There’s a reason why they call meditation a practice. From the outside, meditation may look like a simple way to relax and unplug, but it can raise a lot of challenges and frustration for people trying to develop a regular practice. The nature of our mind is to wander, fantasize and create compelling narratives and fantasies. Getting the mind to calm down long enough to achieve a state of relaxation can be more difficult than it seems. It takes time, patience, and understanding how to properly meditate in order to be able to really settle in and feel like you are doing it right. Follow these tips to make your practice go a little bit smoother.
A proper posture can go a long way when meditating, especially in the beginning. If you are meditating to fall asleep, lying down is a good option. However, for all other times of day and goals in your practice, I recommend sitting tall and upright. Find a seated position that you feel comfortable and supported in where you will be minimally distracted by any bodily sensations. You can sit in a chair or on the couch or bed with a pillow supporting the spine. Keep your spine long and erect, crown of head toward the ceiling and shoulders relaxing away from the ears. Place your palms either face down, face up or in a mudra on your thighs. Keep them in one fixed position while you meditate.
Connect to the breath
The goal of meditation is to connect with the present moment. The breath serves as an anchor to the present moment. To meditate, start by simply noticing the breath. Identify where you feel the breath the strongest. This may be your navel, or maybe your nostrils as you feel the cool air enter and leave your nose. Identify this area and simply notice how it feels to breathe. Each time the mind waders, which it inevitably will, redirect your attention back to the sensation of the breath. You may need to do this constantly throughout your practice in the beginning, that is okay. Keep returning to the present moment through the breath as many times as you need.
Let go of expectations
We often hear the phrase “clear your mind” when it comes to meditation. This is an inaccurate portrayal of the goals of meditating and sets meditators up for frustration. Clearing the mind is nearly impossible. Our minds are programmed to be thinking, analyzing and protecting us. The goal of meditation is not to clear the mind, so it is important to let go of that expectation. The goal is to notice thoughts, allow them to pass and return to the present moment. A clearer and calmer mind are certainly by products of a regular meditation practice, however if you go into meditating, especially in the beginning, with the expectation that your mind will clear, you will certainly be disappointed and doubt your meditating ability. Let go of any expectations you have of your meditating experience always being a blissful and magical experience every time, and instead give yourself grace and embrace each practice and its imperfection as it is. It will get easier and feel more natural with time.
Set realistic goals
If you are just beginning your meditation practice or find you have great difficulty meditating, it’s important you set realistic goals for yourself and your practice. Don’t try to jump into a 30 minute unguided meditation if you know you have trouble sitting still for 5 minutes. It’s extremely tempting in the beginning of our practice to try to over commit out of desire to reap all of the beautiful benefits of meditating, but this can set us up for frustration and even giving up on meditation altogether when we can’t achieve our goals. Start with small goals that feel easy and feasible for you. If you are just starting out, even 5 minutes one or two days a week is a wonderful place to start. Maybe begin with guided meditations in the beginning. Start with a goal that feels easy to achieve and when you have incorporated it, make a new goal to practice longer and more often.
The most important thing to know when meditating is to be kind to yourself. Take the pressure off and have compassion for yourself and your practice. Meditating is simple, but not easy and calming the mind takes time. Stay consistent and embrace the imperfections of your practice. Any meditation practice is better than not meditating at all. Thank yourself for taking care of your mind and body through this beautiful practice.
Gabrielle Marchese is a certified yoga instructor.