How To Start Meditating
I began meditating about a year ago, and I'll admit, I was pretty intimidated at first. Despite the fact that meditation has become more "mainstream", I viewed it in somewhat of a strange light, approaching it hesitantly, and assuming it would be too challenging or uncomfortable for me. Over the past few years, research has shown that meditation can have a myriad of positive health benefits, such as reducing stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. It can also improve concentration and memory function. High levels of stress are linked to a multitude of health problems, and since mental health is a major part of overall wellness, understanding ways to deal with those stressors is really important! After being encouraged by the supporting research, I was finally ready to try it for myself!
I started out meditating once a week as a way to ease into this strange, new habit. I quickly grew to love it so much that I'm now meditating at least 4 days a week, with my ultimate goal of making meditation a daily habit! It's one of my favorite parts of the day, and I can see a massive difference in my overall mentality and stress levels. I feel calmer, I make wiser decisions, and I'm finding I have quite a bit more energy. Perhaps the biggest eye-opener is a positive shift in my mindset. Now, when thoughts of fear or self-doubt start to creep in, I'm able to recognize it, and instead choose love and positivity. I've been more productive and a lot happier as a result!
Recently, someone asked me how I started meditating. Although what works well for me may not work for everyone, I thought I'd share 10 tips that have helped me make the most out of my meditation practice:
1. Create a Comfortable & Inspiring Space
Find or create a clutter-free, quiet space. For me, this is either in our bedroom or in the living room on our couch (depending on which room is cleanest at the time). I love having lots of natural light, but I also usually light a candle because of the ambiance it adds. I'll grab all the necessary pillows and blankets, so I can make wherever I'm sitting as comfortable as possible, minimizing any potential distractions.
2. Be Flexible with Time
If I could have it my way, I'd wake up at the same time every day, fix myself a cup of hot coffee, do a few stretches, and then spend 15-30 minutes meditating. However, my schedule is always shifting and my ideal plan is not always feasible for me. For a while, I used my inconsistent work schedule as an excuse for why I wasn't able to be consistent with my meditation. I was convinced that if I didn't do it first thing in the morning, then I might as well not even fool with it at all. But now, instead of letting my schedule determine my success, I've learned how to be flexible with my morning routine. Some mornings I get to do it first thing, and that will always be my favorite. But on mornings when I have early clients, I make sure I block off some down time during the later part of the day for meditation. I've learned that no matter what time of day I do it, I still reap all the wonderful benefits.
3. Stretch It Out
Doing a few light stretches can make it easier and a lot more comfortable for your body to sit still. It's amazing all of the tension we notice when we have to stay in one place or position for any given amount of time. Stretching your muscles will increase blood circulation, allowing your body and mind to relax. Click here to try these 7 stretches before you begin!
4. Take Deep Breaths
Although breathing is a basic involuntary activity, the majority of people only use about one-third of their lung capacity. Our breathing is a direct reflection of our stress levels. When the body is in a state of high stress, it naturally takes quick, shallow breaths. And because the breathing and arousal centers in the brain have a facilitating relationship with one another, it is physically impossible for our bodies to hold tension when we take slow, deep breaths. Start by inhaling all the air you can into your lungs, hold the breath at the top for 2-3 seconds, and then exhale as slowly as you can. Do that 10 times, or click this link and try these 3 breathing techniques, and you'll feel calm and ready to go!
5. Brain Dump Before You Start
I have a lot of roles in my day-to-day life, and they each come with their own set of tasks. Some of which begin running through my mind the minute my eyes open. So, I've learned that on the days when my thoughts are moving at warp speed, writing down every single thing that pops into my head before I begin meditating (a.k.a. "brain-dumping") allows me to quiet my mind and maximize my meditation. While doing this definitely makes it easier, it doesn't completely prevent any thoughts coming to mind as I'm sitting still. Thoughts are often a part of meditation, and instead of fighting them, quietly acknowledge the present thought, and then gently let it go and return to focusing on your breath or mantra. After all, the majority of the tasks on our to-do lists can wait until after we've taken care of ourselves first.
6. Try Guided Meditations
Guided meditations have been one of the most effective tools for me, especially in the beginning. Anytime you start something new, its incredibly helpful to have some guidance throughout the process. My favorite guided meditations are Melissa Ambrosini's Master Your Mean Meditations. These 10 fantastic, guided meditations are worth every single penny. Headspace is another awesome resource. It has a monthly subscription, but the first 10 days are free so you can try it out before fully committing. If you're hesitant to invest at first, Stop, Breathe, Think is a free app I'd recommend downloading.
7. Use a Mantra
Usually before I begin, I read a devotion (Jesus Calling is one of my favs), a scripture, or I write out a word I really want to focus on (click here for all of my past monthly mantras). Then, as I'm taking deep breaths, I'll say the word or mantra out loud, and will focus on how it makes me feel, and what things come to mind as I repeat it. This allows me to let go of all the random thoughts that come into my mind as I start to become quiet.
8. Focus on Emotions
I have a pretty creative imagination. And sometimes, when I meditate, I'll be focusing on something I want to happen so much that I'll begin to play out my future in my mind. This is really tricky. While I definitely think it's powerful to imagine yourself achieving your goals, we have to be careful not to attach specific expectations. Ultimately, my success may end up looking quite a bit different in reality than it does in my mind. So, it's best to set an intention, imagine ourselves feeling the way we desire to feel, while remaining open to the final outcome. We can only control so much, so focusing on the day at hand will prevent our minds from trying to play out the future.
9. Let Go of Expectations
Meditation is a very personal experience, so what works for you may be different than what works for someone else. That is completely okay! The point is to take time during your day to be still, quiet your mind, and practice being present. Some days, I meditate so that I can stay focused on my deepest values, thus making choices throughout the day that reflect that. Other days I might be struggling with something, and sitting still, being quiet, and praying helps me to either let it go, or it gives me some clarity on how I need to address the issue. So whatever your reason or method, the important thing is that you're making a healthy decision that best supports your needs at that time.
10. Go With The Flow
Not all meditation sessions are created equal. Some days, you'll feel like you could meditate for 45 minutes. You'll be so into it that the time will fly by and you'll be feeling incredibly centered and energized afterwards. And then there will be days when it will feel impossible to sit still and take deep breaths. Or, some days the only quiet time you'll have is in the car after you drop the kids off at school. That's okay (however, please keep your eyes open while driving)! Whenever you find yourself having a hard time, don't force it. Show yourself some grace, take a few deep breaths, and know that meditation is not about perfection. It's simply about being here now, and living your life in the best way possible with whatever energy you have on that day. Just like anything else, some days will be better than others. The important thing is that you're making the effort!
Meditation can be whatever you need it to be. A time of solace, a time of worship, or a time of rest. Stress is not something to take lightly, and one of the most beneficial things you can do for your mental and physical health is to take time to slow down, let go, and refocus on the things that are most important to you. And once you begin, you may find yourself looking forward to that part of your day the most!