How to Meditate
We all have that one friend that keeps telling us to try meditation. She says “I feel so much calmer now”, or “meditation has changed my life”, and “meditation will make everything in your life better!”. So you decide you want a piece of that action, and sit down to meditate. Easy right? Grab a pillow, light a candle, say “ommmm” and you figure you’ll be heading down the bliss highway in no time.
Except it doesn’t happen that way. At all.
Instead, you sit there for about, oh, 3 seconds before the chatter in your head takes over. Then five minutes later you realize you’ve been thinking about what to make for dinner next Thursday, or if your SUV needs gas, or…you get the idea. Whatever you just did is not meditation, and you definitely don’t feel like all the pieces of your life just fell into place.
Calm down. It’s okay. I’m here to tell you, you kinda did meditate, and with just a little practice and some persistence, soon you’ll be the one telling your friends how awesome meditating is.
Seriously. You’ll get there.
Easy for you to say. So how do I get there?
It’s nearly impossible to expect that you’ll be able to turn off the chatter in your head for 20-30 minutes the first time you sit down to meditate. You’ve been listening to it your entire life. That leads us to my first rule of meditation – give yourself a break! Follow it, and the rest will come.
- Go easy on yourself – Meditation is supposed to help you feel better right? So starting out by berating yourself for not doing it flawlessly will not take you in the right direction. Like anything new, it will take practice to get better. Give yourself a break – life is stressful enough. You work, take care of the kids, keep the house clean, try to find alone time with your spouse, etc., etc.. The goal of meditation is to help you lift the weight on your shoulders, not add another thing to your do to list.
- Let go of your expectations – When I first started meditating, I wish someone would have told me this. There is no “right” way to meditate. What works for one person won’t work for another. On a given day, you might have time to sit for 30 minutes and meditate. This is wonderful, and you should cherish the days that you can. But others you may only have 30 seconds to take a few deep breaths, and that’s okay too. Anything that helps you refocus and unplug for even a short amount of time is beneficial.
- Focus on your breath – Have you focused on your breathing lately? I mean, really paid attention to it? For most of us the answer is “probably not”. But it’s a great place to start when you decide to meditate. Do it now, if you can. Close your eyes, and take a deep breath in. Feel the air going into your nose, filling up your lungs. Hold it for a few seconds, then breathe out of your mouth. Try it again, then open your eyes. How did that feel? Pretty great right? Congratulations, you just began your meditation practice.
- Or, focus on something else – The reason that you see pictures of people meditating with candles, music, or humming a mantra, is that it helps with focus. Because all of us have trouble shutting off the voices in our heads. It’s just part of being human. If you find that focusing on your breath gets boring, or just isn’t working for you, try something else. Stare at a candle flame, hum a single note, or listen to repetitive, relaxing music. The idea is to concentrate on the flame, or music, or whatever you choose. When you’re focusing your awareness on a flickering candle flame, your mind is relaxed. You’re meditating. At first you might only be able to do it for a few minutes. Keep practicing though, and you’ll be able to do it for longer amounts of time.
- Let your mind wander – “Um, what?” you might be asking. On the surface, this might seem to be the opposite of meditation. You’re supposed to shut your mind off right? Nope. Like I mentioned earlier, turning your mind completely off is hard. Seriously hard. So rather than beat yourself up every time you catch yourself thinking when you’re supposed to be meditating, just let it go. Release the thought, and your self judgement. When a thought pops in your head – and it will – notice it, then let it go. Be aware of the thought, and let it pass through your mind. Do your best to refocus on the flame, or your breath, and keep going. When the next thought arises, notice it and let it go as well. Don’t try to stop all thought, especially at first. Just notice them and let them pass through your mind. If you keep practicing, this will get easier with time.
- You can meditate anywhere – Okay, maybe not anywhere. Like when you’re driving. Or operating heavy machinery. But you know what I mean. You don’t have to create a certain environment to meditate. If you have a room you can dedicate to it, by all means do it. But don’t skip meditating because you don’t have a pillow, sage oil, and chakra clearing crystals. Meditation is accessible to you anytime, anyplace. If you’re at the computer and need a break, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Having a bad day at work? Go to your car at lunch and take a few minutes to meditate. Spend an extra few minutes in the shower, really feeling the water hit your skin. Take a short walk and notice the sounds around you – birds chirping, even traffic going by.
The bottom line is be in the moment. Whether it’s 30 seconds or 30 minutes, take a break from your usual routine and pay attention to just this moment. The sound of your breath, the flicker of the candle flame, or the hum of a mantra can help you remove your mind from stress and worry, and bring it to a place of peace for a while.
Meditation is for everyone, not just monks and sages. Start small, keep practicing, and go easy on yourself. You got this.