I get working out. I know what exercises I love and those I loathe. I know how to keep motivated with mantras, upbeat music and self-talk. I can read my body like a map and know what to feed it, when to treat it and when to slow down. If you do something long enough, pretty soon you nail it.
What I don’t get is meditation. No finish line; no post-workout beers, no high-fives. There aren’t great meditation sessions, nor are there bad ones. They just are. It’s basically the opposite of everything I do get.
And then one day I came across a bit of advice — treat meditation like part of your workout — and it clicked!
Step 1: Train The Brain
Like physical exercise, the effects of meditation are cumulative. If all you can manage is 10 minutes a day, that’s great, but you’ve gotta commit. A weekend warrior approach will not yield the same results.
Choose a space to meditate and pick a time. The place should be as quiet as possible, with as few distractions as possible. An unfolded basket of laundry can be a distraction; create a supportive atmosphere. Experts agree that morning is best (the mind is less cluttered with thought), but anytime will work as long as you make it a priority.
Our minds love rituals and learn from them. When we repeat an action at the same time every day, we send our brain a subliminal message and it starts to create a habit. Pretty soon, the mind recognizes that at this time and in this space it is allowed to disengage and just be.
Step 2: Find Your Own Headspace
Like a physical fitness regimen, the key to creating a successful mediation practice is finding your niche. The breath is traditionally used to create focus, but if that doesn’t work for you, find what does. There are many techniques to choose from — visualization, counting, object focus, sound, alternate nostril breathing — there is no right or wrong. Discover what eases your mind and go with it.
If it’s unbearable to sit cross-legged, skip it and sit upright in a chair. If you have an itch, scratch it. Meditation is not punishment; would you keep running if you had a rock in your shoe?
Step 3: Pay Attention
Your mind will wander. Meditation is not lack of thought. It is being aware of the thought, acknowledging it and then letting it go. “Meditation is knowing what is happening, while it is happening, no matter what it is.” It’s called being in the moment.
Step 4: Some Days Can Be Like That
There will be days when you don’t want to meditate. Hmm, sound familiar? And that’s when self-discipline steps in and you “Just Do It.” Honestly, it doesn’t take half as much dogged determination as it does to rouse yourself for an early-morning workout and — bonus! — you can do it in your PJs.
Step 5: Change Is Good
You’re not stuck with one type of meditation for the rest of your life. There are many types to choose from: mindfulness and metta (also known as loving kindness) meditation are popular in the West, but there are oodles of others to explore. Download a free guided-meditation if you don’t know where to start or try walking meditation if you feel particularly antsy. Switch it up to continually grow.
Step 6: Patience, Grasshopper
Remember when those 5-pound dumbbells felt heavy? Or that mile felt like an eternity? Keep at it. That’s why they call it practice.
What good is a healthy body without a healthy mind? Isn’t it about time we exercise it, too? — Karen