What’s the big deal with meditation?
It seems like everyone and their dad is doing it nowadays. All the yogis, influencers, and people in the wellness space do it, but is it just because it’s “trendy?”
Meditation has definitely become more popular in recent years, as more science has come out about the mind-body connection.
More than ever before, we are seeing connections in how our moods, feelings, state of awareness, and memory can all be influenced by our other bodily systems and our nervous system.
It’s been shown that just 10 minutes of meditation a day can physically change the structure of your brain, reset your body to the parasympathetic state, and even boost our sense of resilience, empathy, and compassion!
But although people are becoming more aware of why they should meditate but are still unclear on how.
It can be really overwhelming to think about taking the time to sit for 10 minutes and expect no thoughts to come up.
Well, I’m here to first say that the idea that you should be clear minded when you meditate, doesn’t apply to most – especially beginners. The main goal is to quiet your mind and observe.
I have been meditating for about two years now, consistently for a year. I’m now able to meditate for up to 40 minutes at a time and often don’t follow guided audio but instead have music or complete silence.
I didn’t begin with the ability to do this though! When I first started, I could barely sit for five minutes comfortably – my thoughts took over right away. But the more I practiced and challenged myself, the more I was able to tap into this stillness and really involve myself in my meditations.
I think that everyone can benefit from adding meditation into their lifestyle!
So to get you started and help you ease into meditation comfortably, here are my suggestions that helped me get started and stick to my meditation practice:
1. Do it first thing in the morning or with another routine.
Practicing meditation in the morning is like taking a pill that reduces anxiety, stress, increases focus, and improves mood.
After we have just woken up, our brains aren’t really “turned on” yet, so starting with stillness and calm really sets the tone for how the rest of our day is going to look.
Think about it, if you woke up feeling rushed and were surrounded by noise, you’d feel like a mess most of the day – nobody wants that. So why not start the day on a positive note?
One of the great things about meditation is that it can be done at any time, but I find that when starting out it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.
It’s easy for our to-do list to pile up and take priority, we make up excuses and tell ourselves we’ll “do it later,” but then later never happens. By meditating in the morning, you’re making sure you ACTUALLY do it!
Another great option is to combine the new habit with one you already have! This is called “Habit Stacking,” and was made popular by the book, “Atomic Habits,” by James Clear.
For example, we all brush our teeth in the morning (I hope), it’s a given. So when you brush your teeth, either before or after, try taking time to sit and meditate. The more you follow through with your new habit, the more it will become a part of your natural routine!
2. Find a quiet space and get comfortable.
Okay, so it might be no surprise that you should be meditating in a quiet space. After all, it’s the practice of sitting in silence. But I know this can be harder for some because of living conditions (especially if you’re in a dorm). Find a space that makes most sense and works for your condition.
When I was in the dorm, I lived with a roommate and I would wake up 15 minutes before her to meditate before we went to the gym. Other times, I would go to the communal living space and sit. The key is to find a place that is quiet enough for you to really relax and get comfortable.
When you meditate, make sure you’re in a comfortable position so you can fully relax into your body.
This can look like sitting on a cushion or blanket, laying on your bed (although you might fall asleep with this one), laying with your legs up the wall (support that lymphatic drainage!!), or sitting in a chair with your feet planted into the ground. Feel free to try out different positions and find what you like!
It’s important to remember that there is no “correct” position, especially when you’re brand new to meditation. The “correct” posture is whichever one makes you comfortable enough to actually want to do the practice!
3. Start small
I think a lot of people have it in their heads that meditation isn’t effective unless you’re sitting in complete silence, no thinking, and for hours at a time.
This can be the case for some advanced meditators, but definitely NOT for those just starting out.
It’s recommended that in order to feel the benefits of meditation and see its effects throughout your day, you take 5-10 minutes.
If you’re looking at that number and thinking, “how in the world am I supposed to sit in silence for that long”, don’t worry – I’ve been there! Every single person who is new to meditation has felt that way!
To start out, you don’t have to meditate for the full 10 minutes. Start small with 3 minutes and work your way up.
Once you notice that you’re able to be still and time seems to pass quickly, go ahead and add a minute or two. Adjust the practice to what YOU need but also remember to challenge yourself.
And remember to give yourself more credit, I’m sure you’re a lot more capable of sitting for longer than you think.
4. Follow a guided meditation to start
When I first started meditating I thought I had to sit in complete silence, no music or anything to do it “right.”
You might get to that point, but most likely when you’re starting out, you’re going to have a monkey brain. Your thoughts will be all over the place because they’re not used to being free in silence.
Luckily, there are so many great apps that offer amazing guided meditations! With most, you can customize the time of the guided audio so you have a TON of options.
