I’m sure you’ve heard by now that you should give meditation a try because of the many benefits one experiences through a meditation practice.
But who has time to meditate, right? And how does one even meditate?
When I tried to “meditate” for the first time, I had no idea what to do or where to start.
I attempted to sit quietly and “clear my mind”, but thoughts kept coming up like, “What should I eat for lunch?” or “I can’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning!”. After a few minutes, I wondered, “Am I doing this right?”, and finally, “Forget this, I’m bored and I don’t ‘feel’ any different.”
From clients and students of mine, I’ve heard similar stories of frustration and cluelessness on how to get started with a meditation practice.
So how do you get started when the mere thought of meditating sends shivers up your spine and actually causes your anxiety levels to spike?
Here are 5 tips and ways to help you develop a meditation practice.
1. PRACTICING is Meditating
There’s no right or wrong way to meditate when you’re trying to meditate. Practicing is meditation.
Let’s say you choose to sit quietly for 5 minutes as your meditation, and in those 5 minutes, thoughts keep coming up. It seems you have to focus on your breath 1,000 times in the 5 minutes alone! Regardless of whether or not thoughts come up or you feel distracted, you are meditating for those 5 minutes.
The simple act of deciding to try and then sitting or lying quietly armed with a meditative technique qualifies as meditation, regardless of your perceived success. And that’s how it will always be – some days are easier to find stillness within, and some days it feels like there’s a bounce house full of kids in your brain. Nobody’s perfect!
2. Find a Quote or Mantra to Repeat
Speaking of meditative techniques, here’s a very popular and easy one to use when you start meditating. Find a simple quote, phrase, mantra (song lyric, whatever!) that relates to you in the moment to sit quietly and recite in your head.
One example is the "So Hum" meditation.
- Choosing a quiet place, sit on the floor or in a chair, using props like blankets or pillows to find a comfortable seat.
- Close your eyes, and start to observe the flow of your breath.
- Breathe through your nose, slow inhales, full exhales.
- Gently begin to inhale through the nose while silently saying So. As you exhale, silently say Hum.
- Continue like this for each inhale and each exhale. Your mind will naturally drift to noises you hear or sensations you feel – kindly remind yourself to return to the breath and to repeat: “So…. Hum…”.
At the beginning, you might be able to do this for a minute or two, but gradually you will find you can sit for longer periods of time quietly repeating a mantra or quote. There’s no perfect way to do this, simply to get quiet so you can hear the voice of intuition that resonates within you.
Think of the breath and the mantra as a rattle for a baby’s brain. The function is similar - the repetition, focus, and sound is soothing and helps the mind to quiet out distractions.
3. Practice a Form of Breath Control
In addition to helping calm the mind for meditation, controlling the breath has many physical, mental, and emotional benefits! It helps regulate the nervous system, acts as a filtration system to bring fresh air and energy in and to rid the body of toxins and emotional stress, and helps relieve or prevent anxiety. While learning to control your breath, you will learn to take fuller, deeper, and longer breaths.
One technique you can use to learn how to control the breath is alternate nostril breathing.
- As you did above with the mantra technique, take a seat, make yourself comfortable, rest the hands on the thighs or in your lap, and close your eyes.
- Ensure you’re sitting upright and not slouching forward (meditation chairs or sitting against a wall can help with this).
- Slowly start to breathe in and out through the nose, both softening and deepening your breath.
- Bring the right thumb to the right nostril, and the right pointer finger or pinky to the left nostril (whatever feels more natural to you).
- As you inhale, plug the left nostril so the air draws in through the right nostril. Hold the air at the top as you switch, plugging the right nostril with the thumb, and exhaling through the left.
- Hold at the bottom of the exhale, and now inhale through the left nostril. Hold the breath, plug the left side, release the right and exhale.
That’s one full round. You would begin again by inhaling with the right nostril, and repeating through. You can practice this for 1 minute and up! Five to 10 minutes would be an ideal length of time, and you could switch hands, as well, as you increase the length of time.
This technique has many benefits - it enables you to bring the two hemispheres of the brain into balance and has a very calming effect on the body.
You will find that simply focusing on this technique, with it’s necessity to concentrate on the switching of the nostrils, enables you to ignore other distractions and thoughts more easily than by simply focusing on your breath alone.
4. Yoga Helps
During my teacher training certification course, 19 out of 20 students came to yoga for the physical benefits (yoga butt, anyone?). I was the sole student of 20 that started yoga for the spiritual benefits. My spiritual journey led me to the point where I couldn’t avoid meditation anymore.
As a healer and therapist, I needed to practice what I was preaching, and I sorely needed it as a complement to my personal work.
The problem is - my mind is so active and alert that sitting quality without fidgeting for 5 minutes felt more like agony than bliss.
At the Self Realization Fellowship, talk of Kriya Yoga was prevalent as a way to calm the mind for meditation. Yoga was becoming very popular in Los Angeles and there was a great discount on a 2 week package, so I decided to give it a go!
I wasn’t convinced prior about yoga because I truthfully didn’t know much about it or care to find out, but after the two weeks, I was hooked.
Yoga has given me the gift to be present and truly aware of the Universe around me, and has allowed me to bear witness to the unfolding of my path, instead of being caught up in the daily details and struggles.
My entire perspective has shifted and I credit my yoga practice as a source of many successes in my life. I would recommend some form of yoga to all. Take time to do some online research about the different forms and how one might benefit your specific needs, and then make a personal commitment to get on the mat.
5. Finds Ways to Be Present in Each Moment
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself.
There’s no end goal to meditation or final destination.
There’s nowhere to get to and nowhere to go except here, simply being and enjoying the process. Meditating is truly a state of being and not just something we should delegate a few minutes to here and there. Of course, that’s the way we start our meditation practice, because we need to develop tools and sharpen our skills. Eventually, we aim for a state of constant presence, awareness, and meditation. We can do this each day in simple ways.
For example imagine you’re preparing ingredients for dinner and you find yourself feeling rushed, overwhelmed, or bored from the routine.
Instead of holding your breath, feeling anxious, putting all your weight on one foot and standing with imbalance in the body, rushing around and risking injuring yourself with a knife or hot stove, find ways to connect to the process and the present moment.
Stand on both feet firmly, root into the earth and feel grounded, begin to breathe evenly. Notice the way the food smells or how it feels on your hands.
You might cultivate feelings of gratitude and blessings for the ability to have fresh food, for your health, for your home, the ability to use your hands to chop and your eyes to see (the list could go on and on!).
Maybe the window is open and you hear birds singing or feel the warmth of the sun peeking in the window. Suddenly you find that you feel blissful and appreciative instead of feeling frustrated, like you're running behind or in over your head.
Connecting to Spirit and to Self isn’t a secret, rather a matter of stopping and doing, of realizing the beauty in each moment.
It becomes your nature after a while as you find it more and more difficult to be stressed and angry, and easier and more natural to feel grateful, abundant, and content.
About the author
Rima currently lives part-time between Santa Teresa, Costa Rica and Southern California. She hosts groups of all kinds for retreats in Costa Rica, among other things. More information about Rima can be found here. Join her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus!