Most of us associate meditation with sitting in silence and emptying our minds but it’s much more nuanced than that. It’s as much about journeying into the inner depths of ourselves as it is about finding a way to create inner quiet. It’s maybe best thought of as a practice of intentionally spending time with yourself, becoming aware of your thoughts, your emotions and what’s happening in your physical body while at the same time making a connection with the present moment.
Despite what most people think, it’s not about completely silencing the mind or moving into a different state of being. In fact, it’s rare that you’ll feel a sense of transcendence during meditation and unlikely that your mind will be silent for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after years of practice, it’s not uncommon to sometimes feel restless or bored during the practice.
Even with these limitations, the cumulative effect of a daily meditation practice (even after just a few weeks) can be completely transformative.
The real impact of meditation is not what happens in the ten or twenty minutes you’re meditating – it’s the shift that occurs as a result of the collective experience of all of those short encounters. Even though your daily practice might involve a more busy mind than you’d ideally like, the research tells us that even an imperfect meditation has the power to transform your mind and significantly improve your life.
It’s easy to learn to meditate and you can practice anytime and anywhere.
Here are my five practical points to help you get started.
1. See it as essential self-care
Picture the people you know who meditate daily. On the outside, they may come across as very disciplined personalities, but it’s also possible that their commitment isn’t a result of being wired that way, but rather by viewing meditation as a gift that they offer themselves.
Think of your meditation practice as an essential self-care ritual rather than a discipline or something that needs to be forced. Over time, it will become an established daily practice that you look forward to and can’t live without.
2. Make it a habit
Most people find that it’s easier to stick with meditation if it’s a daily habit. Choose a time of day to practice and commit to your practice for one month at least.
For me, this is first thing in the morning because very little gets in the way at 5.30 or 6am. This may not sound appealing if you’re not really a morning person but within just a couple of weeks, you’ll come to realise that the benefits of meditation far outweigh the cost of sacrificing half an hour of sleep.
A morning meditation practice is also a wonderful way to orientate yourself towards a positive, mindful day.
2. Create the right environment
Make your meditation setting appealing so you’re able to practise in comfort. Choose a place where you’re likely to be uninterrupted and a posture where your back is supported.
Ideally, if you don’t want to fall asleep, it’s best to meditate in a seated position. This can be in a comfy chair or sitting up in bed – you don’t need to be seated on the floor or in a cross-legged position to derive the benefits.
You may find that creating some ritual such as lighting a candle, diffusing an essential oil or wrapping a favourite blanket across your shoulders helps you to feel that you’re arriving into your practice.
3. Take small steps
If the idea of a twenty-minute meditation seems intimidating at first, start with a short practice and build from there.
Behaviour scientist and habit-building expert, BJ Fogg suggests that when we want to create any new habit, it’s best to set the bar to a timeframe that is very short and attainable. For example, you might set your phone timer to two minutes and keep your meditation at that level until you feel ready to increase it incrementally.
The idea is to make the new habit so small that it would seem silly not to do it.
4. Find a practice you love
You’re far more likely to stick to the practice if you choose a style that works for you. Download the free Insight Timer meditation app and try a few different teachers until you find a meditation that works for you.
There are so many different options to choose from: a silent practice, breath, body scan, mantra, walking meditation, gratitude, loving-kindness, yoga nidra and white light, to name a few.
5. Save your judgement
Just like any new practice, don’t expect your practice to be perfect from the outset. People often think they are either “good” or “bad” at meditation, but there is no such thing. Daily meditation is a life-long skill. Similar to beginning an exercise regime, you wouldn’t expect to see results immediately, so it’s better to focus on taking each day as it comes.
If you miss a day, simply get back to your practice as soon as you can. Remind yourself of the benefits and take a moment to notice how you feel emotionally and physically after a session. When a connection between your meditation practice and feeling better is established, you will gradually find it easier to maintain your practice each day.
No matter your reason for making a start, meditation has been shown to have a profoundly positive impact on our mental and physical health. Whether it’s to feel less stressed, sleep better, be more focused at work, or improve interpersonal relationships and the relationship with yourself – every meditation session is one little step closer towards building a foundation for a happier and healthier mind.
If you’re ready to start exploring the benefits of meditation, in this article I share my favourite Insight Timer guided meditations for absolute beginners.