- That’s a question I get asked regularly.
First of all we need to adjust the expectations that we have about meditation. Most people expect to immediately feel peace, calm, and to have some kind of blissful experience. Well it’s not exactly like that. Yes meditation has wonderful benefits; it does help you feel more calm, to reduce anxiety, manage overthinking, reduce your sense of pressure, there’s even studies showing that meditating regularly strengthens your immune system.
However meditation takes practice.
Just like any new activity you take on, there’s a learning curve; in the beginning it feels unknown and maybe even a bit uncomfortable because it’s new. Just think about any skill that you’ve acquired recently, how did it feel when learning at first?
The good news is that you reap the benefits from the start.
The bad news is that we live in a world of distraction and instant gratification, so when sitting down to practice meditation we will meet our impatient mind that loves to be distracted and to be stimulated constantly. We will feel bored, meet resistance, frustration and maybe even think that it’s pointless. When meditating we remove the focus from external stimulation and direct the awareness inwards.
We will meet ourselves with all that it entails, and that is not always comfortable.
In order to get a practice going we need to be willing to feel uncomfortable. In our modern Western world many of us try to avoid discomfort at all costs. But that often means living on the surface, letting the mind’s autopilot direct our lives, getting caught up in unhealthy patterns of numbing, distracting, projecting, blaming and more.
By meditating we practice directing all our awareness inside and we start to understand the nature of our mind, our habitual ways of thinking and befriend the emotions that we habitually try to avoid. We’re retraining and restructuring the brain. The more we practice the more intentional we can be in life.
How to meditate:
The simplest form of meditation is sitting down, closing the eyes and directing the awareness to the breath.
- You can choose to rest your awareness at one point in your body for example sensing the air going in an out of your nostrils, or sensing the lungs and how they move with the breath, or the rise and fall of the belly as we inhale and exhale.
- You can also choose to follow the full journey of the breath through the body with each inhalation and exhalation.
Let your awareness rest on the point you’ve chosen.
What inevitable will happen is that you’ll lose awareness and get sucked into your thoughts. At some point you’ll discover that you’ve forgotten all about your breath and that’s when the real practice sets in; now you have to gently direct your awareness back to your breath. You will lose your awareness again and again, which is why the foundation of the practice is discovering this and intentionally directing your awareness back.
Many falsely think that the practice is about stopping the thoughts; this is not possible in a sustainable way. Yes, you can stop your thoughts with force for a short while, but they will come back, because the nature of the mind is to think. However if you practice directing your awareness you’ll become better and better at staying with the breath, and the thoughts will fade into the background; becoming less loud and having less power to distract you. That’s how you’ll experience calm and more peace. But it comes with practice and not with force.
Why we need to include the body and the breath
When you want to build a meditation practice you can set yourself up for success by creating some conditions that will support you. One challenge to having a meditation practice is our sedentary lifestyle. Since many of us spend so many hours of the day sitting down, we don’t give our body enough chances to strengthen and move, which results in tensions, pains, bad posture etc. All of this will become more apparent when we meditate because by being still and aware we will actually feel it. I recommend combining a meditation practice with some kind of physical practice, not only because it overall brings more wellbeing into your life, but also because moving the body brings a sense of expansion and release of tensions which makes it easier for you to sit still and focus inwards.
The sedentary lifestyle also leads to the fact that many of us are trained to disconnect from the body and living mainly in our thoughts – and if there’s something the mind is good at then it’s generating sensations of stress and anxiety. Connecting to your breath is a very effective way to get into the body instantly, therefore doing some breathing exercises prior to settling into meditation is very helpful. (Here’s a short video with a stress-reducing breathing exercise).
Some tips that will make it easier to practice consistently:
Start with short regular practices: 5 minutes in the morning or/and the evening. Slowly extend the time.
Let go of expectations: when we expect our practice to be a certain way we activate our mind unnecessarily and we’re actually not present with what is.
Approach the practice with curiosity: what am I experiencing? How does it feel? Notice how every time is actually different.
Be kind to yourself: be towards yourself like you would be towards a kid that’s learning something new. Encourage yourself, celebrate the small successes, and when you feel like you’re failing pick yourself up gently.
Know that the mind will try to talk you out of meditating: your mind will with a 100% certainty try to talk you out of meditating, it will tell you that it’s boring, that you don't have time today, that something else is more important and you need to skip it, that you don’t need it etc. This is the great challenge, however knowing that it happens to all, might help you be vigilant and not listen to these excuses the mind comes up with.
If you end up skipping your practice, don’t stay stuck in guilt, just get on with the practice the next day: The more you beat yourself up for skipping one practice the more likely it is that you’ll lose your practice completely, because you’ll try to avoid the feeling of guilt by distracting yourself. Instead if you just notice that you skipped, accept it and move on, then you can quickly resume your practice.
If you have any questions about meditation that you’d like me to answer let me know in the comments below or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org - I’d also love to hear how your practice is going!