Have you ever tried meditation? Is it a bit too much on the woo-woo side for you? Or like me, do you feel you can’t turn your brain off, so it’s not for you? Meditation is credited with reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as improving sleep, concentration and memory. So it’s well worth a try, even if you think it’s not your thing. Read on to see how I built a meditation practice that I feel is a valuable addition to my daily routine.
My First Attempts at Meditation
I tried meditation a few times off and on over the years but always struggled to focus. My mind would wander and I’d be thinking about my to-do list or what I was going to have for lunch or something someone had said earlier. Then I’d remember I was supposed to be meditating and I would get frustrated with myself. I felt like I was doing it wrong. So I would usually just tune out and let my mind wander when I was faced with meditation (during a yoga class for example).
The first time I felt a twinge of satisfaction with meditation was in 2013. I was visiting a friend who was going through a difficult time. She read about a free 21-day meditation course from Oprah & Deepak and asked me to try it with her. I did it because she asked and I’d have done anything for her – this was such a small thing. I didn’t realize that it would kickstart a habit that continues today, which has helped me through some of my own darkest days.
That first time, I experienced the same wandering mind as before, but a few moments of space and stillness which felt so precious and peaceful. We don’t realize how busy our minds are all day every day. To have a few moments of stillness seems like such a simple thing, but most of us get this rarely, let alone every day.
Developing the Habit
I decided to try it again and again. To my surprise, I kept it up and finished out the 21-day meditation course that I started with my friend. Then I experimented with several apps which offered free trials – Headspace and Calm were the two that stood out, but I was wary of signing up for a monthly subscription when I wasn’t sure whether I’d continue.
So I bought one of the 21-day Oprah & Deepak courses – a flat fee and I could then listen to the same course as many times as I liked. They periodically offer the free courses as well, which is a great way to try before you buy. I often try a new course this way, and then if I really enjoy it, I buy it and add to my rotation of guided meditations.
The Oprah & Deepak meditations are around 20 minutes each. That felt like such a LONG time to me at first. Now it feels just right or even too short sometimes. The format of the meditation is that Oprah gives a small introduction (2 minutes) and then Deepak speaks for about 5 minutes, discussing the meditation, the centering thought, and the mantra. The mantra is meant to provide your mind something to focus on, to help reduce the instances of mind-wandering
After I already had an established meditation practice, I read 10% Happier by Dan Harris. This a great book written by an ABC news anchor who was skeptical or cynical about meditation and all things woo-woo. It turns out to be a great book for the cynic as well as those who have already embraced meditation to some degree. Dan’s own experience with meditation was that it makes him about 10% Happier. I recommend this if you think meditation isn’t for you, or even if you’d like to try it but you also think it’s a load of hogwash.
The book has been a huge success and now there’s a companion podcast and a meditation app. I think the app is the best one that I’ve tried for beginners because there’s are different courses you can do with explanatory videos from the some of the most esteemed teachers in the field. There are also meditations of all lengths to choose from. So you can try it out with a 1-minute meditation or go for a full 20-30 minutes. There are meditations tailored to waking up, going to sleep, calming an anxious mind, etc. Like most apps, this one has a free trial and then a subscription plan. There is some material which is free but most is only for subscribers. There is a ton of material on the app, with new meditations and courses released regularly, so I think the subscription is good value.
What I Recommend for those New to Meditation
If I were just starting out, I’d probably do as I did before, and try one of the free 21-day meditation courses from Oprah/Deepak, then do the free trials on a few different apps to find what works best. As I mentioned, I like the Oprah/Deepak courses because you pay once and then listen as many times as you like. However, I do really love the 10% Happier App for the variety of mediations of all different lengths from many different teachers. I think it’s a matter of personal preference and I’d encourage you to try a few different resources to find what works best for you.
Of course, meditation doesn’t have to be a formal practice, where you sit in lotus position and repeat your mantra. You can do it anytime, anywhere. Throughout the day, I try to find moments of silence and stillness and I think of these as mini-meditations. Even if only a minute or two, it makes a difference.
This is something anyone can try right now. Focus on your breath. As many meditation teachers will tell you: “When you breathe in, know that you are breathing in. When you breathe out, know that you are breathing out.” If your mind starts to wander, just make a mental note and bring your attention back to your breath.
I combine this with the 4 count box breath (the same one I use when I have a migraine) – breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts. The counting replaces the mantra that would be used in primordial sound or transcendental meditation.
My Current Meditation Habits
I usually meditate first thing in the morning, because I like starting my day that way, and I have also found that as the day goes on, I will convince myself that I’m too busy for meditation. If I make the time, I will do another meditation during the day. Sometimes I use meditation as a way to calm myself before bed.
Another form I like to try is called a compassion practice, where you wish health and kindness to all sentient beings. This article gives a good summary of it, from a book by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh.
These days, I am working on incorporating meditation throughout the day. Instead of looking at my phone when I’m waiting for an appointment or in line at the supermarket, I try to do a minute or two of meditation. Finding a bit of space and quiet time scattered throughout the day is sometimes even more beneficial to me than a “full” session of 20 minutes.
Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t credit meditation with curing anything or making a huge improvement in my life. It’s more of a quiet guiding force that helps me feel more grounded and think more clearly afterwards. It’s a small improvement that makes a difference in my life overall.
Have you tried meditation? What did you think? Do you have any favorite tips or resources to share?
Recommended Meditation Resources:
If you’re interested in meditation and mindfulness, see my other reading recommendations on the topic.
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