Meditation is the practice of training the mind, much like weight lifting is a practice of training the body. It is easy to flounder around in the beginning stages of meditation. I tried and failed for almost a year before I realized that there is no failure, there is no right or wrong. There is only you, and to truly commit yourself to this type of practice you will need patience. I now realize that I wasn't feeling "successful" due to a lack of technique. My own lack of commitment and need for perfection were the only two things holding me back from the full experience of meditation.
1. Make Time for "You"
It is easy to get caught up in the daily drama's and trauma's of life! The first step in developing a lasting meditation practice is to become aware of how much time you allow for yourself to slow down (dare I say stop) for a moment and just breathe.
2.Find a Comfortable Spot
You don't necessarily need a "sanctuary" or "altar" to meditate. I meditate every morning and every night without fail and I throw in the occasional lunch meditation if emotions or stresses are running high. A key element to meditation is consistency and I have found that using the same place for each meditation helps trigger awareness in my brain. I am never in the same "place" morning, noon, and night so I have three separate locations for my meditations. In the morning I have a corner in my office, if I need an afternoon pick me up I meditate in my car, and at night I have a special place in my home. A main component of meditation is to bring awareness to the practice its self and familiar surroundings will help create a trigger in the mind.
3. Find a Comfortable Position
It is easy to judge posture too harshly, as above it is important not to overthink the process. You can sit lotus, half lotus, laying down, sitting in a chair, the main goal is to get comfortable. You do want to embody an alert awareness no matter which way you choose. The key here is complete comfort and relaxation. During meditation, it is normal for slight discomforts and irritations to arise within the body. Try to bring awareness to the discomfort by breathing in to that sore muscle or itchy foot before adjusting. If you are physically unable to sit through the annoyance you can adjust, scratch, etc. but by bringing awareness you will be doing so consciously and without irritation.
4. Start Slow
Meditation does not have to be an hour-long torture fest. Many suggest easing into the process by starting very slow and practicing for 5 minutes a day. Once you become comfortable sitting for that amount of time you can move it up to 10 minutes, 20 minutes, and more! The trick is to be consistent, there is no right or wrong method. Set yourself a goal for 5 minutes a day for 7 days, by the end if you are able to sit comfortably without a restless mind or body then try 10 minutes for the next 7 days. Don't get discouraged and try not to let your mind judge too harshly. There is no end goal. I have meditated multiple times a day for over a year but there are times my mind is too restless to sit, on the days I am aware of this I will scale back my sessions to fit my needs. Two days ago I was able to sit for two, 40 minute sessions and today I am only able to sit for two 10 minute sessions. I am still able to reap the benefits of meditation practice without allowing my mind to tell me that I am practicing incorrectly.
5. Taming Thoughts
A common mistake made is in the thinking that you must clear your mind. This is not only not impossible but is very counter-productive in the early stages of practice. Think of the mind like a wild mustang. If you put the mustang in a pen so small it feels trapped, the mustang will push back.The mustang will resist being contained; however, if you give the horse a long lead for it to run it will barely notice that you are slowly drawing it back to the corral. This part of the practice takes patience and lack of judgement. Try at first to focus on breathing, counting your breaths can help to relax your mind and help you focus. Each separate breath is 1 count, go up to 10 and start again. The mind will wander even if you focus on the count. When it does you shouldn't judge yourself too harshly, simply recognize where the mind has gone and begin again. It helps me to actually name my wandering thought before I go back to the breath. For instance, my mind wanders to a thought of what I will prepare for supper this afternoon, I am aware my mind has wandered and I recognize that it is a planning thought. I acknowledge that my mind is planning and gently guide my focus back to the breath. I also carry that practice throughout my day to maintain mindfulness and presence.
6. Let Go of Judgement
The previous tips all have an underlying theme..... cut yourself some slack. Our own mind is our worst enemy. I judged myself so harshly in the beginning that I almost never got started! I would sit perfectly still with such good posture it hurt and get angry when I couldn't keep my mind from thinking. JUST LET IT BE! A benefit of meditation is it can move you from the thinking mind and allow you to sit within your body and your heart and just simply be, but in order to do so you will need to let go of judging the experience. There is no failure in meditation.
7. Try Guided Meditation
I had many failed attempts at meditation due to my critical perfectionism and my lack of commitment in the beginning. A friend of mine recommending trying a guided meditation to help get me started and it was the best thing I have done. You can find them all over the internet. I suggest mindful meditations or checking into Jack Kornfield.
8. Use Aromatherapy
I started using Hawaian Sandalwood on the soles of my feet before every meditation. The properties in the essential oil promote awareness and will help you find center. I have been able to sit for longer periods of time and go deeper within myself.
9. There is no Goal
There is no goal in meditation. Once you become aware of the different depths of meditation it is easy to get caught up in "a goal". The point of meditation is to raise awareness, promote relaxation, and connect with your inner self. Going into your session with a certain goal is counter productive to the practice itself. For instance, you are so focused on what your end goal is that you are not aware of the meditation or what may arise from moment to moment. The minute you begin to think about what you want from the meditation, the moment is gone and you are just sitting still and thinking.
10. Be Grateful
Were you able to feel your body relax and your heart open? Be grateful. Were you able to quiet the mind for a few moments? Be grateful. If you sit for 10 minutes and you felt 30 seconds of relaxation and inner peace, be grateful. Focus on the high points of your meditation instead of wishing the meditation to be different. Some people will spend their entire lives looking for what already lives inside them. You will have the opportunity to find it within yourself everyday with practice and commitment.