Does practice make perfect? No, but it makes healthy. At least in the case of a meditation practice.
It’s no secret that regular meditation practice increases wellbeing. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and to help people manage pain. It’s been shown to decrease depression and to increase wellbeing.
Meditation even decreases the duration and intensity of the common cold.
The benefits of meditation are diverse and well-documented. Yet, if you’re like a lot of people, you find it really hard to sustain a meditation practice. You might have started out with a goal to meditate every day for twenty minutes, only to fall short of that goal and end up feeling worse about yourself.
If I were to ask you about your meditation practice, chances are you’d look at the ground and say something like, “Yeah, I should meditate more but my mind wanders, I’m so busy, and I just don’t have the discipline to stick with it.”
You’re not alone.
Everyone who has ever undertaken the journey of developing a meditation habit has gone through this.
Here are some tips to help you sustain a meditation practice.
Keep it Simple
The more complicated you make your meditation practice, the less likely it is to happen. Keep it simple. If you need lots of special props or the perfect ambiance, it’s less likely to happen. A special cushion is nice but it isn’t necessary. A candle or an altar is nice, but it isn’t necessary.
Life is complicated enough. Let your meditation practice be an opportunity for simplicity.
Don’t Worry About Clearing Your Mind
I’ve had many people tell me that they would like to meditate more, but they just can’t seem to clear their mind.
I can’t clear my mind either. I find that much of the time, my mind is trying to wander away, thinking about this and that, rummaging around looking for something to satisfy its desire to be busy and engaged. I often notice my mind running through to-do lists. Other times, my mind is worrying and stressing.
When there is a lot of activity up in my head, I find it helps to focus on the physical sensations of the brain. By shifting my awareness from the contents of the thoughts to the physical sensations of what my brain actually feels like, I tend to realize how tired my brain is of running all the time.
You don’t need to clear your mind. Simply watch it. Get to know it. Be curious about all the places it goes. In so doing, you’re training it.
Schedule a Time
I have the habit of meditating when I first wake up in the morning. I’ve found that if I schedule it later than that, the day sometimes gets away from me and the little window that I thought I would have for meditation gets taken up by something “important.”
The early morning and late evenings are good times to meditate. I prefer the early morning because I find that I tend to fall asleep when I try to meditate at night.
But you’re not me. You’re you. Find what works for you. Part of the journey of cultivating a meditation practice is seeing how it fits in your own life. If what you’ve been trying isn’t working, mix it up and try something new. I know a lot of people find it really beneficial to meditate for 20 minutes during a lunch break or during a small gap in their schedule.
Is there a little window of time when you’re waiting in the car or you have a little quiet space? See if your meditation practice fits in there.
Find a Comfortable Way to Sit
I’ve had a lot people tell me that they just can’t sit like that. Well, you don’t have to sit “like that.” You can sit, stand, or lie down. I like to try to embody quiet alertness.
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits sits on a cushion with his back against the wall and his legs straight out in front of him.
If you’re going to sit cross-legged, it really helps to sit on a cushion that is high enough to bring your hips above your knees. If your hips are below your knees, your back will be strained—and you won’t be able to keep up a meditation practice.
Chairs are good, too. I find it helps to have my feet flat on the floor. I notice that I have a strong tendency to want to cross my legs.
Join a Meditation Group
I’ve recently started attending a weekly meditation group. I tend to think of meditation as being a solitary endeavor, and I was reluctant to go sit with a group of 50 other people. Somehow I got past my reluctance and I walked in and sat down. I was amazed by the silence. The stillness seemed richer than the stillness I experience on my own. There is something powerful about sitting in silence with 50 people.
In addition to what I’m experiencing as a more intense meditative experience in a group, I’m also benefiting from the group’s regularity. By planning this time to sit in meditation with others, I establish a rhythm that helps me carry it forward on my own throughout the rest of the week.
Added bonus: the meditation group also gives you an opportunity to make friends with people who are working to sustain a meditation practice.
Talk with Friends and Family about Meditation
If you have a friend or loved one who shares a similar desire and commitment to meditation, you can support each other in this practice.
Having people to talk to about your meditation practice can be a great way to help you keep going. It can also help to open up conversations that go beyond the everyday fluff we often talk about. By sharing your experiences and struggles with meditation, you might find that your relationships grow stronger.
Listen to Guided Meditations
Guided meditations are a great way to help you develop the habit of meditating. One of the main struggles that people find with meditation is resisting the urge to get up and check the email or “just do one quick thing” and then come back to sit down and meditate. The pull to do anything but sit and meditate can be a strong pull.
By following along with a guided meditation, you’re less likely to cut your meditation short to go do that one quick thing. The guided meditation is a strong signal to yourself that you’ve set aside this time for meditation. There are lots of online resources for guided meditation. You can get a free guided meditation by clicking here.
Be Gentle On Yourself
I can’t stress this enough. Be gentle on yourself. Chances are, you beat yourself up more than necessary already. Don’t beat yourself up about struggling to develop a meditation practice.
You want to meditate because you see the benefits that it can have in your life. If you find that you aren’t meditating as much as you would like, use that as an opportunity to be a friend to yourself and try applying some of the things listed above.
Beating yourself up about it is the exact opposite of meditation. Notice that you’re not meditating and feel what it feels like to not meditate. Feel what it feels like to have the desire to meditate. Simply accept yourself right where you are. It’s a journey. Take small steps.
What Ideas Do You Have?
I’m sure you have lots of other ideas for sustaining a meditation practice. Please share your ideas in the comments, so we all can benefit.