start building this practice in small steps. As you start building this pattern, you can increase the length of time you spend in meditation, and may find that you actually WANT to do more! If you can increase this to 20-30 minutes at a time, that’s wonderful. If not, that’s OK too! This is a journey and a personal experience, and there is no rule around how long you have to meditate. Some days might be 5 minutes, and other days you may meditate for an hour. It’s YOUR practice and you will find what works for you.
Find a spot where you can be comfortable – put a cushion, a blanket, or comfortable chair in your meditation space that you can use daily. Place a candle, a journal, mala beads, or whatever it is that will make your space more inviting. Make sure you can be comfortable and sit with a tall spine for your practice. Some beautiful and comfortable meditation cushions are for sale on the web, so look around and find something that will inspire you (no paid plug here, but I LOVE my Halfmoon meditation cushions). Investing in a comfortable meditation cushion set or chair can help inspire your practice (not to mention make it WAY more comfortable and enticing to sit for longer periods of time). Or if you sew, maybe even create your own as a fun, creative project to jumpstart your practice.
Create a Daily Ritual – Same Time, Same Place
Try and carve out a time that you can meditate daily – maybe it’s right after you get up, just after your yoga practice, or right after dinner. Just ensure you choose a time and place where you won’t be distracted (I know it’s a challenge!). Try and use the same space daily – you can even add some decorations to make your space more alluring. Candles, stones, journals, books, and art are inspiring additions to any meditation space!
Pair your Meditation with a Fun Activity
Make meditation time a time just for you! It is much easier to develop a habit when you can look forward to “me time” – it won’t be a chore if it’s enjoyable.
I like to do my meditation practice early in the morning, first thing right after I feed the dogs. I sit for a few minutes enjoying my morning coffee, and then begin my meditation practice. I journal immediately afterwards to process my thoughts and jot down my daily gratitude. This ritual I created is now my favorite time of day. Especially just after journaling, I like to sit and enjoy the morning view out my window, in quiet contemplation. I experience the most amazing feeling of calm and presence.
If you aren’t an early bird, think about other ways that you can find some quiet time regularly. Be creative! Maybe it’s just after the kids go to bed and you can enjoy an evening cup of tea and meditate. Find what works for you.
Start Meditating with an Accountability Buddy
Find a friend and start your daily practice together. Having a friend to lean-on and help hold you accountable is always a benefit – for ANY part of your life. It works great for your yoga practice too!
Holding each other accountable also means holding space for your friend. Be kind to yourself and your friend if you slip-up and miss a day. It’s not a big deal – just a little hiccup. Some days are just insane and life gets in the way. IT’S OKAY!! Offering words of encouragement and kindness to each other is always more beneficial than the alternative. Encourage your buddy to come back to the practice if she stops, and talk to her about her experiences and your own. Make a pact to be kind and listen to one another, creating a safe space to talk and share.
Check out this article on holding space from the Chopra Center:
Starting a meditation practice is just that – a practice! Much like yoga or any activity, the more we do it, the more we are comfortable with it, and the better we get at it. Meditation is like becoming an athlete – you need to flex the meditation muscle in order to become stronger and more skilled. We are all at different points in our practice, but the benefits exist no matter where you are starting from. Practicing is the best way to build your skills.
Many forms of meditation exist, but the most accessible beginning to a meditation practice for most people is focusing on the breath. The breath helps bring us back to the present moment and give the mind a focus (in yoga, the purpose of meditation is one-pointed focus, or Dharana). Allowing the mind to just focus on the breath helps bring it to a place of stillness.
If focusing on the breath feels like it’s not enough to settle the mind, try a chanting meditation (mantra), a walking meditation, or a visualization meditation.
Get Some Guidance
Starting a practice is best when you have someone to teach and guide you. Many great apps exist like Calm and Headspace, as well as countless videos. You might already have a yoga app you are using that also has guided meditations (Gaia and Glo both have some wonderful guided meditations and teachers). There is no rule that you need to do this on your own. Eventually you may progress to this stage of not needing guidance, but having a teacher is invaluable in any new endeavor.
I personally follow certain teachers and use apps regularly. They have helped me progress in my meditation practice, and opened me up to new ideas and types of meditation. Sometimes I use the apps just for the nature sounds and music (Calm is my favorite for this).
Start a Journal
Having a notebook nearby to jot down thoughts just after your meditation is so beneficial. Writing things down can help you process feelings, ideas, or simply develop an attitude of gratitude. The 2 things I make sure I write down everyday is three things I am grateful for, and one positive self-affirmation. It only takes a couple of minutes, and helps put me in the right mindset for the day.
I also like to write my feelings down whether they are positive or negative. It helps “get things out of my head” and process my feelings – it’s a great companion to my meditation practice, and has become a part of my daily ritual.
Make it YOUR Journey
The MOST important part of starting a meditation practice is making it YOUR experience. This is your personal journey, and you need to find what works for you. Once you start experiencing the benefits of meditation, you may find that it changes your life in the most positive ways. Reducing stress, anxiety, and creating a sense of calm are just the tip of the iceberg. I encourage you to start on this journey and make it your personal experience. Don’t worry about what you are “supposed” to do. Ultimately it is up to you to find what works for you.
Happy meditating! Namaste.
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