Let me guess: you’ve read a study about meditation. And now you decided to start meditating and thus become a better human being: more compassionate, less stressed and (bonus prize!) with an increased learning ability and a sharpened memory.
CONGRATULATIONS ROCKSTAR! This is an AWESOME idea and I am tingling with excitement to help you discover some meditation magic.
But first, let me tell you a little secret: I don’t like to meditate. I find it really hard. It confronts me with my impatience (a trait I usually try to deny), my fidgety nature and my volatile mind. Yet, I meditate. Every day. It’s not something I look forward to. It’s something I do. Because I know it’s good for me – and for the people around me.
Sorry about that. I know it would have motivated you more to hear that meditating brings me to some funky state of enlightenment. That when I wake up I can’t wait to sit onto my meditation cushion because it’s the thing I like to do most. But I don’t. And chances are you won’t either. Because at it’s essence it’s work - or better: it’s exercise. Exercise for your mind. A new habit that you’ll add to your daily life like brushing your teeth or walking the dog. Something that by it self isn’t super exciting, but it’s benefits over time are totally worth it.
Where to start?
In this shear vastness of different meditation techniques it’s super hard to know with which one to start. Here’s the good news: it doesn’t matter. Whether you decide to use a technique which encourages you to focus on your breath or one which incorporates the repetition of little phrases (also known as mantras), whether you use guided meditations or decide to just observe your mind without judging it (mindfulness meditation) – it all comes down to the same essence. To encourage introspection, cultivate awareness and refrain from judgment.
So here’s the first thing you need to do: decide which technique you wish to use. Research about how to do it. And then stick to it for at least two weeks. Because if you meditate (or train your mind) every day, you’ll feel positive mental results within two weeks.
Hm. That expression in your face while you’re reading tells me that you you’re not yet satisfied. Ok, I’ll tell you which technique I like to use. And why. And how you can use it too.
Mindfulness Meditation – the new age Panacea?
Mindfulness meditation is a modern meditation technique with ancient Buddhist roots. According to scientists from Harvard it is defined as a “non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind”.
So essentially it’s a technique in which the only task is to stay present and watch your mind.
Are you ready to start? Right now? You just need one minute and a timer.
- Set your alarm clock to one minute. Yes, one minute.
- Find a comfortable seat – on a chair, on a cushion, on a yoga mat, whatever. Use as many props (cushions, blankets etc.) until you feel at ease. Lying down is not an option as the temptation for falling asleep is just too big.
- Start with the non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind – meaning try to stay present and notice whatever feelings or thoughts come up.
As an anchor to stay present I recommend to observe your breath (how it softly flows into your body and back out), or to listen to the sounds around you. While you’re trying to be present, try to observe your mind, becoming aware of all the thoughts that come up. So if you hear your mind going: “ah, Gosh, this is so boring, I hope this minute will end soon” – just notice the thought. Don’t judge it. It’s normal that we think. But once you notice the thought, let it go. Try to come back to the present moment. Observing your breath…
How did it go?
Was it fun? Did you enjoy it? Or did you get annoyed about not being able to stay present?
Don’t worry. That’s what meditation is about. It’s exercising the mind. You get caught up in your thoughts and when you finally notice it (sometimes that takes quite some time), don’t be angry. Be happy. Because in that split second when you noticed that you went off daydreaming, in that split second you were present. So every time you gently draw your mind away from daydreaming back to the present moment you are training your mind to be present. A bit like training your upper arm strength by doing biceps curls. Every time you do it (the biceps curl or the becoming aware of your thoughts) you get better at it.
Matthieu Richard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk compares meditating to training for a marathon – the first time you’ll go running, probably it won’t be a great success either, but over time you’ll feel improvement, if you practice constantly.
How to make Meditation a Habit
So you tried the one-minute meditation. And let me guess – you didn’t enjoy it, nor were you able to concentrate for more than a few seconds. So how on Earth’s sake are you going to make this a habit?
- Start by defining a time of the day at which you will meditate. I suggest meditating first thing in the morning, because it’s easier to get into the routine (and the mind’s still quite fresh)– or then last thing before you go to bed. Stick with this time. Don’t let yourself procrastrinate meditation until later. Because suddenly you’ll be sound asleep without having done it.
