In general, I think many who are new to meditation may not know where to start, or are certain of meditation techniques, dos and boundaries. I personally have been there. Some, may feel like it is a waste of time if something doesn’t “happen.” Others wonder if they will ever be able to quiet their mind enough to get “somewhere,” wherever “there” might be. It might be frustrating, or you may think you are not good at meditating, but I am here to tell you that no matter where you are in your practice, you are an awesome meditator! Even on the days where it feels like you suck at it. To propel you on your journey, I decided to offer some helpful tips that demystify meditation to new practitioners. As a meditation teacher, I seem to get asked the same questions all the time. Here’s what I share with my students to help them get going. By following these tips, my students tell me that over time their frustration melts away.
TIP 1: Commit to a Certain Length of Time AKA “Commit and Sit”
Even if it is just five minutes, commit to sitting for your meditation for a set period of time each day. No matter what your opinion is of the quality of that particular meditation, commit and sit for it. In the beginning, that five minutes might seem like an eternity. Maybe you will be wanting to get up so badly you feel like you don’t get anything accomplished in that mediation. Even the most experienced meditators have felt like this at some time or another. And, news flash, this could still happen YEARS into your practice. And that’s OKAY. I promise. But eventually, over time, you will begin to crave more. And then one day you’ll realize that you want to sit for longer. Be patient with yourself. The most important part of this tip is to set up consistency and to devote time to developing your practice. The rest will fall into place. Just give yourself time above all, be compassionate with yourself.
TIP 2: Let Go of Expectations
A huge myth about meditation is that every time has to be some kind of cosmic experience. If we don’t have a vision of the Buddha or Ganesh on a magic carpet, we think we’re not really meditating. This is a myth. Meditative states come in all shapes and sizes, and the humble experience that doesn’t feel like much is just as valuable as the one where we feel like we’ve boarded the mothership. While sometimes we can certainly reach heightened states of consciousness, this doesn’t mean that every time will be like that. This is even a trap for experienced meditators—we feel like if we have one amazing experience, we go into every meditation expecting the same. This is just not the reality of the practice, and that’s okay. Don’t abandon meditation because every time isn’t off the charts. My advice is to go into each meditation as if it is your first time, without any expectations. Allow your authentic experience, the one you are meant to have on that particular day, to shine through. The practice you are meant to have, imperfect and beautiful, will show up if you allow it. If you really feel like you need “proof” if your practice is “working” or not, look for evidence in your daily life. You might notice you are sleeping better, you are less reactive, you argue less with your spouse or significant other, or you are more patient at your job or with your children. This is the real fruit of the practice. That is the magic of meditation.
TIP 3: Embrace Distractions
Distractions are part of modern daily life. Even though when we meditate we want to limit distractions, the truth is, sometimes we get interrupted. If you get distracted or interrupted, don’t get mad. Just try to let it go, and ease yourself back into your meditation. I can speak from experience. I’ve got some loud neighbors. They argue A LOT. When I was meditating, if they would start fighting and I could hear them, or the mailman knocked on the door, or my husband walked into the room, or my dog barked at the kids walking home from school, I used to think my meditation was over. I used to get so upset that I couldn’t find my quiet to zone into, as if life stole my peace. But I ended up losing out on so many meditations, I decided that I couldn’t just stop if I got interrupted. This was a metaphor for life—things would inevitably happen, but what was up to me was how I reacted to those things. The same goes for the distractions in my meditation practice. Life happens for sure, but why would I want to stop doing the thing that helps me get through life with less reactiveness? I urge you to embrace the distractions and keep meditating. Life won’t stop. And that is okay.
TIP 4: Be Willing to Try Different Techniques
There are a lot of meditation techniques out there. Some are ancient; some are modern. Some are based in neuroscience; some are based on subtle body or more esoteric practices. Not all people experience these techniques the same. For one person a certain meditation might be their favorite, their bullet-train, their golden ticket to Zen, but for someone else that same meditation might be just meh. Be willing to try new things. If you try something that isn’t for you, it’s okay. Don’t write off meditation all together because one type didn’t work for you. Also, be willing to try things a few times, or maybe even for a few weeks. My practice can be different from one day to the next, so a technique I do today might feel entirely different tomorrow, or next week, or next month. I’ve tried techniques that I thought were not for me, but five years later they became my golden ticket. Listen to yourself and your inner guidance, be willing to be playful, and be willing to experiment. Honor how your practice shows up for you. It does not have to be the same as anyone else’s practice.
TIP 5: Pay Attention to Details
Be observant in your practice with details such as sitting position, what you ate or drank before your practice, and what time of day it is. These things can make all the difference in setting you up for a juicy meditation. Experiment with sitting up, lying down on a bed or on a mat with props and cushions, or even sitting in a chair. Being comfortable in your body will help you get into a deeper meditative state and help you be able to eventually sit for longer. Also, things like caffeine or eating certain foods can help or interfere with your practice. Many practitioners keep a meditation journal where they record these details and figure out what works and doesn’t work for them. Every person is different. Some people feel like they cannot settle down for meditation if they have caffeine of heavy food beforehand. But, some people feel like the concentrate better having a strong cup of coffee just before meditation (this is even part of the mystic Sufi tradition). Some people can have a deeper experience during morning meditations, and some people do better at night. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, and take the time to figure out how to set yourself up for success. Does that mean that if you realize you tend to have better meditations in the morning that you skip your meditation if you don’t find the time to do it until the evening? No. Any meditation is better than no meditation. What it does mean is that the more you know about what works for you and what doesn’t, the more you can use this knowledge to advance in your practice.
These tips are a great place to start. Joining a meditation group or finding a teacher can be immensely helpful, too. I teach a gentle yoga and meditation class on Thursday nights at 6:30pm at Healsci Yoga School. Each class includes a thirty minute guided meditation. Also, check out my upcoming Meditation for Beginners Workshop on October 29th from 8:30am to 11am at Healsci Yoga School. See you on the meditation cushion!