Touted across the globe as one of the most influential and important daily tools for healthy living, the benefits of meditation include reduced stress, increased concentration and happiness, and more (read them all in this Third Metric article). It’s also noted by some of today’s most successful business moguls as an essential and life-altering practice to achieving success. I also find that meditation taps me into the awareness to make better choices in my diet, and be a kinder, more compassionate person to my friends and family.
In previous years teaching yoga, I often had a hard time subscribing new students to this age-old practice. Through working with these first-time yogis and meditators of all ages, I came to notice the obstacles novice students seemed stalled by:
Here are a few mistakes many learners make:
Judging the Experience
It’s not about whether it was a ‘good meditation’ or a ‘bad meditation’ or whether you are good or bad at it. Any moment of even attempting to give your mind and heart a moment of silence is a beautiful gift. Commit to not listening, holding on to, or believing what your ego says as you learn to practice. Meditation isn’t just ‘not thinking for a while’. It’s a practice of gratitude. It’s a practice of patience and stillness. It’s a practice of connecting with everything that exists, that vibration of life and energy that runs through every living thing. There is no good or bad, there is only love! Feel, enjoy and give the love!
Worrying whether your ‘doing it right’
Don’t worry if other people are looking at you. They aren’t. Their eyes are closed too, and you look much sillier for being the one person in the room with eyes open than for having your eyes closed and someone else seeing you.
Don’t worry about how long you do it. Extended time comes with practice.
Don’t worry about how ‘deep you go’, it also comes with practice.
Every meditation might feel a bit different if your paying attention. Let them each be new, fresh experiences of the Now moment, and enjoy them!
Fearing the Learning Process
Often times, people who have never meditated before are deeply interested in the practice but are too scared to ask questions for fear of looking foolish. There are no stupid questions when it comes to meditation because it’s different for everyone. As with any skill, it takes learning the basics before you can go pro. Honor the process of learning, don’t be afraid of it, and embrace the newness of all the surprises ahead of you!
It’s okay to be a novice. The sooner you start to learn and practice, the sooner you can reap the benefits and share it with others.
Try these tips to learning the basics, or improving your practice:
- Use a guide if you need to while you learn the basics (or even later in your practice!)
Not everyday will be easy to slip right into your ego-free mode. If you find a podcast or guide or tape or even a specific teacher and class that helps you reach your deep, inner peace, use it! Don’t be afraid to use training wheels while you explore your practice. Soon you’ll be able to use these guides without the guides being present; as if they showed you what path to follow inward, and eventually you memorize the way in.
For practiced yogis, guides can also help you push through blocks in your meditation, or reach new depths. Sometimes a new doorway, like a new podcast or meditation song, can help you find new elements of your practice (and heart, mind and soul) your go-to routine misses.
- Find the time that’s best for you
Some meditate best first thing in the morning, as done in many ashrams around India. Some meditate better at the end of a workday, when they can compartmentalize the work day, and take a breather before heading home to be with family. Find the time that’s best for you, when you are able to commit to being clear headed. It might be different on different days!
- Be comfortable
Not everyone can sit in lotus or cross-legged; there is nothing wrong with that. As a teacher, I never sat in lotus because I found the stretch too deep to focus inward. A pillow under your tailbone can also help prop up the spine and make sitting for long periods more comfortable. Or sit upright in a chair if you need to. Palms one on top of the other facing up invite the universe to bring you new things. Palms face down on the knees will help you focus more inward toward stillness.
- When thoughts come in, gently push them aside
The key word here is gently. This also goes with not judging the experience. The ego works tirelessly to keep you from being present, because it cannot exist while you are in the now! When the ego brings worries or thoughts or questions and plans into your brain, very lovingly and gently push them aside. Don’t feel guilty for losing focus; meditation is all about the love. So use your love to push them aside, tell them you’ll deal with them later if you need to, and get back to center.
- Use a Mantra
To start, I always suggest using one word: “Peace” “Love” “Calm”, etc. It can be a sanskrit term. It can be the sound of waves. Whatever inspires you. The repetition is like a metronome that allows the music of meditation to sing louder through you.
- Enjoy it!
This is the only time in your day when you don’t have to think, you don’t have to plan or be productive. You can just go into the heart, take a rest, and feel the warmth of your own existence. Even if it’s not your best meditation, sitting in silence is a beautiful thing, and will impact your daily life in ways you can’t yet see.
- Get the right accessories
There are two trains of thought on this kind of advice. The first is that meditation, yoga and spiritual devotion require certain forms of deprivation. That means giving up luxuries in exchange for enlightenment. On the other side, highly recognized in Osho philosophies, luxuries are seen as a gateway to nirvana. (His ashram in India, with it’s Olympic pools and marble pathways, is proof). Either way, for the modern yogi and woman, I say a little luxe in your practice will only make it more fun!
We women love our accessories, and your meditation practice is a great place to add a few special items to make it even more of a rewarding experience. Find a colorful, comfortable pillow that you only use to sit on during meditation. Invest in a super-soft shawl to wrap around your arms while you sit. My personal favorite is a lavender candle to burn while I meditate and practice yoga. The scent is so soothing, and the flame reminds me to stay true to my inner light, read more about letting your light shine in this article.
- Round it out
At the end of the practice, I always encourage students to ‘hug the world’. In other words, come back into reality and out of the meditation with a little, silent inner hug for everyone, everything, and every place around the globe. It’s a great way to remember that even people all the way on the other side of the globe are living only in this moment, just like we are, and to come back into our day with a feeling of peace and compassion for all life. Plus it will leave you smiling…
Like any rewarding action and practice, meditation does take discipline. But discipline should be an act of joy and loving devotion, not punishment. Remember that you are meditation to give your mind and heart the best chance to experience life fully, and enjoy the beauty of solitude!
Now after all these tricks, let’s meditate!
Sit comfortably on the floor, on a pillow, or on a chair in a quiet room. Begin by deepening the breath. Allow fresh air to enter through the nose, reaching the bottom of the lungs, and expel the air out of your mouth, allowing it to take with it any stresses, worries, or tension. Repeat this for at least 10 breaths.
Now focus inward. Gently push any ideas or thoughts that pop up out of the way. Notice the stillness inside you, resonating from your soul, even as your body pumps blood and oxygen through you. Without trying to grab it or hold on to this stillness, simply rest in it. Surrender to the stillness; allow it to wrap around you and through you like warm water in a bathtub. Release to it.
Enjoy as long as you wish. Repeat often.