By Nellie Lazar
Wikipedia describes meditation as “a practice where an individual uses a technique such as mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.” It is elusive to define, but meditation is a common and varied practice within many faith traditions. Mindfulness meditation is commonly practiced to achieve an awareness of the present moment. Letting go of any preconceived expectations of what you think your meditation practice should look like will help you adapt your practice to your lifestyle so that it becomes a natural state of being.
For years, meditation eluded me. I thought I was too busy and too distracted. Because I’m an all-or-nothing type of personality, I wanted to achieve a long meditation right off the bat. It wasn’t until I went through yoga teaching program several years ago that I discovered not just the benefits of a meditation practice, but also the right tools to help me on my journey. Because my business is very demanding of time and energy, meditation has been crucial in helping me achieve balance and I’ve been blessed by it’s benefits.
The benefits of meditation include feelings of joy in the present moment, decreased feelings of stress and anxiety, improved sleep, self-acceptance, and increased focus, and overall calmness. The required attention to breath triggers a relaxation response and soothes our nervous system.
I’m not going to lie… meditation is hard at first. Personally, I found it helpful to initially meditate in a group setting. The proximity to others made me feel safe and calm and was hugely beneficial to my not giving up on the practice. You can find online classes, videos, tutorials, phone apps, and community groups that will all help you get started. You may also be able to find a meditation coach that will work with you one-on-one.
1. FINDING THE RIGHT TIME
I found that early morning is the best time for me, but it looks different for everyone. When you become comfortable with meditation, you may adapt to all different times of the day. If you begin by thinking that you can knock out a 20 minute meditation session, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Start small… 5 minutes, then 10, and so on.
2. CHOOSING A PLACE
No fancy meditation room required, folks. You just need a quiet space and a comfortable chair, cushion, or mat. Inside or outside, it doesn’t matter as long as you feel safe and comfortable. I once witnessed someone meditating in the middle of Main Street in Disneyland. Now, that’s real zen mastership!
3. HANDLING RANDOM THOUGHTS
Go easy on yourself because you WILL have disruptive thoughts. “Did I remember to call my client,” and other items on your to-do list will undoubtedly make themselves known. This is where we practice non-judgment and self-kindness. These random thoughts are normal. Think of them as fleeting clouds, and let them go. Keep coming back to your breath. Follow your breath and not the thoughts. If it serves you, establish a mantra that might help you stay focused.
LET’S TRY IT TOGETHER!
First, consider setting a timer. I personally find this helpful. For your first time, start out with 5 minutes. Sitting comfortably on your chair, cushion, or mat (cross legged or any position that suits you), follow these 2 steps.
- Close your eyes and focus within. Notice your natural breathing pattern, and begin focusing on your inhales and exhalations. Notice the rise and fall of your belly, and notice your body movements with each breath. Every time your mind wanders and those to-do tasks seep in, come back to your breath.
- If it serves you, set your mind on an internal image of something you find soothing… a gently swaying tree, an ocean wave, etc. Perhaps a mantra is a tool you’ll find useful and calming… reciting an expression of gratitude or peace, repeating the sound OM either audibly or silently, whatever speaks to your soul. Continue in this way until your timer goes off, and then gently open your eyes and slowly awaken your mind and body.
Be mindful that not every session will be the same. Some may be deeper than others. As you progress through your meditation journey, you’ll discover your own style. You might discover that you like the soft hum of chanting monks in the background, or the melodic sounds of Tibetan singing bowls. You may want to incorporate prayer beads. Remove the self-judgment and be okay with what resonates with you. If any of these practices enhance your ability to disconnect from the mind, don’t be afraid to use them. The right way is the way that works for you, so experiment until you find your comfort zone. Whatever your style is, it is totally okay because this is YOUR practice!