Meditating comes with a range of health benefits, including lowered stress - something I can definitely get behind. But there is a lot of misconception about how to meditate. Personally, I don't believe meditating needs to be done beside an alter on a fluffy pillow while sporting impressive linen pants. While that type of practice is right for some, there is no one size fits all pair of yoga pants, and there is no one size fits all way to meditate. Read my steps below for a beginners guide to meditation:
1. FIND WHERE YOU'RE MOST CALM
When I ask where you're most calm, I mean where are you and what are you doing when you feel your most in tune or in balance? Are you going for an early morning jog? Are you watering your plants while sipping tea in your yard? Are you making breakfast? Are you writing? Check in with yourself to see if you can identify any areas you might actually be unconsciously meditating already. You might be doing things in your day-to-day life where you mentally check out, becoming totally engrossed in what you're doing and naturally coming up with decisions and solutions to problems in your life. You usually feel better after doing whatever this thing is for you. If nothing comes to mind, that's OK. It's important to self-reflect and be self-aware of your personal behaviour and habits anyway in order to have a successful practice.
2. BUY A JOURNAL
Snag yourself a journal dedicated to your meditation practice. Leave yourself tips in here, positive affirmations - funny reminders - whatever, but you're also going to use this as a tool to track your practice's progress and catch patterns in your habits, thoughts and subconscious as your practice improves.
3. PICK A SPECIFIC TIME EACH DAY JUST FOR YOU*
This point is key. In order to carve out habits we need to repeat things, and by doing something at the same time each day, it can help us to solidify that habit. I recommend first thing in the morning to start your day on the right foot, but maybe you're so groggy in the AM (hell, I'm a night owl too) that this is impossible. Whatever the time, pick something that works for you, and set yourself an alarm to remind you that, hey - these next 20 minutes are meant just for me. And yeah, having a bath totally counts. Once your reminder alarm goes off, set a timer for 20 minutes so you A) don't lose track of time, and B) so you focus for long enough.
4. FIND YOUR QUIET PLACE
Maybe you have kids, a yappy dog or a needy significant other - it doesn't matter. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed (for 20 minutes). Make sure the kids are in bed, put the dog in her kennel, or wait 'til Bobby is gone to hockey practice. There is nothing worse than trying to relax and having your body jarred when Ralph barks at the other dogs on the street. Make sure that quiet place is cozy and you're comfortable there. It can be on a counter stool in your kitchen, on the duvet on your bed, or on your yoga mat in your backyard.
5. HAVE A MEDITATION OUTFIT (or two)
Yay! A reason to shop! I'm one of those people who buys a cute gym outfit as motivation to actually go to the gym. Get yourself a super comfortable outfit that you wear when you meditate. It can be a flowy nightgown, yoga pants or an oversized baseball jersey. It doesn't matter. Just make sure you are comfortable and forget you're wearing it. Don't distract your meditation practice with itchy fabrics or a too tight bra. Make sure your hair isn't bothering you and you don't stink. Seriously. No distractions.
6. SIT/LAY DOWN AND GET COMFORTABLE
Personally, I meditate while laying on my back. I tend to drift like a blade of grass if I'm sitting up, and I need to be flat on my back in order to allow myself to be mindless. I don't want to think about what aches on my body... and my back usually aches if I'm sitting on my bed crosslegged. Test out a couple positions to see how you're most comfortable. That can be crosslegged, flat on your back, or in a chair. It's whatever works for you. Your practice is personal.
7. BREATHE AND COUNT
Once you've found your quiet cozy spot, your outfit is on, you're comfortable and you're certain you won't be disturbed, set your timer and slowly close your eyes. Take in a few deep belly breaths and push that tummy out. Your shoulders will naturally relax after a few breaths, taking a lot of tension with them. Fall into regular breathing when you're ready, and see where your thoughts take you. This is cool because we can often spot patterns to what we think about in this initial stage and I find it usually reveals some of our anxiety. After a few moments letting your mind wander (there is no time limit to this), take a deep breath in through your nose and count one. Exhale and count to two. Do this slowly, all the way up to twelve and then begin again. If your mind wanders over to remembering you need to do the laundry, gently bring it back to your breath and continue counting. Repeat this counting and pulling your mind back until your alarm goes off.
8. WRITE IT OUT
As a writer, I believe in writing everything down. As soon as your practice is finished, grab your fancy new meditation journal, and chart down what happened. Where did your mind drift when you were allowing it to wander? How many times did you lose track of your counting and breathing? Write down what happened during your 20 minutes of me-time, and re-read it regularly to spot any trends. Being more self-aware can move mountains when it comes to your practice, so keep track of your progress.
* I'd argue this is the most important step to sticking to your practice. Repetition is key. When you were just starting your practice, what meditation techniques work for you?