I used to loathe meditation. Even simply listening to someone talk about their meditation practice or seeing the word “meditation” printed on a yoga studio schedule made me anxious and uncomfortable. I’d practically break out in hives.
I tried meditation (halfheartedly anyway) about a dozen times. Each time, after a minute or so of sitting quietly, just focusing on my breath and trying to rid my mind of any thoughts, I concluded that this meditation thing just wasn’t for me. It didn’t make me feel “zen-like,” “blissed out,” or “enlightened” like everyone promised it would. Quite the opposite, in fact. I decided I’d rather sit and watch “The Wizard of Oz” (aka the most terrifying, nightmare-inducing movie ever made) daily on a continuous loop than meditate. (C’mon, let’s get real: I know I am not the only person who finds flying monkeys, talking trees, and the disembodied head of Oz to be uber-creepy).
But when my anxiety and OCD became debilitating and everyone from my pet sitter to my dermatologist suggested (gently demanded?) that I give it another shot, I knew I had to find a way to overcome my meditation avoidance once and for all.
It took me some time to realize it, but I was subconsciously avoiding meditation because I was terrified to connect with the true me. The me underneath all the chatter and busy-ness, the me who ran myself ragged trying to make everything “perfect,” the me whose bitchy inner critic never cut me any slack, the me who knew that my life had to radically change in many ways.
Today, meditation is the center of my morning routine. I can say with certainty that a daily meditation practice has more than changed my life. Meditation has trained my brain to be more focused, creative, and productive. Meditation allows me to more easily drop into a “flow state” so that I’m more adaptable to change and less flustered by an unexpected traffic jam, a rude driver or grocery store clerk, or my favorite hummus being out of stock at Trader Joe’s. Those things are all annoying, but they no longer send me into an emotional tailspin like they used to.
Thanks to daily meditation, I also have more self-awareness and compassion for others. I feel more balanced and have a far more positive outlook on life. I sleep better and have fewer headaches. I’m able to filter out the internal and external “noise” and negative self-talk that used to sabotage my goals and highest intentions.
In the spirit of keeping things real and minimizing the intimidation factor, here are some tips to help you start a daily meditation practice:
- Make friends with your mind.
“Monkey mind syndrome” (when you’re trying to concentrate but your mind is jumping around) is incredibly common, as you will learn when you start meditating. The best way to overcome it might surprise you: Instead of trying to control and quiet your thoughts, go the other way and embrace them. Try not to push them away or get caught up in them; just observe them and bring yourself back to your breathing. The more you practice this, the easier it gets and the sooner you’ll discover that the key to silencing the mind is being completely indifferent to all your thoughts.
- You don’t need to be a frozen sculpture.
Sitting still with your back relatively straight is fine. But if you need to cough, sneeze, scratch, shift, or clear your throat, don’t go into convulsions while trying to will it away. Instead, stay natural and allow yourself to take care of these minor disturbances and distractions. That way, you’ll remain comfortable enough to keep going.
- Practice sitting with your palms up instead of fingers together.
The big question is what to do with your hands. There’s no rule that says you must bring your thumb and index finger together. I prefer just resting my hands on my lap, with my palms facing up. This keeps my energy open and alert without having to remember to keep my fingertips touching.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
Before you invest in a meditation stool or cushion, try just stacking some pillows on the floor. Or, if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable, sit in a chair or even on a couch. Again, there’s no hard and fast rule that says meditation is only effective if done on the floor.
- DON’T USE AN ALARM!
Being alarmed out of meditation is just unnecessarily . . . well, alarming. As your mind is settling in the last half of your meditation, and your alarm goes off, you’re going to jump out of your skin. And it’s not going to leave you feeling calm and peaceful. Instead, keep a digital or analog clock nearby and just allow yourself to glance at it whenever you’re curious about the time.
- Go for quantity over quality.
No, that isn’t a typo. When it comes to meditation, the saying “quality over quantity” doesn’t apply. Instead, it’s the opposite. You should practice being completely unconcerned about the quality of your meditations and instead strive for quantity. In other words, be as consistent as possible. Meditate daily, without fail if you can. What you’ll discover is that the quality of your inner experiences will improve solely from the quantity of meditation sessions.
- Keep a log.
Meditation will become a habit the more often you do it. Putting an “x” in your calendar after fulfilling your daily commitment will motivate you to keep going, especially on those days when the last thing you want to do is sit down to meditate. Keep your goals small and achievable. Start with a goal of meditating for 10 minutes every day for one week. And as you meet your objective, increase your meditation time from there.
At this point, I crave my meditation time. It’s my hope that by sharing my journey from meditation avoider to avid practitioner, you’ll be inspired to bypass all the drama and cut right to the bliss.