5 Tips on Building a Consistent Meditation Practice
Don’t worry. There is a way to reset your brain.
Jomar Delos Santos
If you’re like me, you’ve probably discounted meditation in the past because you get too distracted, rarely focus, or have a mind that works like a formula-1 race car.
Maybe you just never found the time or have doubts in the new-age health gurus fervently proclaiming the spiritual benefits of meditation on every lifestyle blog ever.
But you might have also experienced the discomfort of having last week’s stress carry over to this week after your boss threw a 3000-word report at you on Thursday night with 12 hours of notice.
Don’t worry. There is a way to reset your brain.
I used to be a pretty anxious guy. Between my job, enormous amounts of university work and a precariously balanced social life, I was living with a mind-state that resembled a toddler’s dinner plate 5 minutes into eating.
6 months ago, I started reading up on the benefits of “mindfulness;” a state of calm awareness that can be attained through focused meditation.You’re probably familiar with this term if you’ve read anything on the internet.
Takes on this concept will vary considerably if you live with a spiritual or secular perspective. Either way, the end goal is the same. Aside from being a new-age buzzword that exploded over the last decade, meditation has proven to promote a host of health benefits, not limited to stress relief and anxiety reduction.
There’s a mountain of mindfulness-meditation literature that you can read, but I’ll keep this one short and sweet and share what has worked for me so far.
We only have so much time anyway. That’s why you’re here right?
1. Start a Goal to Meditate Every Week.
Meditating every day is amazing for improving clarity and focus, but is definitely a regiment that might seem out of reach for a busy professional. Try to set a bit of time aside every week and you’ll see your ability to sit still and mentally decompress gradually improve.
I started out with an hour every Sunday night for the first two months. I saw marked improvement in my mental state even after the first week and decided that I wanted to keep the positive vibes rolling. So I scheduled in more meditation sessions throughout my week for the oncoming months.
The most important thing is maintaining some level of consistency. In the reality of our hyper-busy lifestyles, daily practice rightfully seems overwhelming. The positive effects of meditation will make themselves known once you impose small amounts of structure and discipline into your routine.
Remember, frustration at your lack of accountability or consistency only fuels the cycle of anxiety and mind-racing that we’re trying to alleviate. So don’t beat yourself up if you miss a few days or weeks. Just remember to dust off your pillow and get right back to it. Fortunately, meditation is one of those things where the difficult journey can be just as rewarding as the end goal. Find your optimal interval and meditation will start working for you.
2. Bend the Rules of Your Practice. Do What Works for You.
Aside from the simple guidelines like:
- Sit down in a quiet place.
- Sit up straight in a comfortable position. (Or lie on your back; I did this when I first started)
- Close your eyes
- Breathe in and bring awareness to the breath. (And your body)
- Do not force your thoughts down like thought-wack-a-mole.
- Observe and Notice everything with gentle focus (what you hear, think, and feel)
The basic technique is simple. Advancing beyond this difficult. If you must tweak certain aspects of your practice to see improvements, by all means tweak them. Remember this is your personal time. There is room for interpretation based on your needs.
Some days I play ambient music. Some days I burn sage or incense. Sometimes I journal or draw in my sketchbook before I sit down. If you have some avenue of emotional catharsis that you find helpful, it could be a great precursor to meditation.
3. Be Mindful of Your Energy Levels
Be aware of how you feel (physically) before sitting down. If you’re really full, feel way too tired, or are in the middle of a severe allergic reaction, maybe meditation should be deprioritized for what your body really needs.
Some people find that morning meditations right after waking work best. A friend of mind meditates before every gym session because he swears it improves his focus during workouts.
I personally like meditation right before bed to help me fall asleep. Find your sweet spot during the day (or night) and you’ll have more fruitful sessions.
4. Find a Good Seat
I know this is a weird one, but I found sitting on my butt for more than 5 minutes to be really uncomfortable. My legs are riddled with small injuries and imbalances after a series of hiking and skateboarding accidents, so I found myself impeding my ability to relax by shifting side to side like an eternal seesaw. Maybe this only applies to me.
I found a really cozy bean-bag chair that I use for meditation, but you can use anything, like a folded-up blanket or a flat bedroom pillow. The biggest game changer is finding something (or a position) with decent back support, so you aren’t spending your already shaky focus trying to maintain a sense of physical decorum. Ideally, we’re aiming for mental balance here too.
5. Leave Your Expectations Out
This one is super important. Remember, when you close your eyes you aren’t trying to relax. Your body will do that as you focus on your breathing. The more you think about a wanted outcome, the longer it will take to happen, if at all.
Meditation is about breaking the cycle between action-thought and identification.
For example, when you feel cold you could think:
Man I’m cold. Cold is bad. I feel bad.
Or you could observe the cold. Feel how it numbs certain parts of your body. Notice how your back shivers and hair rises up your neck as it passes. Then you notice that the cold is gone.
This is where you disconnect emotional identification from the physical sensation. Observation frees your mind up to break from the endless and ever-present thought stream created by the ego. This is where mindfulness starts.
“Find” the Ego and it will Disappear
One thing from literature that I will add for those finding constant road-blocks on their mediation journey is to search for the ego; which is the fabricated mental source that spews the negative barrage of thoughts we are trying to escape.
This has worked for me every time. When my mind is preventing me from paying attention to the breath I think: Where is the man thinking these thoughts? And the thoughts immediately disappear.
Sam Harris describes this process in “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion:”
Reality is simply the loss of the ego. Destroy the ego by seeking its identity. Because ego is no entity it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself. This is the direct method, whereas all other methods are done, only retaining the ego…
I urge you to read this book if you are looking for direction in your meditation journey. This particular piece of advice has helped me immeasurably.
Your Mind Works like a Muscle
Remember, meditation is one of those things you need to do on a consistent basis to see lasting benefits. The more you practice, the easier you will find it is to drift back into that state of peaceful awareness, whenever you sit down. Don’t worry too much about progress, though.
Unlike other things in life I’ve experienced, meditation cannot really be mastered, and after 3 months of being pretty consistent with my practice, I still learn new techniques, things about myself and my subconscious whenever I sit down.
If you really are too busy to meditate, try to think of your brain as an important foundation muscle that you’ve been using over and over without rest.
Sometimes you need to sit down to notice how far you’ve been walking.
This article was originally published by Jomar delos Santos on medium.
Jomar Delos Santos
I write articles to clear your head (and mine).