You’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation. This practice of sitting still, calming your mind, and breathing deeply has been shown to increase focus, alleviate stress, improve sleep, boost your mood, and even help with our relationships. But the thought of sitting still and not being productive can be anxiety-inducing in itself for some of us.
Maybe you think you don’t have the time or the patience to practice meditation. Whatever it might be, I’d encourage you to just give it a try, even if you only do it for a few days for a minute a day, to see if you notice any improvements in your mood or energy. It doesn’t have to be this cumbersome, time-consuming block of your day. With these four tips, you’ll be able to incorporate a simple (and non-anxiety-inducing -- in fact, hopefully it’s the opposite!) meditation practice into your daily life.
1. Start with small increments of time.
A lot of us picture meditation as sitting cross-legged on the floor in a silent room for hours at a time. The truth is, you can meditate for a minute, 3 minutes, 10, or longer -- it all counts, no matter how short or long! And it all reaps the benefits of meditation. But at first especially, a few minutes of sitting and breathing without a phone or other device attached to our hand might be unnerving. So, start small.
Set a timer for just 2 or 3 minutes to start. Sit in a comfortable space (it doesn’t have to be on the ground), and breathe deeply. It might help to count to 5 as you inhale and exhale -- this is a great way to keep the mind out of distraction. If you do get distracted and begin thinking about your to-do list or what you’ll do as soon as you’re done, gently recognize that you’re not focusing on the present moment and guide your mind back to thinking about breathing or counting. This is important: don’t beat yourself up or get mad; it’s natural to get distracted, and a lot at first! Just calmly come back to your breathing.
2. Don’t set unrealistic expectations.
When you’re just beginning to meditate, you might have all of these ideas about how it’s going to go or what it will look like. The truth is, you can meditate anywhere, anytime. It doesn’t have to be in a pristine, silent location or last for a long time. You might not experience tons of emotional benefits right away or some sort of “spiritual awakening.”
Just like any other new experience, go into your meditation practice with an open mind and a willingness to learn and go with the flow. As soon as you have expectations about the experience, you’re risking disappointment when things don’t go exactly according to your plan (which, I can almost guarantee, they won’t). If you miss a day of meditation, don’t punish yourself with double the time the next day. If you get extra-distracted during a session, don’t criticize yourself for not being able to get it. Life happens, and every meditation journey is different! Just keep trying to focus and breathe -- that’s the most important part.
3. Try a few different meditation formats.
Not everyone is meant to do sitting meditation while just focusing on breathing. There are so many other formats for meditating. You can try downloading an app, like Headspace, to go through guided meditations with several different styles of meditation that focus on different areas of life, like work, sleep, and focus. You can also look up various guided meditations on YouTube.
Another idea is doing a walking meditation, where you go for a 10 minute walk and spend each minute focusing on something different, which can help with concentration and reducing distractibility. One minute could be focused on the feeling of your body walking, the next on the feeling of breathing, the next on the sensation of air on your skin, and so on. You can meditate in line at the coffee shop or as you do the elliptical at the gym. Find the style that works best for YOU and makes you feel the most centered.
4. Focus on the goal of meditation.
The goal of meditation isn’t to be more hip or to “fix” your brain or to eliminate the ability to get distracted. Meditation is about simply becoming aware of when your mind is drifting, and then gently guiding it back to focus. The secondhand benefits of practicing this are incredible and astounding, but those shouldn’t become your main focus.
When you stop focusing on the goal of meditation and just use it as a crutch, it loses its power and becomes entirely less beneficial. At its core, meditation is a fairly simple act with a simple outcome that ignites powerful improvements throughout our lives. So, stay connected with its foundational simplicity, and don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.