SELF CARE SERIES: HOW TO START MEDITATING REGULARLY
When you hear the word meditation - what comes to mind? Do you imagine someone (or yourself) sitting cross legged on the floor with a clear, completely blank mind?
That’s what I thought at first too. And it was an image I found intimidating.
While meditation had fascinated me for some time, it was only within the last two years that I really started to dive in and properly try it. In the spring of 2017, I took my first mediation class for beginners at Kadampa Meditation Center in Chelsea.
It was during my first class that I learned meditation was the opposite of what I’d always imagined - having a clear, completely blank mind. Rather meditation was about having a singular focus on either an object, idea or action. Focusing on the breath is one of the most common forms of meditation.
Ok so you might be thinking - doesn’t that get boring after a while? Just sitting and listening to yourself breathe? The real answer - yeah sometimes it does. My mind and many of our minds are used to going a mile a minute, especially since in this day and age we’ve learned to be professional multi-taskers. We switch seamlessly from checking our email to responding to a text to looking up directions for the restaurant we are going to and then scrolling through our Instagram feed. Since multi-tasking feels like second nature to us, that’s frankly what makes meditation so hard. We are being asked to do the exact opposite of what we spend the majority of our waking hours doing. So inevitably when I sit down to meditate, all the thoughts about my to-do list immediately creep into my head and start swirling around in my mind.
While it may sound downright impossible to keep the thoughts out, that’s where the second lesson I learned comes in. As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered from focusing on the breath because it’s been distracted by thinking or feeling, you simply acknowledge it and then refocus on the breath. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been distracted, that is by no means a sign that you’ve failed, but rather it’s normal. (And honestly it’s a part of being human). I found this notion of simply refocusing on the breath when you’ve become distracted very liberating. For me, it’s very freeing as someone who is a perfectionist. It’s basically acknowledging - “yes, during this exercise I’m going to get distracted (it’s inevitable), but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed.” All it means is that I need to refocus my attention. There’s no judgement attached to the fact that I have to refocus my attention, which is a rare feeling for me. So it’s one I find comfort in.
This concept of simply re-focusing your attention once you’ve been distracted can feel foreign in a lot of ways. For me personally, I often get caught up seeking happiness from achievements rather than enjoying the journey. The act of meditation is similar to yoga, it’s about practice. It’s not about arriving at a final destination. Of course, it’s ok to have goals that you are working towards, but it’s not something that you stop practicing when you reach one of those goals. It’s something that you continue practicing every day.
For the last two months, I have re-dedicated myself to making meditation a daily habit after having a lapsed practice for about a year. One thing that has made committing to this habit easier is using the Headspace app (this is not sponsored). I had always seen ads on the subway for Headspace, but never tried it. Knowing myself though, I knew it was time to try the app because my attempts to meditate consistently in the past did never lasted long. Having a voice (on the app) guiding and encouraging me to continue the practice has been hugely helpful. While I could try to go it alone, sometimes it’s a little easier to have some support.
When I first downloaded the app, I started off with the free access version and completed their Basics package, which is 10 sessions total. Since I was getting back into the habit after some time had passed, I found these sessions to be a great refresher for me. Additionally, to make things easier for myself, I started off choosing the 5 minute meditation option during each of these sessions. There’s another piece of advice I want to give. If you only meditate for 5 mins a day (using app or no app) that’s great and if you only meditate for 2 minutes a day that’s great too. Find a length of time that you believe you can realistically work into your schedule. No one is expecting you to meditate for 30 mins or 1 hour a day. Even if you meditate for a short amount of time each day, you will still feel the benefits. Start small and be patient with yourself. Over time, it will get easier.
After I finished the starter pack on Headspace, I upgraded to the paid version since there is limited content available on the free version. Although I can kind of be a cheapskate and hate paying for apps, I decided it was worth the money because it helped me with accountability and learning new techniques. So far I’ve completed all the Basics packs (1, 2 and 3) and recently started the Managing Anxiety pack, which were helpful for building up my foundation again. I will say once you get past Basics pack 1, the minimum amount of time you can select for the guided meditation is 10 minutes! I kind of freaked out when I saw that was the minimum amount of time because I hadn’t ever meditated for that long before in the past. While it was daunting at first, it’s gotten so much easier each time and now the 10 minutes seem to fly.
What other tips can I give to make starting a new meditation routine easier? Generally, I try to meditate in the morning after I’ve showered and eaten breakfast. If I try to meditate right when I wake up, I find that I’m too sleepy and can’t concentrate. Once I feel clean and have some food in stomach, it’s easier for me to settle down and meditate. One other piece of advice I’ve heard is to avoid checking email and social media prior to meditating because they can be distractions. Not going to lie, I still find this one a little hard, but if you have the willpower then it’s a great suggestion. Last thing I want to cover in terms of meditation advice is sitting styles. Sitting on the floor cross legged or on a chair/couch with your feet firmly on the floor are both good options. Experiment and figure out what works best for you. (Personally, I sit on my couch.)
Hope all this info helps if you’ve been considering trying meditation. I am by no means an expert, it’s a practice that is very much still a work in progress for me (and probably always will be). There are still days when I skip meditating if I'm too rushed in the morning or something come up, but overall I’ve found myself more committed to meditation in the last few weeks because it’s been helpful for me managing anxiety and stress. I highly recommend taking in person classes if they are available (and affordable) in your area, it’s a fantastic way to make meditation seem less daunting. Also there are plenty of apps available now (paid and free) that can help you with meditating on a regular basis. Headspace is the only one I’ve tried, but I’d love to hear if y’all have tried any other ones that you love. Thanks for taking the time to read! Feel free to shoot me an email or comment below if you have any questions!
PS. If you are interested in trying Headsapce, they are currently running a 40% off for a year subscription. It comes out to $58 per year versus full price at $96. This is a better deal than what I paid. Here’s the link: https://www.headspace.com/buy/summer
PSS. This post is not sponsored in any way by Headspace.
PHOTO CREDIT: SAM KELLY