Last week I had one of those days that was super productive but non-stop. I couldn’t wait to get home and settle in for my late afternoon/happy hour meditation. I was so excited by my new zen den (more on that later), that I literally walked in the door, plopped down on my meditation chair (also more on that later) and closed my eyes and started to settle in.
As is typical in any meditation, my thoughts went rampant in those first few moments and I started the practice of continuing to bring my attention back to my breath. As I started to feel myself slowing down, I introduced the silent mantra. I continued with my practice of thought, mantra,space, thought,mantra, space, thought, mantra, space. Ultimately that space between the thought and mantra began to elongate.
Next thing I knew I slowly opened my eyes feeling calm and serene, until I realized I didn’t set my timer. Luckily, my body is accustomed to my morning and afternoon meditation, so I naturally came close to the exact 20 minute time period, although technically I over meditated. I was scheduled to meet a friend for dinner and when I looked at the time I knew I would be cutting it close to making our meeting time. Now different from the panic that sets in when we over sleep, because I had just finished meditating, my physiology was supporting me in being actively responsive, but not reactive. Yes, I was a few minutes late, but even though I am someone who prides myself on always being early, it all worked out just as it should.
So, I thought as a reminder to myself, I would share some of the top tips to get started and/or support any meditation practice. Given this most recent experience, the first tip should come as no surprise.
1. Set a timer: I like to recommend that people use a different sound than their alarm clock as a way to start resonating in a different way when we hear that sound. For those who are paranoid that the timer may not work, then I recommend setting an interim bell about halfway through just as an acknowledgement that its working. The interim bell can also serve as a cue to move to a different technique (i.e.: from heart centered breath to mantra). I like the insight timer app as my go to timer.
2. Find a quiet, comfortable place, where you will be undisturbed: This can be a challenge for many people, especially with kids, pets, significant others, parents, etc. If you don’t have a dedicated space, I like to recommend a few spots – the closet, the bathtub, or your car. Especially for those of us who can’t find time during the day, I like to recommend pulling off on a side street and sit in your car for 5 minutes to focus on your breath.
3. Sit comfortably, with your spine straight: The most important piece of any meditation practice is to be comfortable. It may require exploring a few different seating options, but in general we want to feel supported with a naturally straight spine (not forced). This can mean propping yourself up in your bed, sitting at your desk chair, or even sitting on a cushion on the floor with your back up against a wall for support.
4. Be kind to yourself: Whenever we enter moments of quietude or silence, we can become aware of how we speak to ourselves. While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that for me, sometimes that voice can be a little harsh with some high expectations. Meditation is our time to be kind to ourselves. When you realize you are having thoughts (which you will), gently bring attention back to breath or mantra in a non-judgmental way.
5. Stick with it: Regardless of whether you are a beginner or a seasoned meditator, we all experience moments of distraction where we just want to up and leave, deal with the email, make the shopping list, etc. But if we can finish in the allotted time, no matter how restless our meditation, we experience the positive changes in our brain chemistry and physiological benefits. Not to mention it reinforces focus, promotes discipline, and ultimately cultivates an internal peace which is important in meditation practice and ultimately in life.