Last month was Stress Awareness Month, a time we are encouraged to reflect upon the pace of our lives, our choices in response to stressful situations and, hopefully resolve to do something that helps us achieve a sense of balance. It doesn’t take much searching to find out that meditation is a practice encouraged to help people disconnect from the craziness outside and nurture a sense of peace within. But for those new to meditation, figuring out the what, when and how of practicing can be challenging, especially when everyone else makes it look and sound so easy.
The truth is meditation takes work, but it is work well worth the effort. And some practical tips can help you nurture a practice that nurtures your health and well-being.
There are different traditions and styles of meditations that have slightly different purposes and lessons to teach. However, all meditation practices are designed to reconnect you with you, and that requires disconnecting from everything outside of you.
To really disconnect, you need to give yourself the space and time to experience nothing more than the sensations of your body. To do that means you need to eliminate (or at least minimize) outside distractions—i.e., electronic devices, food, noise, etc. You will also need to avoid the distraction of bodily discomfort by finding a comfortable seated position. (Of course you can meditate lying down, but in a fully reclined position, it’s really easy to drift off into sleep, and that’s not the same as meditation.)
You can also train your body to recognize when it’s time for meditation by practicing in the same location and at the same time of day every day. It is also a good idea to allow yourself time to ease out of meditation and back into the daily grind. Abruptly going from the quiet of your mind and body to the hustle and bustle of work, school, family life, etc. is jarring to your nervous system. Allow yourself a few minutes post-meditation to read, stretch, etc. to mentally prepare to reenter the world outside.
The benefits of meditation are not necessarily in direct proportion to the amount of time you can devote to the practice. That’s good news for busy people. It means that meditation can be a beneficial stress management strategy and spiritually uplifting practice even if you can only practice for five to ten minutes a day…but it does have to be practiced every day, so make that Goal #1: carving out time every day to meditate.
Once you’ve dedicated the time and space, you can set new goals to deepen your practice and your awareness. One goal could be to become aware sooner of when your mind drifts away from the present. A gentle reminder may be the question “Here or away?” When you wonder if your focus is in the here and now or somewhere else, that is a good time to re-focus on your breath and your whole body sensations.
Meditation is a time and place just for you, but you and your practice should not get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. Take time when you are not meditating to reflect upon your practice—what is working for you? What isn’t? What benefits are you experiencing? What goals would you like to set deepen your practice?
When it comes to developing and nurturing a meditation practice, you’re never alone. There are tons of blogs, books, workshops, teachers, etc. who can help you explore different meditation styles, explore ways to deepen your practice and provide practical tips on how to make meditation work in your schedule and apply what you learn to all kinds of situations. The biggest challenge is usually starting. Carve out the time to nurture your meditation practice so that you can reap the benefits.