Before I ever tried meditation, I had a lot of preconceived ideas about how to do it and I didn’t believe closing your eyes and sitting still could make you healthier and happier. It wasn’t until I started attending yoga classes on a regular basis that I got exposed to meditation. Fortunately, I had several amazing teachers who instructed me on how to set myself up for meditation and taught me the benefits of this practice. Now it’s a daily habit that I love doing and it has had such a positive impact on how I feel and perform. But it took me awhile to get to this point. So, I thought it would be helpful to you if I shared with you some of the basic tips I learned over the years that have helped me benefit from this amazing practice.
First, I just want to say that meditation is a simple, yet highly effective tool that can help maintain your health and happiness---and it’s free! A few of the benefits from meditation include reducing stress and anxiety and stimulating intuition and creativity. There are many more benefits from meditation that it seems logical that everyone would want to do it every day, right? But that isn’t the case. Like I used to be, I think if you are new to meditation it can be a bit intimidating. To ease any concerns or confusion about meditating, here are 8 basic foundations to help inspire you to start your meditation journey:
1 - Meditate in the morning – Ideally, it’s best to meditate first thing in the morning because it can help create a positive mindset for your day. Plus, you are more likely to get it done at the start of your day as there tends to be less activities to distract you. But, if mornings don’t work with your schedule, that’s okay. You will reap the benefits of this practice no matter what time you do it. In fact, meditating at the end of your workday is a nice way to transition from work to home life.
2 - Find a quiet place – Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. If you don’t live alone, this may require some creativity. If this is the case, consider meditating before everyone gets up or after everyone leaves for their respective days. If you can’t find a quiet place, put on a set of headphones and listen to ambient sounds or music. Insight Timer is a free app that offers a variety of background music designed for meditation.
3 - Sit Well – Once you find a space to sit, make sure you sit in a comfortable position. I realize this may sound basic, but it’s important to be in a comfortable and supported position so you are able to sit in for an extended period of time without discomfort. Interestingly, the Sanskrit word āsana is commonly referred to as the physical practice of yoga, but, when Patañjali created the Yoga Sūtra thousands of years ago, āsana (the 3rd limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga) essentially focused on the postures specifically needed for meditation:
“The postures of meditation should embody steadiness and ease.”
Translation of the Yoga Sūtra, Verse 2.46 by Chip Hartranft
There are many ways to set yourself up for a successful meditation sit. Everyone’s bodies are different, and it may take a few tries to figure out what works for you. The goal is to keep your spine elongated and your legs in a comfortable position. This isn’t as easy as it sounds and isn’t accessible for every BODY. Here are a few options you can experiment with:
Cross legged – Also called Easy Pose, this posture can be done with or without props. If you are not using any props, simply sit on your mat with your legs crossed. Tilt your pelvis slightly forward to lengthen your spine, neck is long, and the crown of your head is reaching for the sky. Rest your hands comfortably on your knees.
Props that can help support you in Easy Pose include: 1) Sitting on a blanket to make it a bit more accessible to tilt your pelvis forward. 2) To support your knees, place a blanket or block under each knee. 3) To elevate any pain in your ankles, uncross your feet and instead place one foot in front of the other, removing the weight that may be causing pressure.
Sit in a chair – Sitting in a chair can be the most comfortable for your body. To do this pose, grab a chair and sit on the edge of the seat so that you can tilt your pelvis slightly forward. Root both feet into the floor, barefooted if possible, to enhance your connection to the earth promoting a grounding experience. Your thighs are parallel to the ground and your knees are pointing straight out in front of you creating a 90-degree angle. If the chair is too tall you may need to put a few blocks under your feet to reach the 90-degree angle. Your hands rest on your thighs.
4 - Set a timer – Before you begin meditating, set your timer for 15-30 minutes and commit to meditating for that time. The Insight Timer app has a timer that works well and it keeps track of your progress over time. Remember that you are creating a new habit, so in the beginning you may feel fidgety and restless. Just focus on your breath and commit to your practice until the timer goes off, even if you remain restless the entire time. Be proud of your accomplishment and know that over time and practice your mind will settle down a bit easier.
5 - Focus on your breath - Now that you have created a comfortable place to sit and your timer has commenced, softly close your eyes and just breathe normally. Direct your attention to your breath and simply feel the sensations of inhaling and exhaling. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Your mind will wander, and this is okay---our minds wander, that’s what they do. So, don’t get frustrated when this happens because it will again and again. Just gently redirect your attention back to your breath and continue with your practice.
6 - Do it for you – Think of meditation as a special gift that you give yourself. It’s a time that you don’t have to do anything or be anybody. Doesn’t that sound lovely? During this time, encourage yourself to let go of any expectations of what you think should happen during meditation. Just BE with no expectations. The moment you think there should be a specific outcome from your meditation practice, then you may tense up if it doesn’t happen. Clearly, that defeats the purpose of meditating!
7 - Stay consistent – To really reap the benefits from meditation, it’s important to practice it on a consistent basis. Just like trying to hone any skill requires consistent practice over an extended period of time. But don’t be hard on yourself if you have a difficult time sticking to it. Creating a new habit is a process and it takes time.
8 - Meditate! Now that you have the basic instructions for setting up your meditation for success, it’s time to meditate! Here are a few different techniques for you to try:
Label Your Thoughts
During your meditation as thoughts arise, place them into one of two categories: either thoughts of planning or thoughts of remembering. That is generally what our thoughts are doing anyway. Silently say to yourself: “remembering, remembering” or “planning, planning.” Saying it twice helps to distract the mind from that thought. Once you have labeled the thought, let it go and return your focus on your breath. Keep repeating this throughout your meditation.
This style of meditating is a good way to practice lessening your reactivity, helping you respond more effectively to challenging situations. During your meditation listen to all the various sounds surrounding you---the birds chirping outside your window, your belly growling inside you, the traffic noise 2 streets away---and practice hearing them, but not judging them with a positive or negative view. Instead allow the sounds to arise and dissolve.
When you first begin this practice of opening listening, you may notice you have feelings, thoughts or stories about the various sounds. But as you start to hone your skills you will realize you are reacting less. You may notice how it may help you soften your reactivity in other areas of your life as well.
Another technique to help still your mind is to focus your attention on one object, such as a candle, a fresh flower, or a precious gem. Another technique, called Transcendental Meditation, asks you to repeat a simple mantra silently to yourself over and over. Whether you focus on an object or a task, these practices are designed to give your mind something specific to focus on to help it from wandering. Every time your mind wanders simply re-focus on your object of choice.
Understanding the basics steps for meditation can help get your practice off to a good start. Remember to be patient with yourself and enjoy your meditation journey! Namaste.