Our Optimal Living 101 series features summaries of courses offered through the en*theos Academy for Optimal Living. Find the link to the class How to Begin a Daily Meditation Practice — free! — below. To find out more about en*theos classes, visit www.entheos.com/academy.
Anyone with an interest in health probably knows by now that meditation has huge benefits. Dozens of scientific studies have shown that regular meditation increases resilience, reduces stress, offsets anxiety and depression, and improves health. And it makes us less-reactive, nicer people overall.
Even knowing all this, it can still be hard to just sit. We feel overwhelmed, restless, and intimidated.
So let’s demystify meditation. Here are the 10 tips you need to begin — and sustain — a life-transforming practice.
1. Get Comfortable
A comfortable seat is the starting point for all meditation practice. A meditation cushion is great, but so is a folded blanket, meditation bench, firm pillow, or a bolster. If you’re sitting on the floor, make sure your hips are higher than your knees by at least four inches. This will help your spine stay straight and reduce any discomfort in your knees. If you need back support, sit against a wall. Or use a chair, with your legs uncrossed and both feet on the floor. Whatever your seat, the objective is to sit easily with a tall, straight spine.
Make sure the temperature is comfortable or you have a blanket to cover yourself. I like to wrap myself in a meditation shawl, which I sometimes put over my head to help keep my attention and energy contained.
2. Set Your Time and Place
Routine, as we know from child development, is a great tool for training the mind, and that is just what you’re doing when you meditate. So it’s good to practice meditation at the same time and place each day.
Sit first thing in the morning if you can, because all the engines in your analytical left-brain mind haven’t revved up yet. Do not check your phone or turn on any electronics before you sit, so you can maintain the mental space you gained during the night.
You can face a full altar, a picture, or a single candle. Your space doesn’t have to be elaborate, just available. And quiet.
3. Sit Tall
A good word to think of when you’re sitting is “dignity.” Imagine yourself sitting on a throne. Lengthen your spine and feel your tailbone and the crown of your head pulling away from each other. This helps maintain alertness and increase energy flow.
When you sit straight, it’s easier to breathe, the heart opens, and the spine is in happy alignment.
4. Start Small
Start small. Ten minutes of meditation a day is a great beginning. If that’s too much, five minutes is fine. I guarantee everyone has five minutes he or she can carve out of the morning. Just set the alarm for five minutes earlier than you usually get up.
Use a timer so you’re not tempted to peek at the clock. Each week you can add one minute a day until you build up to 30 minutes, or whatever time is long enough to feel your mind start to shift.
As for method, I recommend trying each of these simple styles for a week to see what works for you:
- Observe your breath. Simply focus on your breathing while you meditate. You might repeat, “breathing in, breathing out” in time with your in-and-out breath. This concentration technique helps you learn to focus on one point.
- Just sit. This Buddhist practice involves sitting quietly for the prescribed amount of time, observing what comes and goes in the mind without trying to control it.
- Scan your body. This technique comes from the Vipassana tradition, where you observe sensations in the body. “Itch in the nose.” “Cold hands.” Like thoughts, sensations all pass.
5. Be Nice to Yourself (Really Nice!)
Most of us are fighting our biggest wars in our own heads. This struggle and inner complaining isn’t right or wrong, though — it’s just the nature of the mind.
To quiet the noise, we aim to create more and more neutrality when we meditate. A great place to practice a more neutral attitude is toward yourself. When you start to berate yourself for not meditating “right,” just breathe, relax, and smile. This is what your mind looks like today.
6. Notice Your Excuses
You will have excuses for why you can’t meditate. You’re too busy, you’re too tired, your kids need you. Rather than submit to these claims, just pay attention to what they are. Since the way we do one thing is usually the way we do everything, they probably reveal something. For example, if you repeat that you don’t have time for meditation, ask yourself what you believe you do have time for.
Regular meditation builds an inner reservoir of self-sufficiency and self-trust. A regular practice proves — at a deep, unconscious level — that you will show up for yourself.
7. Find a Meditation Buddy
Accountability helps us show up differently, so if you can, find a community. There are plenty of Facebook groups, online meditation challenges, and local meditation sanghas (groups) where you can find support on your journey. Community gives you a chance to talk about your challenges and see how all minds are addictive, neurotic, and restless.
8. Practice Makes Perfect
Meditation is a skill that gets better with practice, just like chess or cooking. You are learning to master your emotions, harness your thoughts, and train the nervous system to stay regulated in the face of stress.
These things take time. You don’t eat one healthy meal and call it done. You don’t expect to get strong from one day at the gym. Think of regular meditation as a workout for the mind.
And remember that consistency is more important than intensity. You will get stronger from meditating five minutes daily than you will from sitting 30 minutes once a week.
9. Start a Benefit Book
I suggest keeping a journal to track your experience. Jot down one or two words about what your meditation was like. No need to analyze or decipher anything; just notice and register how you feel after your meditation. This record will show how your meditation — and your mind — really do change over time. Even if you still get upset and anxious and harried (you will), your notebook will prove that you know how to sit down and relax with all that.
10. Just Breathe
Take a couple of deep breaths right now. Take a chest breath first. Now bring your breath down to your belly. This is where you want to breathe. This conscious claiming and shifting of breath is something you can do anytime, anywhere, to move into a more meditative state. Go ahead — start right now.
How to Begin a Daily Meditation Practice With Ashley Turner (en*theos Optimal Living)
Acclaimed yoga and meditation instructor Ashley Turner, MA, MFTI offers ten simple tips for making meditation a part of your life —starting now.