Meditation has hit the mainstream! We’re hearing it talked about more and more, scientific studies are being conducted on its’ benefits, and grade schools are even starting to teach it to students.
And it all makes perfect sense. We know that exercise is vital for our physical health, and it’s become clear that meditation (or mindfulness) is essential for our mental health.
But how do you start? Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way!
1. Make time for it every day. It seems simple, but this is probably the most crucial step. Pick a time of day when you’ll do it every day (or at least every week-day). Most meditators will tell you the best time for them is in the morning, soon after they wake up. Our brains are generally quieter than in the middle of our hectic day. This is true for most people. Plus, by doing it in the morning, you’ll get the reward of achieving your goal early every day.
2. Start small. Like really small. Start with 1 or 2 minutes. If you start with 10 or 20 minutes, you’ll likely get bored, distracted, or frustrated that “It isn’t working.” You don’t start training for a marathon by doing a 10-mile run. 1-2 minutes may seem short, and that’s the point. You are more likely to stick with it and to experience moments that give you the momentum to continue.
3. Focus on your breath. This is the most natural form of meditation for most people. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. If you start thinking about something, that’s ok! It’s normal and happens to even the most experienced meditators. The goal is to develop the awareness that you started thinking about something, and then let that thought go to return to the breath. This is way harder than you might think, as your brain will want to keep believing. And in most cases, it will. Also, normal.
4. Keep coming back to the breath. You’ll continue to do this back and forth dance from thought to breath, from breath to thought. Meditation is the development of awareness, recognition of thoughts, and intentional letting go of thoughts. As you improve, you’ll get better at recognizing feelings and letting them go. Over time you’ll develop a much greater awareness of your thoughts, which can lead to significant changes in your overall health and happiness. But beware, this takes time, patience, and regular practice. Just like training for a marathon, you build your capacity over time through repeated and expanded practice.
5. Use a timer. When you start, set it for 1 minute. When you are ready to go to 2 minutes, do two separate 1-minute meditations. Continue to do this when you expand to 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. Having the timer go off every minute will allow you to check-in with yourself and see if you are lost in thinking. If you are, it’ll be your cue to go back to focusing on your breath. If you aren’t, give yourself some credit for staying focused (a smile, a first pump, perhaps even a jig) and reset the timer. As you start to see the progress, you can set the timer for longer intervals.
6. Experiment with other forms of meditation. There is so much more you can do than focus on your breath. You can focus on a candle or a tree. Your feet. Your hands. Your heart. The key when starting to meditate is to find a focus point and stay with it for as long as you can, then keep coming back to it.
7. Use online tools. There is a meditation app called Headspace which gives you 10 free meditations. Other great apps are Calm, Insight Timer and 10% Happier. A few useful websites with guided and scripted meditations are TaraBrach.com and JackKornfield.com
8. Start Now. Do a 1-minute meditation. If you want to start meditating, what better time than now!? Set a timer for 1 minute and focus on your breath. When you finish, commit to a time tomorrow when you’ll do this again. At the end of each session, make that commitment to the following day.
I’m on a mission to tell as many people as I can about why they should meditate, especially as a morning habit. I can’t think of a better way to truly get to know yourself, love yourself, and evolve yourself. Beyond that, the broader societal benefits of empathy, compassion, and connection are necessary in today’s world. And of course, there are no nasty side effects to these kinds of small doses. So let’s get to it.
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