Just before the pandemic I was lucky enough to complete yoga teacher training in Thailand. Mindfulness and meditation were a huge part of becoming a yoga teacher. Our daily practice included a 30-minute meditation everyday at 6:30am. I used to like waking up in silence and just sitting still to the sounds of nature awakening around me. I also remember meditation being new to a majority of fellow yogis, and how dreaded this was.
Common things that I could hear about meditation from fellow students:
‘I really struggle to sit still’
‘Meditation is not for me, I’m just thinking too much’
‘It’s impossible to know if I’m doing this right’
As someone who had taking on meditation couple of years ago, this is something that now feels ‘normal’. I have no particular problem seating still, listening to my breath and just being a ‘sheer presence’.
Of course there are my ups and down. Some days I really cannot sit with myself. Other days I just cannot face with my own emotions in stillness. Or simply I don’t feel like doing anything and just don’t meditate.
However, meditation is one of the habit that has the most improved my mental health.
I really notice when I don’t meditate, I am more impatient and my thinking is less clear. I also struggle a bit more to articulate my thoughts (especially during professional meetings). It also indirectly helps my acid reflux symptoms. Also, evening meditation makes me fall asleep quicker and deeper. There are tons of resources about the (scientifically) proven benefits of meditation, so I am not going to detail them here.
Starting meditation can be daunting- so here’s my checklist to get started and make it a habit.
Before starting meditation
- Do not expect immediate benefits: it takes a couple of months to feel calmer. Set your mind to add meditation as part of your morning rituals for now, the same way you reach for a cup of water (or coffee!) when you wake up.
- Get a calendar: everyday so you can tick everyday you practice. It will visually remind you how much you have practice
- On mindfulness apps: I used to practice with Headspace (which has great guided meditations) but I think as a beginning it is best to get used to sit in silence. Start getting comfortable with stillness with no distraction at all. If it is really too uncomfortable you can use this meditation tracker, where a gong will rings every minute.
- Decide how much you can dedicate each morning without any interruption (no phone call, no partner talking to you, etc). I recommend between 3-5 minutes as a starting point.
Setting up your practice
- Seat on a cushion or a pillow on the floor (I like to use a zafu, but this is by no mean a pre-requisite). I personally like to set my cushion facing a window so I can ‘soak’ the warmth from the morning sun.
- I suggest to seat down in cross-legged position on your cushion, maybe with your back leaning against a wall if you have a tendency to slouch (like me!).
- Set your alarm for the time you have decided earlier.
- Leave mudras aside for now – although they are lovely additions, it is way easier to keep your hands on your lap.
Ok so, what do I do now?
- Start by closing your eyes and notice your abdomen slowly moving as you breath in and out, feeling like a gentle wave moving upward and downward.
- Don’t try to control your thoughts or ‘not thinking’. Just notice when you think about something.
- When you get distracted, try to gently back your awareness back to your breathing.
- Try to stay physically still – but don’t overthink too much about scratching or readjusting your sit if you need to.
- You will notice that some days you are a bit sleepy or a bit more agitated. Try not to judge yourself. Treat this as an experiment, where there is no right or wrong. The first couple of days will be mostly a cycle of thoughts – noticing thoughts – getting back to the breath – thoughts – etc.
And don’t forget, intention matters the most.
If you want to go further, the Muse device is particularly useful to track your progress. I will write a separate article about its benefits and how to use it. (ps: this is not a sponsored link, just a product I have been consistently using for a few years now)