Updated: 11 January 2016
The evidence that meditation can help us become healthier and happier, from reducing allergies to improving sleep, is now indisputable. However for many people the biggest hurdle is making it a regular part of our routine.
Like so many things deemed ‘good’ for us, it’s easy to procrastinate about adopting these habits. Although we know it could be helpful, taking that first step can feel insurmountable. If only we spent as much energy finding solutions as we use on making the excuses!
Recently in health coaching sessions with clients, we’ve had great success in actually meditating more often, by letting go of preconceived ideas about how, when and where we meditate.
Melbourne psychologist and meditation teacher Bob Sharples, in his book Meditation: Calming the Mind, nails it when he describes turning meditation from something we feel guilty about (not) doing into an act of self love.
“Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship toward yourself In this view there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for self-criticism, for the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot. Instead there is now meditation as an act of love. How endlessly delightful and encouraging.”
Taking the first step
If you’ve never meditated, signing up for a class is usually the most effective way to start. Be aware that sometimes meditating can stir deep emotions. While there are useful downloads suitable for beginners, cementing a practice under the guidance of an experienced meditator is adviseable.
For lapsed meditators, it’s all about making a routine to just do it. But many of us come up against a host of obstacles just to find the time. Meditating for the recommended 20 to 40 minutes first thing in the morning and a second session at night might be the ideal for some. But it doesn’t mean other ways aren’t beneficial.
Haven’t got 40 minutes? Then start with just five. It doesn’t even need to be a formal ‘sit’. You might just begin with merely sitting with your eyes open or closed, observing how your body feels, the rthym of your breath and practicing not latching onto the thoughts that inevitably arise.
Shift your focus to the space between the thoughts.
If you’ve become used to multi-tasking, reading the news while eating breakfast, constantly checking your phone or computer, it’s amazing how long five minutes can feel. The trick is just to observe the sensations that arise, without getting hooked into self-commentary.
Not a morning person? Then find a quiet spot at lunchtime for a quick ‘sit.’ (You could slip into an unused conference room at work, a quiet pew in a church or a corner of the library). My favourite time in the clinic was to meditate for fifteen minutes at the end of lunch, before my first afternoon client.
Don’t have enough time at lunch? Then find ten minutes after dinner and make it a ritual – eat, mindfully do the dishwashing and meditate before embarking upon your usual nightime routine.
You can be mindful on public transport. Plug into a meditation download (see below) and choose one that best suits the length of your journey, so you don’t have to worry about missing your stop.
Many stay-at-home parents have found that meditating for a short period during a baby or toddler’s nap or before school pick ups can make a difference to how they negotiate the dinnertime rush. (A number of my clients have attested to the pay off from that one.)
For those who have tried meditation and feel it doesn’t work for them, this recent article in Psychology Today may provide insight into the situation. Perhaps practising other aspects of mindfulness, such as fully paying attention to mundane tasks, like drinking a cup of tea or cleaning the bathroom, can provide a moment to pause and focus.
You don’t needs to wait for the ‘perfect’ situation to arise before putting your good intentions into action. Can you find five minutes today just to consciously sit and breathe?
While books and downloads provide useful techniques, classes can provide personalised guidance to help overcome hindrances and create a framework to cement a regular practice. I have encountered many styles of meditation through various workshops and courses on and offline over the past 30 years but the one that has ‘stuck’ the most is an introductory course at the FWBO (now the Triratna Buddhist Community) in 1989. Since my move to Sydney in 2014 I’ve regularly attended a weekly drop in meditation class at the local centre, which has become the cornerstone of my practice. Like me, you don’t have to be a Buddhist or join a centre to attend and benefit from the sessions.
Free meditation and mindfulness downloads
Mindful Transformation downloads (and Charlotte also runs wonderful retreats in Asia).
Smiling Minds an Australian-made app for the young and not so young.
Free Buddhist Audio – guided meditations.
UCLA – podcasts of MBSR body scans and meditations.