Sometimes, when you sit down for a meditation session, the world seems to open before you and peace, enlightenment, and insight are all dancing at the corners of your vision.
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More often than not, however, when you sit and try to meditate you spend about thirty seconds focusing on mindfulness, then another three minutes thinking about your to-do list or a cool moment in the TV show you watched last night.
You gamely push away the distractions, only to have them come back again, and again, until you either give up in frustration or spend your session meditating on who should win “Dancing With the Stars.” If this sounds familiar, take heart. Meditation is a skill like any other.
You'll have good days and bad days, but you can get your good days to outnumber the bad ones with practice.
1. Don't Focus On Doing It Perfectly
Have you ever told yourself that you'll meditate later – but not right now, because you're too stressed, upset, or busy to really give it the attention it needs? It's okay if you do this occasionally once you've already gotten into the habit of regular meditation, but if you're doing it when you're first starting out – stop.
Chances are that you're talking yourself out of meditation almost every day. If you keep waiting for that perfect moment to meditate, you'll be waiting forever. Instead, meditate even when it feels like the last possible thing you can do right now, in order to get yourself into the habit. If you spend the entire time stressed and tired, remind yourself that you aren't wasting time; you're practicing, and that's okay.
An added bonus of meditating when you don’t feel like doing it is that it may actually be more helpful than meditating when you’re in that perfect Zen mind frame. If you can work yourself toward calm and relaxation when you’re feeling stressed and grumpy because it’s a meditation session, you’ll be more able to work yourself toward calm and relaxation when you’re feeling stressed and grumpy in the middle of work.
2. Start With A Mindful Routine
If you go straight from doing the dishes to sitting on your meditation mat, you're setting yourself up to fail. In the same way that you need a routine to let go of the cares of the day and get yourself ready for sleep at night, you need one to get yourself into a mindful and meditative state of mind.
Try making yourself a cup of tea or coffee and drinking it very slowly before you meditate, focusing mindfully on the tastes and on the sensations of warmth over your teeth and tongue.
The mindful drinking will serve as a sort of warm-up to meditation. If you’d prefer, you can do some slow, mindful stretches, or take some deep breaths before your meditation—whatever it takes to get the ball rolling.
3. Use Your Senses
Another way to help you get into that meditative state of mind is to use sense cues. Many people use music to help them meditate; the moment they hear those first few notes of their favorite meditation CD, they can feel themselves slipping into their meditative frame of mind.
You don’t have to opt for stereotypical meditation music like New Age CDs or nature sounds; if you meditate best to Mumford and Sons, go for it.
Smell is another powerful sense. If you light your favorite incense or aromatherapy candle every time you meditate, you’ll eventually reach the point where you start feeling more mindful and open the second you get a whiff of balsam or cinnamon.
4. Set An Alarm …
Have you ever started meditating and found yourself peeking at the clock every thirty seconds to see whether your time is up? Next time, try setting an alarm for three minutes. You won’t have to keep peeking at the clock, wondering how long you’ve been meditating and how much time you have to go.
Once you’ve become comfortable with three minutes, up the alarm to five, then seven, then ten, and so on. Don’t start with fifteen or twenty minutes; you’re setting yourself up to fail, just as if you tried to run for five miles on your first attempt at exercise.
5. … Or Count Your Breaths
If you still find yourself peeking at a clock every few seconds even with an alarm, try the 100 breaths technique.
Take 100 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, trying to focus on nothing except your breathing. After your hundredth breath, you’ll be done.
Counting your breaths will help you bring your mind back to them when distractions arise and will also give your meditation session a built-in timer.
6. Get Comfortable
If you’re sitting on your meditation mat in the lotus position, you may be focusing on mindfulness—or you may be focusing on how much your butt and back are hurting you. Some people do wonderfully in the lotus position, and if you’re one of those people, keep it up. If not, try meditating in a comfy chair or while lounging in the sunshine.
7. Get Moving
If you have trouble just sitting still and meditating, you may find it helpful to incorporate mindful movements into your meditation routine. The feeling that you’re “doing something” can help to free up your mind. Go for a walk in the sunshine, do your favorite yoga moves, knit—do whatever it takes to bring your body and your mind into focus.
8. Start Small
If you can’t focus for three minutes or 100 breaths, or you just can’t find the time, set your alarm for one minute or take 10 breaths. You’ll be keeping yourself in the habit of meditating every day, and you’ll be taking that minute or those ten breaths to make yourself calmer and more relaxed than you would have been without them.
You may even find that you feel so much better after that minute or those breaths that you want to keep going for another minute.
9. Fight The Pressure
In many cases, your worst enemy while meditating is yourself. If you spend the entire meditation session berating yourself for not being peaceful enough or for only having time to meditate for 10 breaths, it isn’t going to help you.
Remind yourself that it’s okay to take baby steps. You wouldn’t be angry with yourself for getting winded a few minutes into a new workout routine. Don’t be angry with yourself for getting distracted during your new meditation routine.
10. Don’t Quit When You’re Ahead
Once you’ve started to get the hang of meditation, you’ll notice some benefits, such as higher levels of relaxation, a greater sense of mindfulness, and so on.
Believe it or not, some people give themselves a pat on the back for having “won” at meditation and stop. Don’t be one of those people. The more you meditate, the more benefits you’ll reap. So keep drinking that tea and counting those breaths.