In last week's Wireboard article, I outlined numerous amazing benefits to practicing mindfulness. Given all of these benefits, you would think that all of us looking to be more productive and healthier would be taking 10 to 30 minutes a day for a mindfulness practice, right? Well, it turns out that sitting still and “quieting” the mind is simple…but not easy. We live in a culture that worships busyness, action and doing, and so many struggle to find the time and the justification to stop doing and thinking for any amount of time.
However, if we want to reap the extraordinary benefits of mindfulness, we'll need to commit to take those first few steps (the most difficult part of any new practice) and begin. And today's article was written to help with that. Below I’ve listed five tips I give to my Rewire clients to get them started making meditation a part of their work routine:
- Start small: Commit to meditating for ten minutes in the morning or evening two to three times per week. Over time you can increase the amount of days and/or minutes. For example, I started by committing to two “sits” per week for ten minutes each. These days it’s 10 minutes Monday through Friday and twenty minutes on weekends.
- Make it simple: You don’t need to build a meditation room in your basement; just find a quiet spot in your bedroom, office or another out-of-the-way place. Use your phone as your timer. There are apps you can purchase to help get you familiar with meditation techniques (such as Breathe and Headspace) or use the techniques listed below.
- Create a comfortable seat: Sit in a manner (chair or floor) which allows your spine to stay long. If you sit on the floor, place a pillow or yoga block under your hips to keep them higher off the floor than your knees.
- Find a yoga class: In some yoga classes, especially Ashtanga, Baptiste, and Mysore, mindfulness is actively encouraged. A mindful class often has a set sequence of poses or a regular rhythm that allows you to turn off the thinking brain and just be present in the physicality of the movement.
- Remind yourself why: At those times when sitting still seems like the last thing you want to do, being very clear about the benefits can be the key to maintaining your practice. For me it’s about minimizing the effects of stress on my body, increasing my focus at work, and decreasing my reactivity in my relationships with others.
Additionally, one key to maintaining a meditation practice is to learn a variety of meditation techniques that you can call upon depending on how you feel on any given day. Here are three techniques that I have been using for many years:
- Counting backwards: Take a full breath in and on the exhale count to yourself the number 50, and then another inhale and exhale, 49. Keep taking a full inhale and exhale as you count backwards from 50 to 20. After the exhale on 20, take an inhale and count 19, and exhale, 18, inhale 17 and so on until zero. Repeat as many times as necessary until the timer goes off.
- Metta Meditation: "Metta" means "loving-kindness" in Pali, and I think you'll see why as I outline the steps for this type of meditation:
- Begin by holding an image of yourself in your mind. Silently repeat to yourself each sentence three times: “May I be happy.” “May I know peace.” “May I be free from suffering.”
- Then call to mind an image of someone you love dearly, Silently repeat to yourself each sentence three times: “May you be happy.” “May you know peace.” “May you be free from suffering.”
- Continue the meditation bringing to mind someone you feel more neutral about (say, your mail carrier or the store cashier) and repeating the three previous sentences.
- Then move on to bring to mind someone with whom you have a more complicated relationship, perhaps you have a level of conflict with them..even some negative feelings. Repeat the same three sentences three times.
- Finally, you can bring to mind an image of unknown people and living things. Repeat each of these three sentence three times: “May all beings be happy.” “May all beings know peace.” “May all beings be free from suffering.”
- Vipassana Meditation: Vipassana meditation has been called the “Graduate School” of meditation. It’s fairly challenging and is probably most like what people imagine meditation is like. In Vipassana, the practice is to keep attention in the present moment by focusing on the breath. On the inhale, you mentally say “rising” and on the exhale, “falling.” Every time the mind wanders away from the breath, you identify the distraction with a generic label such as “thinking,” “sound,” or “sensation.” As many times as the mind wanders, you gently and without judgment bring it back to breath. If the mind wanders 100 times, you bring it back 101 times.
Finally, as with all helpful concepts, meditation practice is subject to being watered-down. I heard of a business coach who claimed that drinking wine is a form of meditation. At Rewire, we know that you can be mindful while drinking wine, running a marathon, or shopping at Macy’s, but it’s the active work of bringing the mind back (again and again) to the present moment that counts as a practice and brings growth. And you’ll do that practice best while being as clear-headed as possible.
I hope this short guide will help you get started with a practice that has grown and benefitted the work and life of so many. I’d love to hear what you’re learning as you begin! If you have any questions about starting a regular practice or about meditation in general, drop a line in the comments section.
I've also written an ebook going into more depth on meditation practices and providing additional direction around starting your own practice. You can download it here.