Tried meditation but found it hard to sit still and quiet? Did it for a while but then it dropped off your priority list? Here are some tips to get back to (or start!) your meditation practice.
I’ve been on a personal retreat for 3 weeks, and really wanted to get my regular meditation practice back on track – and I have! It feels great to be consistent with this centering, peace-inducing, and spiritually-uplifting practice. Perhaps you would like to start or reignite your meditation practice, too?
Pretty much everyone has heard of the benefits of meditation now. From calming your nervous system, alleviating depression, and soothing anxiety, to the physical benefits, like lowered blood pressure and decreased tension, meditation has much to offer us. Meditation can also help you sleep better, improve your attention span, and reduce age-related memory loss.
Sure, we know that meditation is good for us – but do we actually sit down and meditate? Nah. We do it for a while and then forget. We might try it once and don’t get it, or find it too much of a struggle to quiet the mind. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone!
Meditation doesn’t have to be a struggle. You don’t have to sit for an hour to receive benefits. And you don’t need to feel guilty if you told yourself you’d start meditating and have let it slip.
Here are some ways that work for me to make meditation more accessible, easier, and get me back to my practice when I’ve fallen off the horse.
1) Start Really Small
This is probably the best suggestion for anyone starting meditation. You may have been taught to sit for 10 minutes, or heard that you aren’t really meditating if it isn’t at least 20 minutes. Hogwash. Can you sit for 1 minute? Yes, I know you can. Set a timer (with a gentle chime!) for 1 minute and focus just on your breath. Next time, set the timer for 90 seconds, or 2 minutes. You can build it up from there, a minute more each day for a couple weeks… or, simply enjoy a few 2-minute mini-sessions during your day. Hey, you’re meditating!
2) Have a Specific Focus
Part of what makes meditation seem fruitless is that we just sit down and let our minds ramble all over the place. You won’t receive a lot of benefit from that.
The mind needs a point of focus. You can choose something very specific, like the sensation at the opening of the nostrils as you exhale. You can repeat a mantra or meaningful word in your mind, like “peace.” Find a focus-point that helps you stay attentive as you meditate.
3) Be Imperfect!
Even very experienced meditators have what the Buddhists call “monkey mind.” It’s all those thoughts that pass through your awareness when you try to sit quietly. That’s OK! Keep returning to your point of focus. Yes, the thoughts will come up again. Or you may feel really restless and can’t sit still. Every time that you notice that, simply return your attention to your breath or word. You’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just the nature of the mind to distract us. Try to have a sense of humor about it. Thoughts are rather strange things. Be amused but don’t become engrossed. Just notice and come back to your breath. Don’t expect it to go perfectly.
4) Try Something Different
There are many ways to meditate. While you don’t want to constantly jump around from one style to another, if you’ve been working with one kind of meditation and you just can’t seem to feel any benefit from it, maybe it’s time to try a new way.
You can do eyes-open meditation, for example. One way would be to choose a point to focus your eyes, such as a candle flame or a flower in a vase. When thoughts arise, gently return your attention to what you are looking at. This is considered a practice of concentration, and will actually improve your ability to focus your attention with eyes-closed meditation. Research different styles of meditation and choose one that seems more suited to you. Then, practice it for a while before you judge (or let go of judging altogether).
5) Go Outside
One of my favorite mindfulness practices, which is a form of meditation when you intentionally cultivating a quiet(er) mind, is called sit-spot. I learned this practice from Jon Young, author of What the Robin Knows. I love to start my day with it.
Simply find a place outside where you can sit and be fully present. If you live in an apartment, maybe you have a balcony or can go to a local park. The front or back yard are, of course, great spots to choose, and if you live near a more wild location, seek out a special place where you can return to for sitting regularly.
Spend about 20 minutes sitting, aware of what happens around you. Use your senses – what do you see? What sounds do you hear near you, in the distance? Is there anything within your reach that you can touch or smell? Let go of the need to explain, judge, or figure things out. Attempt to let thoughts go, and just be fully present where you are.
After doing sit-spot, I feel refreshed and happy. This prepares me better for an eyes-closed meditation.
6) Listen to Music
If having a soothing, serene piece of music to listen to helps you focus, become more calm, and keeps you in meditation longer, by all means, break out the headset. It will also drown out distracting sounds if your neighbor’s gardener has a leaf-blower going. Choose something without lyrics, unless they are your mantra of focus, so the mind will not be stimulated. I love the sound of a sitar, or Native American flute, for example. Find something appealing and quieting for you.
Another option is walking meditation. It’s a particularly helpful practice if you find sitting too difficult, but is highly beneficial to anyone. Walking meditation is best done outdoors, but can be practiced inside, too, if need be. When the weather is inclement, I walk very slowly and mindfully around my most uncluttered room (that’s usually the hallway!).
Walking meditation slows us down physically, which helps quiet and calm the mind. Stand with awareness and begin by noticing where you are. Then, start with a very, very slow step, aware of each movement from heel to toe, and the transfer of your weight. If you are outdoors, notice the temperature, sounds, and flora and fauna around you. Ten minutes or more noticeably calms me, and often I find that a sitting meditation afterwards goes deeper.
8) Plan It in Your Day
While it’s great to spontaneously do meditation anytime you have a few free minutes, it’s also very easy to get caught up in other things on the to-do list.
Pick a time of day that will consistently work for you and be relatively easy to start a meditation practice. Most people find either right after they wake up (that’s me) or just before bed. Maybe for you it’s just before lunch. Choose a time that makes sense in your schedule, and make it a special self-care moment for yourself. You deserve a few minutes of inner peace, don’t you?
9) Get Support
There are many ways you can be supported in your meditation practice. Look for a local community meditation class. Many find that meditating in a group is a lot easier. You have the benefit of a teacher to lead you as well as answer questions, and the energy of the group is palpable.
Don’t have anything nearby? You can invite a friend to do a sitting with you. Of course, many of us find it difficult to coordinate schedules with friends, and you may have family demands on your time when most others are available. A meditation download or app could be the answer for you. You can play it anytime, and either choose a simple mindfulness timer, or have an expert guide you. Some popular ones are Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace, and some of my favorite meditation downloads can be found on Sounds True.
10) Don’t “Should” and “Have To” All Over Yourself
If you try to motivate yourself with guilt-inducing words like “should,” “must,” “ought-to,” and the dreaded “have-to,” I recommend that you take them out of your vocabulary (and not just for doing meditation!). Meditation is a choice; and one that you can feel good about, whenever you decide to do it. You can choose to have these 2 minutes for yourself in quiet repose. Give yourself the freedom of choosing and you may actually meditate more often and enjoy it more.
11) Start Now
Yes, I know what it’s like to say “I’ll do that tomorrow.” If you have time to read this blog, you can start now. You can take a minute in this moment to close your eyes and breathe consciously. Don’t make it a big deal. Let go of expectations. Just decide that you have a minute to do this and let go into mindful inner presence.
With an attitude of enjoying this precious time you are giving yourself, let your eyes close and be with your breath. The more you practice simple, no-big-deal moments of meditation, the more you’ll benefit from their gifts. It really can be easy and doable, if you allow it to.