By Kate Taylor
The first time I ever tried meditating, I thought I’d discovered hell on earth. Cross-legged and straight-backed for an interminable hour, I wondered which would kill me first: pain, claustrophobia or boredom.
If someone had told me then that I’d become a meditation-junkie, I’d have laughed them out of the zendo.
Yet here I am: a three-times-daily meditator who credits the practice for my health, happiness and peace of mind.
It didn’t happen overnight. Before meditation brought me joy, it brought me a whole lot of mental and physical anguish.
My problem: I didn’t seek advice or help. Yet again and again, life backed me onto a meditation cushion, and finally, I found a spiritual mentor and figured it out. I gave myself to the practice and in return, it took my anxieties, my fears, my addictions and my pain. Not all of them, of course – I’m a work in progress.
But meditation transformed me.
If you are learning about meditation, or just considering a new practice, start with these 20 vital tips. They’ll help you face down pitfalls and discouragement and build a strong foundation for your practice.
- Begin With Quick 5-Minute Sessions
When you’re first learning meditation, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Even a 20-minute-meditation can feel brutal. Start out easy — meditate until you feel like stopping. Begin with 2-minute sessions, and when you’re ready for more, move it up to 5 and then 10 minutes.
- Stretch or Do Yoga First
By stretching or doing yoga before meditating, you’ll be preparing your body to sit still for a long time. Yoga and meditation complement one another beautifully. Even a few simple stretches can help you stay comfortable for a longer amount of time.
- Try Out a Guided Meditation
For a fun experience while learning meditation, try having someone guide you. You can find free guided meditations available on YouTube and other platforms. You might find it easier when you follow someone else’s instructions.
Click here for one of my favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCvY3ud_NjI
- Set Your Timer
When you set a timer for your meditation, you don’t have to keep checking the clock. This removes a big distraction from your practice. Moreover, you won’t be sitting in meditation all day because you’ve forgotten to see how much time has elapsed (this might happen to a veteran meditator, but not when you’re first learning meditation). Set your timer so you can relax and enjoy your experience.
- Remove Distractions
Turn off your cell phone, put it on vibrate, or leave it in the other room. You want to be in a space without distractions. I find that the best place to meditate is in my room with the door closed.
- Don’t Try Too Hard
Meditation at its best is soothing, relaxing, and effortless. It’s merely observation; observing your breathing with your conscious awareness. There is no real effort involved, just being consciously aware. So, don’t work too hard at it.
- Create a Daily Practice or Ritual
By meditating every day at the same time or within the same daily routine, you develop a habit that becomes easier to practice every day. If you don’t build meditation into your daily routine, you’ll find yourself forgetting to do it.
- Relax Beforehand
You want to wear comfortable, loose clothing and be in a relaxing environment. Make sure your room is comfortable. Before you start, take a few deliberate deep breaths and stretch any part of your body that feels tense or achy.
- Try Out Different Types of Meditation
There are dozens of techniques to meditate, such as Zen meditation, chanting meditations, mantras, and so on. Try out different types to see which one feels right for you.
- Read “The Power of Now” of “The Untethered Soul”
These great books by Eckhart Tolle and Michael Singer (respectively) shed new light on what it really means to be present. And meditation is simply the practice of being present. (“The Untethered Soul,” incidentally, is my favorite spiritual book and bible on meditation and mindfulness).
- Let Go of Expectations
Don’t expect enlightenment. At least, not for a long while. Meditation is about noticing and observing your own sensations, thoughts, and feelings. By just allowing your experience of meditation to unfold in any way that it does, you’ll come away with the best experience.
- Stay Nonjudgmental
By simply noticing things as they are — without judging them — you are being mindful. When you notice your mind labelling, commenting, and making opinions about things, you’re judging. And that’s okay when you judge too. Just notice that, and let it go.
- Have Fun with Your Practice
Allow yourself to really enjoy your meditation session. View your repetitive or silly thoughts with humor. Laugh at your “monkey mind” as it keeps leaping around and grabbing bananas. Have fun with it!
- Your Mind Will Quiet Itself
Don’t try to force your mind to stop thinking; that’ll create distress. It will stop thinking all on its own when you practice your technique, whether it’s observing your breathing or repeating a mantra.
- Your Mind Will Wander
It’s okay when your mind wanders, that’s just what minds do! Just notice that your mind has wandered, and gently — with compassion — return your attention to your technique (observing your breathing). Don’t beat yourself up, it’s normal.
- Find a Comfortable Posture
There are no rules dictating that you must sit in the lotus position. You can lie down, if you’re able to remain alert. Find a position that works well for you, whether it’s sitting on a chair, cushion, or bench.
- Your Eyes Can Be Open Or Closed
Do what feels right for you. If you keep your eyes open, you might see visual distractions. If you close your eyes, it may feel forced and unnatural while you’re awake. Do what works for you.
- Get Up Slowly
After you finish your practice, take your time getting up. Don’t rush off to the rest of your day, as you want to stay mindful and bring your meditative state into the rest of your day’s activities.
- Meditate With Others
Whether it’s with friends, family members, your partner, a coach, or an organization, by meditating in a group it’ll help you stay committed to the practice. Moreover, you can share your experiences afterwards. You might be surprised to hear how different their experience was.
- Observe the Feeling Within Your Body
Notice how you feel internally, within your body. What sensations are there in your legs? Do you feel your toes and calves? Notice your diaphragm moving as you breathe. This will keep you connected to your body.