By now, most of us have heard that meditation can greatly improve one’s well-being. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Sitting in a serene, Zen retreat, eyes closed, face completely relaxed as we leave all of our cares and worries behind. However, the harsh reality for most of us is that it’s incredibly hard to find time to learn how to begin and then maintain a meditation practice.
Studies have shown that regular meditation increases concentration and attention, reduces anxiety, and helps preserve the aging brain. It can also boost your immune system, improve sleep, and lower blood pressure. So why wouldn’t we prioritize implementing a regular meditation practice?
Perhaps the idea of adding something else to the “to do” list feels overwhelming when our day-to-day activities and responsibilities can already wear us out. Thankfully, adding meditation to your daily schedule will actually help you feel less overwhelmed and burdened—meditation helps to manage stress and reduce negative feelings, increasing your productivity as a result.
Here is some advice on how to meditate for beginners a regular meditation practice.
Begin with just 10 minutes a day
Many people feel that they cannot commit to meditation because they think they’d need to dedicate a lot of time it. This is a myth. Set a timer for just 10 minutes, and start there. Turn your telephone off and use something like a kitchen timer. If you live with other people, ask that they do not interrupt you during your meditation practice. Doing a short meditation practice every day is much more effective than doing a long practice once or twice a week.
You don’t have to sit cross-legged on a fancy cushion
Sitting in a comfortable seated position is good enough; you can even sit in a chair. You do not have to sit on the ground with pretzel legs and your palms facing up. Perhaps just start by sitting on a pillow or folded blanket and let your legs relax. It’s absolutely normal to fidget and move around in the beginning, so don’t beat yourself up.
Experiment with a couple of different seated poses until you find one or two that work best for you. It is advisable to stay as still as possible and close your eyes while meditating. If you like, shop around for a pretty meditation cushion. When I finally bought one for myself, I found that I meditated on a more regular basis because I had a prop that kept me coming back.
Choose a simple mantra
The word “mantra” has two parts: “man” (the root of the Sanskrit word for mind) and “tra” (the root of the word “instrument”). A mantra is an instrument of the mind—a powerful sound or vibration used to enter a deep state of meditation. Select a phrase or word that you will repeat silently to yourself to stay focused during meditation. If you’re at a loss, try something simple like “om”, “breathe” or “inhale, exhale.” I’ve been using the phrase “my heart is wide open, love pours in and out.” You could even choose to gently whisper the mantra out loud. Practicing this way may actually help you to relax and focus when learning how to meditate.
Clear a space in your home that will be used for meditation only
Even if you live in a small space, clear a little corner and set up a few appropriate items—perhaps a small blanket, so a mala beads, a live plant, a photograph or still life painting of nature, and a book or two on meditation (or perhaps poetry). Keep it very streamlined and avoid photographs or artwork that may disturb you. Do not bring your phone or any digital device into your meditation area. Dedicating a space in your home to your meditation practice will inspire you to sit daily.
Do a few gentle stretches before sitting down to meditate
According to traditional yoga philosophy, the goal of yoga asanas (poses) is to still the physical body so that you can quiet your mind in preparation for meditation. Get into the habit of doing three or four gentle yoga poses before you sit and meditate. Some good suggestions are the downward dog, legs up the wall pose, and cat/cow pose. Try to spend 1-3 minutes in each pose prior to beginning your meditation. Know that it is common for your limbs to go numb or tingle after sitting still for long periods of time—stretching a bit beforehand helps to prepare the body for stillness.