May 25, 2020

Meditation That Sticks for Real People

Mediation girl mountain india

This is not you...and thats okay!

9 simple steps to develop a regular meditation practice that you will actually keep up and that you will actually enjoy…

So, here’s the thing. It’s been scientifically proven (ahem!) that of the people who start a meditation practice that 99.4% of them have given it up within the first month. Why is that? We know it’s good for us but yet we can’t make it happen.  I’ll tell you why: because we are setting the bar too high that’s why. Because we have this collective image of someone who meditates that we aspire to (think of serene woman sitting perfectly still with miraculously unlined forehead and beautific smile a la Mona Lisa on her face, meditating, still as stone,  for HOURS).

What we need are meditation guidelines for the real world, practical steps that mean that you can not only start a Meditation practice but actually keep it up and experience the benefits long term. Here are my handy tips to do just that: I’m calling it Meditation That Sticks for Real People.

1. Expect it to be EASY not hard.

We get in life the experience we expect. So if we expect meditation to be really hard, and difficult and uncomfortable then that’s exactly what we are going to get. If we expect it to be easy and enjoyable then that’s what is much more likely to show up. So, think about it: getting across Auckland in rush hour = hard. Sitting quietly and breathing and that’s it  = easy. Release the struggle before you even begin.

2. Be comfortable

Frankly I am a big fan of comfort and I can’t emphasise this enough. Inner bliss is always going to be more challenging to achieve if your knees are screaming at you. Be comfortable. If that’s sitting cross legged (or in lotus) in the traditional meditation pose then good for you. If that’s not comfy then sit in a chair, or on a big pile of cushions, or I like the special little meditation stools that are just the perfect height ( stockist in Auckland). Whatever it is you just need to be comfortable enough to not fidget about. Again…decide that this is going to be EASY…when you settle to watch a movie how long do you go without moving on the couch? Exactly.

3. Lower the bar

Okay so this one is I think the most important of all, and the reason why the vast majority of meditation practices fail to stick. We set the bar too damn high: we decide we are going to meditate for at least half an hour a day and we are going to feel amazing and enlightened by, oooo, the end of the week. This is a strategy for absolute and guaranteed failure.

Instead start with the smallest possible time you think you can sit and meditate for. Not on the best days where you leave work on time and the kids are being angels but on the worst days when you boss is a nightmare, the dog needs to go to the vets and the drycleaning needs collecting. How much time would you have to meditate on a day like that? 15 minutes? Maybe just 10 minutes? Excellent. Think of the minimum time you would expect on that sort of a day and then I want you to halve it. Yes that’s right, half. You are going to start your practice with just 5 minutes a day. That’s perfect for starters. It will allow your mind and body to relax into the experience. It will mean you don’t struggle mentally or physically. It will mean you are more likely to do it every day and form a habit. It will mean, and this is crucial, that you actually DO IT. You can increase the time later, but for now, start small.

4. Sort out the practical stuff

Again you can make this easy. It doesn’t need to be some big performance. Pick the time of day that is the best for you (traditionally sunrise and sunset are the most auspicious energy filled times to meditate, but in essence the best time for you is whatever is the best time for you with your life and your commitments). Try and make it the same time of day as that will help form a habit. Have your cushion handy, light a candle or place a vase of flowers in front of you. Make sure you are somewhere quiet. That’s it. Keep it simple.

5. Stick with a technique that works for you.

There are a multitude of different meditation techniques. There is no right or wrong. At their essence they are all methods of trying to stop the incessant mental chatter that characterises our waking hours and still the mind to allow us to relax into that place of inner peace and stillness.

You can research various techniques, or go on a course, there are some great ones to choose from. Or you can try one of these simple techniques:

a)      The Eat Pray Love technique. Sit comfortably, and create an inner smile. Feel very bit of you is smiling, from your liver outwards.

b)      Repeat a mantra. You can try a sanskrit mantra like Om Namo NārāyaNāya (your yoga teacher can help suggest one for you) or something grounding and inspirational such as “I am whole and complete” which is my personal favourite. With each inhale repeat your mantra, and with each exhale repeat your mantra.

6. Don’t get cross with yourself

This is you learning to meditate...and thats okay!

Okay so your mind is going to wander off a bit. That’s just human. So do not get cross with yourself about it. Don’t judge yourself for it. It doesn’t mean you are stupid or crap at meditating. Guess what…expect your mind to wander. Why? Because it’s all part of the process! When it wanders, notice, do not get cross with self, just notice wandering mind, then bring it back to your breathing and your mantra. You may need to do it hundreds of times. That’s OKAY. That’s learning to meditate. Over time your mind will wander less. Think about it, when you first learned to ride a bike did you never put your feet down to the floor whilst you were finding your balance? Of course you did. Well this is the same. Your mind is just learning to find its balance and there is no point being frustrated about it. Just notice it and then gently bring the mind back to your practice.

7. It’s a treat not a chore.

Look forward to your meditation practice. It’s a few minutes of silence and peace in your busy, busy day. It’s just for you. Relish the thought of pressing the pause button on your life for a few minutes. It’s a treat in itself, but it’s also nice to treat yourself whilst you form this new habit to positively reinforce your progress. Every day that you meditate allow yourself a little treat, a long hot bath or a favourite book, and every fourth day in a row you meditate give yourself a bigger treat like a pedicure. By rewarding yourself whilst you establish the routine and habit of your practice you are far more likely to make it stick.

8. Commit to the benefits.

You know the benefits, that’s why you have tried to meditate before. Who wouldn’t want to be less anxious, reduce the threat of heart disease, immune and stress related illnesses, and bring more clarity to their life? Not only this but meditating actually makes you HAPPIER..below from Psychology Today

“The brain waves of meditators show why they’re healthier. Neuroscientists have found that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex—brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. In other words, they were calmer and happier than before”.

Happiness. From sitting still and doing nothing. And spending nothing. Bring it on!

9. It’s not an Enlightenment Competition.

By letting  go of the perfect image of the perfect meditation practice we can start to develop our own real practice that fits our real life. By removing struggle and the tendency to  compare and compete we open ourselves up to just being with our own developing experience. It’s not an enlightenment competition: it’s a personal daily commitment to our own space and wellbeing. Being open to however that experience unfolds for us is the most valuable part of  the journey.

So..we know meditation is going to be good for us. It’s just sticking with it long enough to feel those benefits that is the issue for most of us. With the above tips you should be able to create a thriving and rewarding practice that nourishes your body and soul.

And there you have it. No mountain tops. No Mona Lisa. No austerity. No struggle. Meditation That Sticks for Real People.

Let me know how you get on.