Commit to your meditation practice and believe in yourself.
If you’ve struggled to build a consistent meditation practice, you might be getting stuck by one of the following stories:
Story #1: I can’t meditate! My mind won’t quiet down no matter what I do.
I hear this all the time. We all have difficulty quieting our minds, including me, and I’ve been practicing meditation for over three decades! The point of a meditation practice isn’t to stop thinking or to shut off our thoughts. It’s to increase our tolerance for sitting quietly without distraction.
Just because you’re sitting quietly doesn’t mean your thoughts will be quiet, though, especially at first. When your mind starts racing, release judgment. Instead, continue to breathe. Set an intention to always come back to your breath. The more you practice, the more the space between your thoughts will expand. Your mind will be busier on some days than others, and that’s okay. Your meditation practice won’t be linear, but the more you meditate, the more benefits you’ll reap.
Story #2: I don’t have time to meditate.
People didn’t used to tell me they didn’t have time to meditate. Now that we have cell phones and more available distractions than ever, it can feel like we don’t have time for anything. If you feel like you don’t have time to meditate, you need to meditate more. That’s right. If you want to feel the benefits of meditation, you have to create space in your day to meditate. The most important thing is that you commit to your practice, even if you only have five minutes everyday. Whether you have to wake up five minutes earlier to meditate, or you have to delete social media from your phone, you can make time for meditation.
SDG Meditation is here to help you make your meditation practice doable.
Meditation is simple, but it’s not always easy. In this blog, I’ll share 10 steps to help make your meditation practice doable. These steps aren’t just tips. They encompass a method that I’ve taught hundreds of students over the course of my 30+ years teaching meditation. This method is very effective, but it also takes your willingness to commit to a consistent seated practice.
We’re here to help you get started in a way that’s fun and works for you. In order to feel the benefits of meditation, though, you’re going to have to practice. If you only have a few minutes everyday, that’s okay. As long as you practice consistently, you will reap the benefits. Some of those benefits include (but aren’t limited to) increased focus, productivity, compassion, and emotional regulation, better quality sleep, and pain relief.
10 steps to building a consistent meditation practice:
Step 1: Ask yourself what’s doable.
Think about your daily routine. When would be the most doable time for you to practice meditating? If you’re not a morning person, schedule time to meditate in the afternoon or evening instead of first thing in the morning. If you have young kids who are early risers, early morning before they wake up might work best for you. The most important thing is that it feels doable to you.
Let go of the “shoulds.” You don’t have to do what you think everyone else is doing in order to make a commitment to your practice. What works for you is what will be most effective for your practice.
Step 2: Make a commitment to your meditation practice.
Start by committing to your practice for five minutes everyday. Schedule that five minutes of meditation into your daily routine so that you create a habit. When you practice consistently over time, your body will begin to expect and even crave meditation. I suggest committing to your practice at the same time of day everyday when first starting out. Doing so will take the pressure off of finding the right time to meditate each day because you’ll already have a regular time scheduled.
Sitting in silence can cause discomfort in the beginning, so we’ll often find reasons for why we can’t meditate today, or we’ll push it off until tomorrow. Making a schedule that you stick to daily makes it easier to follow through with your practice rather than being tempted to push it off. If your daily routine often changes because of your work, kids, or other responsibilities, schedule meditation during free time, such as before or after work. Again, what works for you and your schedule is what will lead to the most effective practice.
Step 3: Set an intention for your meditation practice.
A practice with an intention is more powerful than a practice without one! An intention gives you a concrete reason to come back to your practice. If you’re here, you probably know that a meditation practice offers many benefits. However, until you begin to see the effects of meditation within your own life, those benefits can seem nebulous. Setting an intention gives your practice purpose. It’s also a creative and fun exercise!
How to create an intention:
There are many ways to create an intention. An intention can be something you practice short term, throughout the course of the day, or it can be something you come back to daily for a year or more. You get to choose what works best for you.
There was a time in my life when I set my intention to cultivate ease, which I practiced for many years. In my private practice, I often draw angel cards for my clients. Angel cards are small cards with different intentions printed on them that you can keep in a sachet or a special box to draw from daily.
No matter your intention, make sure it’s simple and easy to remember, like one word or a short phrase. If your intention is something you want to practice long term, write it down. Journal about it. Your intention should be meaningful to you. It’ll be something you can come back to in your meditation practice. Practice breathing into your intention. If your intention is to have more compassion, on each inhale, say to yourself: “I am compassionate.” On each exhale, say to yourself: “I am compassionate toward myself and others.”
Step 4: Choose your meditation spot.
Having a spot specifically dedicated to your meditation practice is important. It makes it easier to practice daily because it gives you a specific spot to return to, just like practicing at the same time everyday helps normalize meditation into your schedule. Psychologically, having a meditation space that you use only to meditate trains your body to expect and crave meditation when you enter the space. This is what we refer to as an “anchor” to your practice.
