How to Start a Meditation Practice
How to Start a Meditation Practice
Starting a meditation practice on your own can feel intimidating. Many online instructions and books tell you to set aside a minimum of 10 minutes per day, which doesn’t seem like a lot of time until you try to find 10 minutes in a comfortable, private place without interruption. Failing to find that one day, or failing multiple days in a row, can feel like defeat.
10 minutes a day is a big ask, so I’m going to propose an easier method of getting started. Hopefully, this will allow you to ease into a meditation practice that can become a regular part of your life.
There are a couple important things to think about before you dive in:
- Decide why you want to start meditating.
This is important because the WHY of your practice is what will keep you going when you really don’t feel like meditating, which will definitely happen at some point. Meditating regularly because you “should” or because someone told you to is not going to hold up when you’re feeling tired or resistant, so take a bit of time to think about and write down your reasons for wanting to meditate. A regular meditation practice can yield a myriad of benefits: a sense of calm throughout the day, an increased ability to manage stressful events, more compassion and empathy for other people, reduced anxiety, a clearer mind, a stronger ability to focus, and a better memory, to name a few. What is it that really attracts you? Once you know what you want from a meditation practice, you can draw on that desire to keep yourself motivated to practice every day; you can also pay attention to the results of your practice and make a decision as to whether this is a practice that works for you.
- Gain of bit of understanding as to what meditation is and is not.
There is a popular misconception that meditation is the practice of thinking of nothing, but when practitioners try thinking of nothing, they find it impossible and quit. The problem with that conception of meditation is that our brains are not wired to think of nothing; asking someone to make their brain blank is like telling them not to think of a pink elephant. It’s far more accurate to think of meditation as a practice in concentration; you choose something to concentrate on and hone your ability to maintain your focus on that singular thing. Many people choose to focus on their breath, so their meditation practice is keeping their mind focused on their breath for a specific length of time. There is a big difference between focusing on “nothing” and focusing on “breathing” in terms of how your brain works – the first is impossible and the second is merely difficult.
- Don’t expect yourself to “master” meditation right away.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself. I once heard that the mind in meditation was like “a drunken monkey that’s been stung by a scorpion,” and that is a very accurate portrayal of how the mind jumps around when we first try to maintain focus. Understand that the beginning of your meditation practice is going to involve a lot of catching yourself thinking of other things and coming back to your object of focus. In fact, it will likely be a lot more catching yourself being distracted than actually being focused, but the key is to keep practicing. It will get better over time.
After you’ve thought about those three things, and perhaps documented them for yourself somewhere, you’re ready to start a meditation practice. Here is a short practice to get you started.
- Practice taking 10 mindful breaths per day.
That’s it! Ten breaths. Choose a time of day – maybe while you’re sitting in unmoving traffic or transit, maybe at your desk, when you first wake up in the morning or just after lunch, or while you’re hiding out in the bathroom at home. Close your eyes or keep them open (open, please, if you’re in your car), settle into your seat, and count number “one” as you take a deep inhale and “one” as you exhale. Then, “two” as you inhale and “two” as you exhale. Keep going up to ten. If you get distracted, which you likely will, go back to the last number you remember doing and keep going until you get to ten.
When you first start, ONE deep, mindful breath is a victory; two or more and you’re knocking it out of the park. Work on making it to ten breaths, once a day, for at least a couple of weeks. You may even want to stick to this practice for a couple of months until your focus stays on your breath for the whole ten.
Remember, you DON’T have to close your eyes for this meditation, especially if you’re in a public place. Just let your eyes get slightly unfocused and take a minute to focus on your breath. It’s unlikely that anyone around you will notice anything out of the ordinary!
Start with this simple practice, and document how you feel after taking your ten breaths a day. If you want to up the ante right away, you can always try this practice twice a day instead.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks; we’re going to be outlining a few other meditation techniques that can be helpful depending on your meditation goals. Happy practicing!