I have tried a few different apps, but Headspace and Calm are still my favorite. Both offer daily meditations to follow, series (forgiveness, self love, anxiety, etc.), and “quick fix” sessions that are great if you suddenly feel anxious and need grounding.
I’ve also recently been loving finding random guided audios on YouTube! I typically just type in the amount of time I want to meditate for and if there is a specific emotion I want to work on I’ll search for that.
For example, if I wake up feeling anxious, I’ll look up “15 minute guided meditation for anxiety.”
5. Count your breaths and do a body scan.
One of the main techniques of meditation, especially when beginning, is to focus on the breath. By putting your focus on your breath, you’re allowing your mind to focus on one thing rather than the many thoughts that may be floating around.
When starting each practice, it’s best to take 3-4 deep belly breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, focusing on the feeling of your stomach rising and falling.
When you notice yourself becoming distracted by thoughts, return to the breath and the sensation in your body. Something that also helps is counting to ten, inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, exhale 4, and so on. When you get to ten, restart and repeat the cycle. These breaths should be getting slower as your body and mind relax.
Another great technique is to body scan. After you begin with your deep belly breaths, visualize water moving up your body. Start at the tips of your toes and imagine the water slowly filling up your feet, your ankles, your legs… focus on how the body feels in those areas.
Are you experiencing discomfort? tension? relaxation? Don’t stay in one area, just notice, and keep scanning up. Once you reach the top of your head, move your way back down the body as if the water is being drained out.
By directing your attention to different areas of your body, your mind has something to focus on and it allows you to become even more present in your meditation.
6. Don’t worry about clearing your mind
I already mentioned that there’s an idea that meditation is completely clearing the mind of any thought. Again, that might be the case for some advanced meditators, but not for you right now.
Release the expectation that you will have no thoughts come in to distract you, because it will happen. The trick is being mindful of our reaction to these thoughts as they come up.
The goal is to be non-reactive and observe these thoughts without judgement rather than getting carried away in them.
If you’re sitting and start thinking of something to add to your to-do list, don’t get mad that you can’t concentrate. Instead, recognize this thought, say you’ll come back to it later, and return to focus on your breath.
Your goal with meditation right now is to learn how to come back to yourself, not silence your inner voice.
This is easier said than done for many people, so if it seems difficult the first couple of times you meditate, don’t worry!
With practice and consistency the concept of non-reactivity becomes much easier. You start to recognize these thoughts, and are kinder to yourself as they come. It also becomes easier to recenter your focus after you’ve gotten distracted.
It’s just like training a muscle!
7. Don’t be too hard on yourself
When starting a new habit, it’s good to have goals to keep you motivated and consistent, but these can also lead to challenges. Like many other goals, make sure yours are realistic and don’t attach too many expectations on the possible outcomes.
Just like anything else, meditation takes time to develop. You shouldn’t expect to go from never meditating in your life to meditating every day for 20 minutes straight.
The key is to build up to your goals gradually and enjoy the process! You wouldn’t expect to do 10 pull ups if you’ve never been able to do one before – you’d work your way towards that goal.
Start small and be kind to yourself.
Yes, it’s recommended that to experience the benefits you meditate every day for 5-10 minutes, but if you miss a day it’s not the end of the world, you’re not back to square one.
One “set back” doesn’t erase all of the other hard work you’ve put in.
Remember, the point is to make this a part of your lifestyle, and to do that, you have to make sure your practice is sustainable!
8. Commit to at least 10 days.
Research states it takes 21 days to build a habit and 66 days to create a lifestyle change. Those numbers are big though and can be really daunting to someone just starting out on their journey.
If you’re really looking to integrate this into your routine and make it a part of your lifestyle, then start small and go from there.
I recommend 10 days because it’s a little bit more than a week which is often the time that you can start noticing a slight difference. With these 10 days, try to meditate for at least 5 minutes every day – be consistent.
I’ve given you ideas on when and how to meditate, now all you have to do is make it happen! Try setting reminders on your phone, making a designated alarm, or even doing a challenge with a friend.
Maybe try writing down how you felt after each session so you can visualize your progress.
Again, don’t expect immediate change, but know that it will come to you!
Once you’ve done a full 10 days, try another 10 or 15! Eventually, keep adding more days onto your goal to turn it into a sustainable part of your lifestyle.
These are the tips I found to be most helpful when I started meditating! It’s now a part of my daily routines and my awareness wouldn’t be the same without it.
If you are starting on your own meditation journey, good luck and enjoy! Please reach out to me if you have any questions or want additional guidance, I’d love to hear from you!
Guest blog post by Erin Dunne with spiritual life coach, Heather Ione
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