As Anat pointed out in Stillness and Meditation: the Most Important Work, it’s not easy to start a meditation practice. You have your mind set that you are going to start, and then after a few times (or sometimes a few minutes) you can’t do it anymore. You are bored, its’ taking too long, your body hurts or you have 101 other things to do that are more important.
This is why we have written a follow up article to give you some tips and tricks that might help you to set up a steady meditation practice. Spoiler alert – it takes work!
What is Meditation?
Patanjali provides us with some tips and tricks to help develop a meditation practice which he calls the “Eight Limbs of Yoga”, a topic Anat covers beautifully in this article.
All Eight Limbs are important to us because this is the yogic lifestyle in it’s entirety, however when it comes to meditation these 2 limbs are the most sentient: Dharana and Dhyana. A vast part of our meditation will be Dharana (concentration/focus) and a smaller part Dhyana (the contemplation/rebound after concentration)
How to start a meditation practice
Find your position
A lot of people tell us that they do meditation laying down or that they practice methods like “yoga nidra”. These can be beneficial, but this is not meditation. For meditation you want to sit up with a straight spine. Why I hear you say? From an esoteric perspective the chakras line up in a hierarchy: the root chakra at the bottom and the crown chakra at the top and you want to have a clear channel for the energy to flow freely between all chakras. From a more scientific point of view, there is a difference in pressure of the CFS (cerebral spinal fluid) when sitting up compared to laying down. Studies on this shows that the best position for meditation here is sitting upright. A more practical reason not to lay down is because you fall asleep much more easily (and sleeping is not meditation ;-).
There are many ways you can sit to get your spine straight. Most commonly, people use a meditation cushion that works for them- they come in different shapes and sizes, heights and colours and you need to find the one is most comfortable and effective for your body. Ideally you are looking for your knees to be below the hips as in most bodies this results in a straight spine. You need to be able to sit for a long period of time so if you’ve been to a class or retreat and found something that worked, get something similar as it’s hard to know when sitting for 30 seconds in a shop. If you don’t want to invest then a folded blanket or cushion can also work and if it’s the floor you really struggle with then try a chair as long as you aren’t leaning on the back of the chair and causing the spine to curve.
In the beginning you will notice that developing spinal strength (abdominal and back strength) is a big part of learning how to sit. Your body will ache, and it will be uncomfortable, but training your body for this is part of the deal. And like any practice, the more you do the easier it will get!
Pick a time
For most people it’s great to have a specific time slot during the day for meditation. Anat uses what she calls the R.P.M. method (rise, pee, meditate) so first thing in the morning, to save her from too many distractions. Using the “just got out of bed” mode of silence and stillness in the body and mind to get into a meditative state rather than being occupied with all sorts of information that disturbs us during the day.
I, however, meditate at different times of the day depending on my schedule. I treat my meditation like an appointment in my agenda, I set a time during the day, make sure I’m not late and I never stand myself up- meditating every day is non-negotiable for me. My advice is to try a few different things and see what feels best for you. Try one time slot for a week and then try a new slot for a week, you’ll soon find your groove and remember, whatever works for you works!!
Find a place
For beginners especially, the space in which you meditate can make a lot of difference to your practice. Having a dedicated space in your house would be great if you can make that work as it can make it easier to mentally prepare and stick to a regular practice, you can even try building a little altar with a candle and a few items that are important for you and maybe a picture of someone that inspires you. Having curtains or blinds is handy as light can be distracting and pull you outwards rather than helping you go inwards.
You’ll also probably want your space to be as quiet as possible as sound can be very distracting (especially at the start), but of course it depends what kind of sounds you have around you. The sound of nature; singing birds, the sound of water, wind and rain can be very calming and help rather than detract with stilling the mind. I personally love it when its completely silent so my trick is to use earplugs although this may not work for everybody (yes, just like the functional yoga asanas).
