As a meditation practitioner and teacher, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people say something like this: “I’ve tried to start a meditation practice so many times, but I just can’t stick with it!” We’ve all read about the amazing benefits of meditating for our physical and mental health. Of course you want that in your life – it seems like a no-brainer. But why is it so difficult to stick with?
I was a failed meditator myself for many years before I got hooked, so I think I understand the problems and pitfalls. Here are my top tips for (finally) developing a practice that sticks:
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Expand Your Definition of Meditation
Most people think of meditation as sitting cross-legged on the floor, trying not to think. Don’t get me wrong – classic sitting meditation is important – but there are many other activities that could also qualify as meditation, depending on how you approach them. Anything that slows you down, that inspires you, or that absorbs your attention fully can potentially be part of your practice. Think of walking the dog, taking a long bath, listening to music, journaling, gardening, knitting, or even driving. In my book, intention is all. If you set the intention to slow down and connect with your spirit, it qualifies as a meditative practice.
Lower the Bar
Don’t make any drastic resolutions about how often or how long you will meditate. Nothing kills a practice faster than getting to day three and realizing that you’ve already fallen off the wagon. Pace yourself instead. Look at it as a marathon, because ideally, you want your practice to last your whole life! You don’t have to go from zero to sixty in five seconds.
It’s often better to sprinkle short practices (anywhere from thirty seconds to five minutes) throughout your day than to set a goal for one longer session that’s difficult to meet. This is another good reason to open up your definition of what qualifies as a practice. Find things that fit naturally into your day – things that you would be doing anyway – and re-label them.
For instance, one of my favorite meditative practices is called: First Cup of Coffee. (Catchy, isn’t it?) I sit down with my first cup in the morning and really savor the smell, the taste, the feel of the warm cup in my hands. I feel intensely grateful, and let this one cup stand in symbolically for all the other food I will eat (probably less mindfully) throughout the day.
Develop Rituals that Support Your Practice
You know how children love rituals? You can use that inborn need for a ceremony to support your practice. Props are great: Light a candle or incense. Have a special piece of jewelry that reminds you to breathe and slow down. Put a crystal on your desk at work so that you can touch or hold it during the day. If you do sit to meditate, make a little corner altar that you leave in place, so it’s always ready for you. Closets make great meditation spaces, by the way.
Music is an especially soulful prop for many people. There’s an incredible variety of meditation songs and sounds available on YouTube. Simply sit with your headphones on and absorb the healing sound vibration – it’s like taking a spiritual vitamin. Just remember to make sure that your rituals honor your own natural rhythms. If you’re not a morning person, don’t expect yourself to get up early to meditate. That’s a sure-fire recipe for failure.
Let Go of Expectations
Sometimes you will have transcendentally beautiful experiences through your meditation practice. Sometimes you won’t. Both are okay. You don’t need to always swing for the bleachers. Remember, this is a marathon. The longer you practice, the more you will gain, but it’s not necessarily a linear progression. Simply let it be what it is. This attitude will bleed over into the rest of your life, too. The more you meditate, the less rigid and reactive you become in every way. You learn to breathe. You learn to step back a little bit from your busy mind with all of its judgments and demands and stories.
It’s this that will get you truly hooked on your practice. Once you get a taste of this peace and well-being you will never look back.
Change it Up
Don’t get stuck on any one form of practice. Allow your intuition to guide you. If it’s a beautiful day, go for a walking meditation rather than sitting in your closet. Make it fun. Throw out the rules. Let your practice serve you, rather than the other way around. Some people (like me) have a tendency to get fixated on the form and forget the spirit, but that is absolutely not helpful here. Even if a particular practice has been working like a charm for a long time, be prepared to change it up or let it go if it starts feeling too rote or restrictive. You can always come back to it later.
If you approach your meditation practice with an open mind, with curiosity, with lightness and flexibility, you have a very good chance of developing a practice that will feed your mind, spirit, and body throughout your lifetime. Give yourself that gift! It is not impossible, and it will reward you like few things in life will.