- Slowly increase your meditation time by 1 minute a day. Tomorrow you’ll meditate for 2 minutes, the day after tomorrow for three… And so on. As a goal I’d aim for anything between 5 and 20 minutes a day.
- DON’T EVER skip a meditation day. Because once you skip a day, the second day seems inopportune too, and on day 3 you’ll already have forgotten about your resolution. This might seem quite extreme. But once you start skipping, you start to decide whether or not you will meditate. Don’t let your mind decide. Just do it!
- A regular practice is more important than a long practice. Stay to your five-minutes-a-day regime if you think that you can’t fit more into your busy day. Refrain from setting too high goals and then giving up because you can’t stick with them (yes, dear perfectionists, I’m talking right to you!). Do it the other way round: start small and be consistent.
Let me warn you: You’ll be tempted to give up. You’ll find excuses to stop doing it, you’ll figure out that meditation isn’t really your thing. That you don’t have time for this. And on top of it all, you’ll start judging yourself and you’ll conclude that you’re really bad at it.
I know you will. Because I’ve been there. I’ve started plenty of times - and given up plenty of times. Until I decided to stick with it.
Why the “torture” is still worth it
When I started to meditate I was expecting a miracle to happen – that on day two my patience would top Mother Theresa’s and all my friends would come up to me and ask me about how I became so blissful.
It didn’t happen - what a disappointment! But little by little I did notice changes. I’d notice how my habitual anger eruption after being criticized by my boyfriend would turn into an only slightly agitated conversation. How heavy traffic no longer made my mood go down the drain and how instead of losing my poise after a negative external event I’d use my humor as an answer.
And if my personal experiences don’t persuade you, here is what studies say (I’ll give you my TOP FIVE benefits, for a more complete list click here):
- It makes you more compassionate
- By encouraging introspection it helps you to become more authentic
- It lowers your stress level: not only will you feel less stressed, it will also literally lower the blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- It makes you smarter – and more concentrated
- It enhances your senses by increasing the amount of grey matter in the sensory areas of your brain (imagine yourself fully indulging into listening beautiful music... )
“ Mind. A beautiful servant. A dangerous master.”
Why there’s more to meditation than it’s Scientific Benefits
But as my yoga teacher Vidya Heisel likes to point out: the benefits are just the byproducts of your meditation practice. The true reason to incorporate a meditation practice into your life is to discover how your mind works. And who you really are.
Once you start to meditate, you become aware of how incredibly busy your mind is. How it comments and judges and plans and remembers and complains and labels (…) non-stop, without you being aware of it nor being able to do something about it. After having practiced mindfulness meditation for a while you will notice that, actually, you CAN do something about it. You can decide not to engage with the chitchat. To remain present and calm. Decide to make your mind your servant - and not your master.
Moreover, you’ll notice that you are not your thoughts. Unconsciously we tend to identify with what we think. A dangerous act, especially if we are unable to influence our thoughts. Because then we just seem marionettes of our mind. With the practice of mindfulness you’ll discover that you can take a step back, decide to watch your thoughts instead of engaging with them. You’ll notice that you are not your thoughts, but you are the observer.
And, last but not least, by stepping back from the everyday chitchat you might find a place of peace within yourself. A place where you are perfect the way you are. A place in which you feel connected to the rest of the world, a place of love and compassion. Here’s the second secret: this place is called the present moment.
So yes, as I confessed: I don’t look forward to my daily 15 minute meditation session. My sneaky mind often tries to talk me out of it. But I (the observer) am stronger than my mind (my thoughts). Once I sit down and start to connect to the peace within myself I actually do like it. The peace, the compassion, the tranquility. And what I really love are these little magic moments of being present that meditation has brought back into my life.
What about you? Are you ready to discover some meditation magic?
Can’t wait to hear about it.
PS: A few practical tipps:
- If this simple mindfulness meditation does not appeal to you – try a guided audio mediation. Sometimes that helps to get an idea of what you’re supposed to do.
- Instead of nearly having a heart attack every time your alarm goes off when meditation is over, use an app which brings you back more smoothly (such as the free Insight Timer (https://insighttimer.com) – also has great guided meditations)
- If you want a training buddy: add me as your friend on insight timer – it’s really motivating to see how others walk down the same path.
- If you’re about to give up – send me a message! We can do this – together!