A lot of people nowadays have thought about starting meditation to improve their mental health, reduce stress or for spiritual reasons. If you’re one of those people or someone who has just started I thought I would share a few tips that I have found helpful.
Set up a regular time and put it in your schedule. With everyone so busy nowadays it’s easy to put meditation on the back burner for things that seem more immediately important. If you put meditation into your daily schedule you’re much more likely to do it. Pay attention to your own daily rhythm to find the best time. While some people like starting out their day with meditation, others find meditating right before sleeping a great way to wind down their day. If you have a busy work day, you can try a meditation break at lunch. Experiment to see what works best.
Focus more on consistency than the amount of time spent. Overly focusing on having to sit for a certain amount of time can feel too much like arduous work and lead to feeling discouraged. In the beginning keep sessions short, 5-10 minutes, and focus on being consistent from day to day. Try to commit to meditating at least a few minutes a day.
Find a comfortable position. Don’t overly focus on having to use the cross legged positions you’ve seen in magazines. If those don’t work for you try something else. As meditation teacher Jack Kornfield states, “You’re weird enough as it is. You don’t need to be any weirder in your spiritual practice.” You can meditate in any position including laying down. Just be sure your position doesn’t lend itself to falling asleep!
Getting distracted is part of meditation. One of the most common meditation complaints I hear is something along the lines of, “I can’t meditate, I’ve tried!” I think this stems from a misconception that meditation should look and feel a certain way. Meditation is not really about achieving a certain “feel”, it’s more about watching the mind at work. I like to use the analogy of pulling the curtain back from the little man who pulls the levers in the movie Wizard of Oz and seeing him at work. My dissertation advisor once told me Richie Davidson, a prominent meditation researcher, told her that noticing that one was becoming distracted and bringing the mind back into focus was where most of the magic in meditation occurred.
Get help. We live in a great time to be a meditator. There are wonderful apps, classes, and teachers out there. I’ve liked using the Headspace and Insight Timer apps but there are lots of others out there. Check around and find something that works for you. If you have special circumstances like prior trauma that make meditation challenging, seek an experienced teacher with knowledge of how to work with your specific circumstances to work directly with you.
Just do it. If you’re thinking about meditation, then in all likelihood you’ve read or heard enough to convince yourself that it will have some benefit for you. Long ago the Buddha said just see for yourself. That’s really the only way to see if it will be helpful for you.
W.C. Ark, PsyD
As always, if you find yourself struggling with mental health issues please seek a professional’s help. Blog posts not intended to replace a professional’s advice.