Lots of us give up supposed vices for Lent – chocolate, beer or cheese. I decided to add something healthy to my life instead – daily meditation.
Meditation was once a habit for me but I stopped making time for it and fell out of practice. How lame to think that I couldn’t find ten minutes in my day to do it, but when we don’t give value to something, we don’t make a habit of it.
It’s very low maintenance compared to other healthy habits, like jogging or going to the gym or yoga studio. There’s no membership, equipment or special gear to purchase. You can do it at home or in the office behind closed doors. You only need a private space with a fair amount of quiet, and you can always block out a loud basketball game on TV with some chill music.
If you don’t think you have time to meditate, take just five minutes. Seriously, you have five minutes. If you don’t think you do, then you really need meditation. I’ve been meditating since Wednesday for only ten minutes a day. I’ll increase that over the next few months, five minutes at a time. Set a timer so you don’t have to peek at a clock. I use an online timer provided by the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery.
Sit on the floor cross-legged, kneeling or in any comfortable position with your butt on a yoga block or pillow – only because having the hips higher than the legs is more comfortable for some of us with tightness issues. Or, sit back with crossed legs on a couch or futon — that’s what I do.
Lean against something if you need to. Sit with good posture – straight erect spine, shoulder blades back and down, chest open – it might be hard to maintain when your core isn’t strong but give it your best shot. Rest your hands in the crook of your lap or on your thighs near the knee, palms up.
Or, rather than sitting, you could lie on your back in savasana (corpse pose) – feet splayed out and arms relaxed, palms up. Sometimes it helps the muscles to relax if you first flex or tighten them for a second, then let them relax. Or wiggle around a bit until you feel like you are letting yourself melt into the floor. Cover your eyes if that helps. Now you’re ready.
In meditation, we focus on the present moment and one way to do that is to concentrate on your breath. That is so much harder than you might think. As a matter a fact, I was just trying to meditate when thoughts of this blog post started going through my head. You will soon learn that you have a monkey brain too and it will get the best of you. I decided to stop, knock out some notes, and start over again. It worked.
Sometimes counting breaths up to ten and then backwards helps. Or try visualizing a lit candle or fire, or imagine that you’re floating on a lily pad, or sitting at the beach. When thoughts come up, acknowledge them and then let them go. Think of them like a film reeling through your mind.
You’ll think about things that happened in the past, discard those thoughts. Then things that might happen in the future, what you’re making for dinner, what you need to get at the store, what you’re going to write about, what you need to do first thing tomorrow. Acknowledge and discard. Return to this moment, this breath, this body.
Don’t beat yourself up, this is new and maybe seems weird. Like anything it takes practice. You might spend the entire ten minutes with your mind jumping all over the place, but then, maybe toward the end, you’ll find that you’re actually spending a bit of time, maybe just seconds, focusing on your breath, or on nothing, not thinking about the past or the future, you’re right here in this moment. And it feels really good, strange but true.
At home I usually don’t listen to guided meditation podcasts when I meditate, although I think it would be a nice change to do that. iTunes has a lot of free ones. I used to listen to (but forgot I had) A Simple Guide to Successful Meditation by Ian Phillip White who teaches yoga and meditation at Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah – an amazingly beautiful place with excellent hiking, fitness and wellness classes, food, pedicures and massages.
Maybe you think meditation is too new age, hippie, crunchy granola for you. You’d be surprised at who meditates. Many professional athletes do it as part of their training. Doctors recommend it, especially if you have high blood pressure. If you think you can’t do it that might be a sign that you really need to do it and will get a lot out of it. It’s worth taking five or ten minutes to try, but don’t give up after a few times, it takes a while to get used to having your mind settle down, at least it did for me.
I’m not sure I would have stuck with it if I wasn’t doing a program at my yoga studio that required me to do it every day. I knew it was good for me but I was having a tough time settling my mind down. The monkey brain never goes away but after a while, it gets easier, and I actually look forward to my time in meditation.