Understandably, a lot of people don’t have the space in their house or they travel a lot like me so I find it important to have some things with me to help me meditate anywhere and everywhere. I have my special meditation pillow that I take all over the world and wherever I am, I look for the most quiet and dark space I can find. A lot of times I end up sitting in the bathroom with my beanie pulled down over my eyes and my earplugs in 😉
Select your time
When starting your practice, pick a time that’s realistic for you and will be easy to stick to long term. If you’re thinking to start with 60 minutes a day then great but check if this is realistic for you or if it’s too much pressure and you’ll give up after day 4. It’s better to start small and work your way up (although it shouldn’t be less than 5 minutes to experience any benefit), 10-20 minutes a day can already be a long time to sit for a lot of people who aren’t used to sitting still so be aware of the commitment you’re making. Once you have committed to a time, make a daily appointment in your agenda, set a reminder on your phone and then just sit! A little lesson from me, don’t be too rigid with your time – sometimes you may need to sit a little less or feel compelled to sit a little longer, I would just say consistency is important. Ten minutes per day is better than 70 minutes once a week.
It’s important to use a timer so you’re not checking your phone or your watch and having a cause for distraction. You can simply use the timer on your phone or use one of the many great apps out there like Insight Timer or if you want to get fancy (and spend a bit of cash) then get yourself a singing bowl timer.
Be prepared, there will be days that you don’t want to meditate and your mind will come up with so many feasible excuses that makes you think it’s okay to not sit- don’t fall for it, this is the most important time to sit. You have to kick yourself in the butt and keep kicking yourself in the butt until your meditation is a habit like brushing your teeth and washing your face- we don’t always want to do it but we do.
Choose your technique
There are many different techniques you can use for meditation and choosing one can be hard when you don’t know where to start. The two essential parts of any meditation technique are Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (contemplation), with the concentration part being longer than the contemplation or rebound part. Try to find a technique that consists of 2/3rd focus and 1/3rd observation of the effects the focus has had on both body and mind.
One of the most common and basic techniques is focusing on the breath – the inhale and exhale and pauses in between. This can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it and it’s not the case that the more complex the technique, the greater the reward. A simple breathing meditation can have an extremely powerful effect that shouldn’t be underestimated. Another common technique is to focus on specific body parts like the spine, heart or third eye (point between your eyebrows) or working with the energy centers in the body known as the chakras. Visualizing light in these areas of the body or bringing up a specific image can help with focus or you can use a mantra or an affirmation – the list of techniques is endless!
When you choose your point of focus you may notice that you’re mind becomes less distracted or free of stories, sometimes this will happen and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes during meditation it’s like the mind has been let loose and all the thoughts come flooding in and sometimes it’s like a calm tranquil lake without a ripple on the surface. The important thing to remember is that when you notice you are lost in thought or going in to story, to acknowledge and accept and gently bring your mind back to the point of focus. You’ll likely have to do this over and over and over – I still have to after many years
After the period of Dharana (focus), you can let go of the focus and simply observe.
If you are completely new to meditation it may help to use an app or find guided meditations on Youtube or – if you want to learn chakra meditation – you can find guided meditations from Anat and myself on The Fat Yogis which explain the technique and last between 10 and 30 minutes.
We also highly recommend Paul Grilley’s book “A Yogi’s guide to Chakra Meditation” to understand in detail the specific techniques used during the chakra meditations we practice ourselves and teach in our teacher trainings. Read my review of Paul’s book here.
A little to give, a lot to gain
When you implement something in your life, you always have to sacrifice something else- that’s just how it goes. We’re taught we can have it all, but we can’t and sacrifices are unavoidable to any human. If you want to meditate for 10 minutes then you may have 10 minutes less Netflix or gaming time or you may need to skip that coffee or sleep a little less (or go to bed a little earlier). However, the benefits of meditation can be huge and that 10 or 20 minutes a day can have noticeable positive repercussions throughout your entire life. I can only speak for myself but I feel fully alive, fully engaged with my surroundings and all with a very clear and focused mind.
Enjoy your practice, and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us!