Meditation is an important part of a healthy, mind/body/spirit connected lifestyle. Although meditation is often considered a spiritual practice, you don’t need to be religious to use this effective technique, and anyone from any religion can benefit from it.
Studies show that meditating 12-15 minutes every day for 8 weeks will result in significant improvements to your life. Meditating helps increase concentration, focus, and memory, decrease stress, increase self-awareness, reduce negative emotions, and helps to reduce the negative affects of a host of medical disorders such as anxiety, depression, asthma, high blood pressure, insomnia, heart disease, cancer, physical pain, and more.
When I was a child, my parents used to meditate regularly. They would lie on the living room floor with their arms at their sides, their palms facing up, and their legs resting on the couch, chanting sounds I didn’t understand. When my little friends would come over during meditation time they would ask bewilderedly, “What are your parents doing?” “Meditating,” I would respond. “What’s that?” they would ask. “I don’t know, but we have to be quiet,” I would say.
My parents tried to teach me to meditate, but I never thought I could do it. “Sit still, focus, don’t think, and something amazing will happen.” What? How is that even possible? I tried and tried, but I was never able to NOT think. And I kept waiting, but nothing amazing ever happened. The most that ever happened is that I would fall asleep and wake up wondering why everyone else could meditate except me.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned the technique as a “moving meditation” through yoga. Then I took some sitting meditation classes and finally realized that the problem was not that I didn’t know how to meditate, it was that I didn’t know what to expect when I was meditating.
I recently worked with a client who was having a similar experience with meditation. As we talked, I realized that no one had ever really explained to her how to meditate or what to expect either. She was going into it with the same expectations I had as a child, with the same result of thinking that she wasn’t good at it.
With this in mind, I put together the following tips for those beginning a meditation practice or who struggle with meditating.
10 Simple Tips for a Successful Meditation Practice
Get comfortable. Sit crossed-legged on the floor… sit in a chair… the main thing is to choose a position that allows for deep, comfortable breathing. For energy flow purposes, you want to have a straight spine, but sitting comfortably. With that said, you may not want to be so comfortable that you fall right to sleep, which can happen more easily when you meditate lying down.
Either close your eyes or leave them open. If you leave your eyes open, pick a spot to gaze upon directly in front of you that is lower than eye level. This will help relax your eyes and minimize distractions.
Breathe. Breathe and be aware of your breathing. To get started, you may want to count your breath. One count inhale, two count exhale. Two count inhale, three count exhale. Three count inhale, four count exhale. Follow this process until you get up to 10 or 15 counts. After you get to this point, just simply return to breathing in and out normally. Because of the breathing exercise, you may automatically take deeper breaths. As you’re breathing, feel your belly rising and falling with your breath.
Notice. Notice your breath… notice your body… see if you can be still while you notice. Notice your urge to fidget, and if you do fidget, don’t judge the fact that your fidgeting! There is no judgement in meditation. If you need to move, move. Then move back to stillness.
Have thoughts. Because you WILL have thoughts. Having thoughts doesn’t mean that you are not meditating or that you are not good at meditation. Everyone has thoughts. When a thought arises, notice that you had that thought and then let that thought go and re-focus your attention on your breath. At some point, you may notice a particular thought or train of thoughts. Simply make a mental note that these thoughts are occurring. For example, you may think to yourself, “Oh, I’ve had several thoughts about work… I must be more stressed about the upcoming meeting with my boss than I realized.” And then let the thoughts go for the time being and return to focusing on your breath.
Repeat a positive statement. If you can’t seem to stop the stream of thoughts, and it becomes a bit overwhelming, try repeating a positive statement in your mind. Repeating short, easy statements like, “I am whole,” “I am love,” or simply, “I am,” can help shift the focus from your thoughts to the statement you choose. When you feel less overwhelmed by your thoughts, return to focusing on your breath. The spiritual path of chanting in Sanskrit is also said to be helpful. Some work directly with a spiritual leader to create a personal mantra. And if you simply can’t stop the “monkey mind,” take a break and try again later.
Release all expectations. This is very important. If you expect not to have any thoughts, you will most likely be agitated by the thoughts you do have. If you expect to be comfortable, you are more likely to become annoyed when you begin feeling uncomfortable. Practice accepting whatever arises during your meditation time and know that it is all part of the process, and that distractions will lesson over time. Also, don’t be disappointed if “something amazing” doesn’t happen in the moment. Some meditators share about their experiences of incredible energy sensations or feelings of deep peace or love, but you’re still meditating successfully if this doesn’t happen for you.
Set a timer. I recommend this when you begin meditating. This will prevent you from checking the clock every minute and a half to see if your time is up. To start, you may want to just try two minutes. Then add a minute or so each day. You want to work up to meditating a minimum of 12-15 minutes per day. And someday, you may find the timer unnecessary.
Create a routine. Consistency is key to excelling at just about anything. Creating a routine helps you develop consistency with your practice. If you are an early bird, a morning meditation may be a great way to start your day. If you run out the door at the last minute to make it to work on time, you may want to try meditating in an empty office or quiet room at work. Or if you can’t find the time during the day, try an evening meditation. It doesn’t matter when you choose to meditate, just try to pick a time of day that you are likely to be able to repeat on a regular basis.
Practice yoga asana regularly. One of the reasons to practice yoga asana is to prepare your body and mind for sitting in meditation later. Early on in your meditation practice, you may find it difficult to sit still for long. This may be true because your body lacks the strength and flexibility required to sit for long periods of time. Yoga strengthens your body and encourages more balance and flexibility. A beginning meditator may also discover that their mind wanders frequently. To find balance in yoga postures, yogis focus on their breath to find the stillness necessary for balance. This results in the ability to more easily quiet the mind, which is an important goal in meditation. It’s sometimes easier to practice a sitting meditation after you’ve practiced some yoga postures.
If you’ve struggled with meditation, I hope these tips will help you relax into the practice. The bottom line is that yoga is for everyone, and you can’t make a mistake. Any time you spend slowing down and breathing will be time well spent. Best of luck to you in your practice. And please let me know how it’s going for you!
Lisa Vincent is a personal growth Life Coach, Lifestyle Coach, EFT Practitioner, Workshop Leader, and Course Instructor. She co-developed the online course Overcoming Jealousy , and developed and facilitates theLoving Your Body Workshop for Women. She is also the author of the forthcoming book, 50 Ways to Love Your Body NOW: Without Changing a Thing. Contact her for a free 20-minute consultation to see how she can help you to love your body, embrace a healthy life-style, quiet self-judgement and criticism, overcome jealousy, insecurity, or loneliness, release unhealthy partnerships, produce loving relationships, or create a more peaceful, joyful experience of life. You can contact her through Twitter, Facebook, and her website.