Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and nowadays modern neuroscience is demonstrating the tremendous benefits meditation has on brain function, immune system response, stress and pain management, and even our aging process! With meditation and mindfulness all the hype in the media these days, where do we begin?
First of all, throw out the conception that there is only one “correct” place to begin. Meditation and mindfulness are individual journeys and practically any activity can be turned into a mindful, meditative experience. The intention ultimately should be to live our lives mindfully not just in whatever time frame we are “sitting” on the meditation mat. And, all mindfulness really means is bringing an awareness, a kind and nonjudgmental awareness, to the present moment. Meditation or mindfulness meditation in this content is just a tool under the umbrella of mindfulness to help us cultivate the ability to be right here, right now in the present moment, observing and even befriending our own experiences.
With that said, here are a few ideas to get you started in discovering and developing your own practice 🙂
1) Just start – release expectations and don’t aim for “perfection.” If you wait until you have enough time to meditate, chances are you’ll never start! Let go of any ties to perfection and simply begin. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long sitting meditation and if you have goals of less stress or pain or anxiety, you will bring those expectations to your practice and are setting yourself up for failure. Instead start with even just 5 or 10 minutes (studies show even as little as 3 minutes has benefits) of focusing on your breath and let your thoughts just float by. The idea is not to make your thoughts go away but simply to notice them as a third-party observer would. “Oh, that was a thought about lunch, that’s nice, I’ll let that go now and return to my breath.”
2) Take advantage of guided meditation apps. We may as well put technology and our phones to good use, right? There are so many great meditation apps out there and many are free or have great free components. My personal favorites are Calm (good free content and the paid version is one of the most cost effective I’ve seen) and Insight Timer (completely free for all content just perhaps a little more daunting to sift through all the options).
3) For formal meditations practice at a regular time and place. Now as I’ve mentioned, even just a few moments focusing on the breath is very beneficial, but if you can make the time daily or even just a few days a week, studies show that longer, more “formal” meditations have tremendous value as well. What do we mean by longer? Start with 20 minutes and work your way up to perhaps 45 minutes or an hour. What does formal mean? It could be sitting, yes, but it could also be lying down or be part of a moving meditation (think mindful walking, tai chi, or slow yoga). The studies also show that for formal meditations, it is very helpful to pick a regular time and place (usually first thing in the morning or in the evening) for a daily practice. I’m still working on this one, but for me I find mornings work best as a great way to start my day. Plus, if I’m not able to make it happen one morning, I still have the evening 🙂 However, for myself, I’ve found that if I wait until right before bed, I might be too sleepy to focus properly.
4) Practice informal mini meditations throughout the day. Informal mini meditations could be as simple as taking a few deep breathes or a shorter version of a formal meditation. Studies show that even 3 minutes of breath meditation can be tremendously effective, and some studies even show that a few shorter meditations spread throughout the day might be more effective (or at least effective in different ways) than one longer meditation. A lot of the guided meditation apps I mentioned earlier will have short meditations, 3 to 5 minutes long. What if you don’t have 3 minutes? Then even just taking a few breaths is great. Just breathe focusing on the inhale and the exhale, coming back home to the gentle lull of your breath.
5) Make life your meditation — eating, walking, cooking, even driving! Remember the ultimate intention is to make mindfulness a part of everyday life, so why not take informal meditations a step farther and pick a daily activity to practice mindfully. Pick something you usually do on autopilot … maybe that’s showering or brushing your teeth or getting dressed … and do that activity mindfully, really engaging all your five senses. What does it feel really feel like to shower? What sounds to hear? What does the water on you lips taste like? What does the water cascading down look like… You get the idea. Play with it and have fun. There is no wrong way to do this exercise; it’s merely about learning to get off autopilot and all that time we spend in the past or future and gently bringing the attention to the experience of joy whatever that may be.
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” Jon Kabat-Zin