SOUL

Starting a Meditation Practice (Part 2): Getting Started

Meditate on the Self as being
Vast as the sky,
A body of energy
Extending forever in all directions –
Above, below, all around.

– The Radiance Sutras, Lorin Roche

When I first decided to start meditating, I felt overwhelmed by the online discourse and number of article I found myself sifting through. The most challenging part of my journey was getting started because I really had no idea where I could even begin. To me, meditating seemed like this skill that select people just inherently had.

First things first, your meditation practice is yours and yours alone. As I wrote in my last meditation piece, I had a lot of misconceptions when first starting to implement a regular practice. I was constantly plagued with expectations and standards of how I believed my practice should look and feel. I soon came to realize, however, that the best and most crucial aspect of my practice is making it my own and releasing any held expectations of what it “should” be like.  Simply put, my practice individually serves me best because it is my own.

This is a continuation of my meditation series. In the second part of this series, I will be sharing a few tips that I have found helpful in implementing and then maintaining a regular meditation practice. These aren’t necessarily meditation skills, just behavioral patterns and beliefs that I have developed along the way to serve me and my practice. In my opinion, regular meditation is a habit, like brushing your teeth or waking up at a consistent time. The more you practice and stay consistent, the more accessible and comfortable it becomes. That’s not to say I meditate every day at a set time for a set length. I just have been able to discover what works best for me.  Here are my favorite tips that I have found helpful in beginning a regular and healthy mediation practice

  • Set your space

I think possibly the most important step to meditating is preparing to meditate. I don’t necessarily mean preparing by warming up your mind or anything but rather taking some time to set your space that you plan to meditate in.  

For me, it’s easy to find excuses or distractions if I don’t properly prepare myself and I end up frustrated and annoyed that I able unable to focus.  My pre-meditation ritual looks like this. First, I make sure I have enough time designated, meaning I won’t be interrupted by an email or a phone call.  I set my phone down and turn off any other distractions.  I grab a blanket in case I get cold.  Next, I get myself into a comfortable position, either seated with blocks, or lying on my back. Finally,  let myself wiggle around a bit and stretch, so my body feels comfortable and open.

I also put a lot of thought into where I will be meditating. My favorite places are my bed, lying on my back on my yoga mat, or sitting on my sun porch when it’s warm outside. I like to float and try different places but this might not work for your practice.  I know multiple people who have a designated chair or stool that sets their space. The most important part of picking your space is establishing an area where you feel comfortable and safe.

I also like the routine aspect of setting my space. It may seem minimal but setting a consistent pre-meditation routine can make the world of a difference. I like to think that with my routine, I’m sending a message to my mind and body that the next few minutes are going to be quiet and introspective.

  • Journaling and to-do lists

I am very Type A and love planning out every hour of my day. I find I am the most productive when have a specific schedule that accounts for my time and tasks.  I used to think I had to get my meditation done first thing in the morning and then approach the rest of my day with a clear and focused mind. However, it was very difficult for me to focus because my mind would start running through my to-do list whenever I sat down to meditate.

I found that the best way to remedy this is to do my to-do lists and journaling before I meditate. I feel almost like I am emptying out my brain onto a piece of paper so it’s easier to focus without scattered thoughts. I also find it helps me stay more present when I am meditating because I have accounted for that time in my schedule. This isn’t a rigid process and sometimes my to-do list changes after my meditation. But I find my meditation the most satisfying when I have a chance to journal or write before.

I think incorporating journaling with meditation is also helpful because it allows me to monitor my experience and see how my practice changes over time.  I usually like to log how I’m feeling, both physically and emotionally, and if anything came up for me while I was meditating. Frequently when I am meditating, I have what I call an a-ha moment where I discover something about myself or my situation that I want to explore further or return to in another session. My journal is a great way to bookmark these ideas and to catalogue my meditation journey.

  • Meditate after movement

I am a very physical person in the sense that I am constantly in motion. Trying new workouts, jiggling my leg, cracking my knuckles, my body is always moving and readjusting itself. I found myself very frustrated when I first started meditating because I would almost always interrupt myself with some sort of tick or itch.  The idea of simply sitting still seemed impossible for me.

While I now approach this excess energy with more compassion and don’t force stillness on myself, I also find incorporating some movement right before meditating serves my practice best. I certainty don’t do an intense workout or run before, but I find myself much more relaxed and able to focus after some light stretching.  Hip openers are always great and welcome stretches in my practice (here are my favorites). I also find light backbends and forward folds helpful in stretching my spine and opening up.

This also gives me some time to check in with my body and how I am physically feeling before I meditate.  Maybe I am tired and my body just needs a nap. Or maybe that excess energy means go and I end up running outside. However my body is feeling in that moment – I try to honor that and allow it to inform my practice.

  • Commitment

As with any regular habit, meditation requires practice and patience. I never want to feel like I’m forcing myself to meditate but I also try to hold myself accountable when I don’t feel like it. The most helpful mindset for me regarding a regular commitment, is knowing that some days I won’t have the desire to meditate. It doesn’t make me a bad meditation teacher or wellness writer, its simply part of the practice.  However, I personally know, that meditation is the most needed on the days I am the most resistant.

The first thing I like to do is set attainable weekly goals.  Not only does this allow me to start fresh and reevaluate my practice every Sunday, I can also balance my practice based on how busy and crammed my week will be. Instead of rigorously practicing every morning, I write the number of times I think I can reasonably and effectively meditate during said week.  Currently, this is around 2-3 sessions a week. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. The point is writing down the goal on paper and then making the mental commitment towards yourself. 

I mentioned in my previous post that I sometimes use meditation apps like Headspace whenever I am feeling uninspired or lost. Back when I was using the app regularly, it would send me little notifications throughout the day, reminding me to meditate. I have a weird relationship with this because I get anxious when my phone becomes clogged with notifications and then I end up ignoring them all. However, it was nice to receive a reminder midday to take some time for self-care.  I think this preference is entirely dependent on the individual and if setting little reminders helps, by all means use it.

Finally, I try to approach meditation with a similar mindset that I use for exercise. I rarely regret time that I have spent meditating or exercising. I like to consistently remind myself of that clear headed and relaxed feeling I have coming out of meditating, similar to an endorphin high after exercise.  I also use something that I call the 10 minute rule, where basically I tell myself to exercise or meditate for just 10 minutes and, then if I am miserable, I can stop. This holds me accountable while not forcing the practice on me and is entirely dependent on my mood. Committing to 10 minutes is a perfectly reasonable time period for me.  More often than not, I stay longer than the 10 minutes. And sometimes I also opt out right at the 10 minute mark. The important part is that I make the time commitment for myself and I maintain it.

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