Your meditation space doesn’t have to be big. It can even be the corner of a room or a closet. If you live in a studio apartment, try creating a portable meditation space using a shoebox or a basket. Gather items you’d like to use in your practice, such as talismans, spiritual texts, prayer beads, candles, a journal, a blanket, and a pillow. Each day when it’s time for meditation, bring your box or basket to an area that’s free of clutter and set up your space. When you’re done, gather all your items back into your box or basket and stow away for your next practice.
As tempting as it might be to make your meditation space your bed or office chair, try meditating in a spot that’s dedicated solely to meditation. Remember when we talked about anchors? Your bed anchors you to sleep. Your office chair anchors you to work (and for some, stress). A dedicated meditation space will anchor your body to your practice. Your space doesn’t have to be big or fancy. It just has to be big enough for you to sit comfortably in meditation. The rest is up to you!
Step 5: Personalize your space.
Like an intention, personalizing your space gives your practice purpose. If you’re working with a portable “meditation shoebox,” put some time into decorating your box with colors or images that inspire you. If you have a dedicated spot in the corner of a room, put up a room divider or curtain to make it feel like its own special space. Bring in a pillow and a few talismans that have personal meaning to you. You don’t have to stress over making your space perfect; remember, this isn’t about being perfect!
As long as you’re having fun, take some time with your space to make it your own. You don’t have to buy a bunch of new things to create your space, either. You can take things from around your house that are sentimental or significant to you, such as handwritten notes, past journals, small pieces of art, or little statues, to make your space come to life. Be creative and curious! Have fun with this process.
Step 6: Use guided meditations to support your practice.
Guided meditations are an incredibly useful tool for all meditators. They help give your conscious mind a place to land. On the days when it’s extra challenging for you to come back to your breath, guided meditations help lead the way.
Step 7: Set an “anchor” to come back to your breath.
By now you know that an anchor is something that helps you create and maintain a habit. If you’ve followed the above steps in order, you’ve already created an anchor to your meditation practice by scheduling a daily time to meditate, setting an intention, and creating a meditation space. All of these actions help you make meditation a daily habit.
To set an anchor to come back to your breath, post sticky notes around your home or office with reminders to breathe deeply. Set the intention that every time you check your phone, you’ll take a deep breath (or three). In whatever way that works for you, create reminders for yourself to breathe.
Step 8: Notice the qualities of your breath.
At this point, you’ve had some time to sit with your breath. The quality of our breathing impacts our experience of life. As you build your meditation practice, observe the way you breathe, both during your practice and in different life situations.
Questions to ask yourself:
When you’re in a meeting at work, does your breathing change? What about when you’re having a challenging conversation with a friend, family member, or partner? As you lay in bed to fall asleep, how are you breathing?
Write down what you notice in your journal about how your breath changes in different situations.
You might be surprised at what you notice. When you feel stressed, your breath might quicken or you might even hold your breath. When you feel relaxed, your breath might become drawn out. Notice what happens for you.
Stop throughout your day to take deep, intentional breaths. Remember your sticky note reminders to breathe! Even in stressful situations, you can drastically improve your mood and decrease anxiety by taking just a few moments to focus on your breath. If you’re in a stressful meeting, take a few deep breaths right there in the meeting. If you’re having a hard conversation with someone, excuse yourself from the conversation to take a pause. If you can’t step away, slow down. Take a breath. It’s okay to pause and breathe, especially in tense situations.
Step 9: Apply mindfulness to the things you do most frequently throughout your day.
Now you’re really beginning to embody mindfulness in your everyday life. Expand that by applying mindfulness to a few of the things you do most frequently throughout your day, such as eating and working.
Mindfulness exercise: increasing ease in your workspace
Notice how you feel as you work. If you work in an office or at home, observe your surroundings. How might you make a few subtle changes to your working environment to support your workflow, and therefore your sense of ease? Perhaps you spend 15 minutes organizing your space. If you work with multiple devices, try narrowing them down to only the essentials. Put your phone away if you can. Close your email tab. Notice the differences in how you feel.
Mindfulness exercise: be present while you eat
When you take a break to eat, commit to actually taking a break (i.e. resist the urge to eat at your desk). Be present with your senses as you prepare your food. What do you smell? What do you taste? Really take a moment to notice. Notice the crunch of the lettuce as you bite into your sandwich or the savory smell of your pasta marinara. Be with your senses and notice how your presence changes your experience of eating.
Step 10: Expand your practice.
So, you’ve committed to a daily practice, set your intention, created a meditation space, and infused mindfulness into everyday activities. What do you do next? Continue practicing. The more you meditate, the more you’ll want to meditate. Expand your practice from five minutes of daily meditation to 10, then eventually 20. Have gratitude for your practice and the benefits you feel.
And remember, your practice doesn’t have to be perfect. Expanding your practice doesn’t mean you’ve failed if you miss a day of meditation. Do your best, do what’s doable, and practice gratitude. Be grateful for your practice and be grateful to yourself for showing up here.