If you are depressed, you are living in the past.If you are anxious, you are living in the future.If you are at peace, you are living in the present.– Lao Tzu
I started to meditate about 3 years ago and it’s become an important part of my daily habits. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t easy getting started and it still isn’t the most natural thing for me to do. It’s taken some experimentation with what works for me and adapting a meditation practice around that. Your meditation practice might look completely different from mine – and that’s okay. The important part is that you put in the time to meditate to help you achieve greater mental control and calmness.
I’ll take you through a bit of my journey with meditation and the process and tools that have worked for me so far. If you already believe in the positive effects of meditation, you can skip Part I and just go right into the techniques and resources that I’ve been using. Either way, Part I will be helpful in helping you understand the WHY behind meditation. So let’s begin!
Part I: Why Meditate?
There are a lot of reasons why it’s beneficial to meditate and in no particular order here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced and heard others experience as well.
- Helps you move into the present
- Brings about peace and calm in your mind
- Builds your perspective and compassion for others
- Helps you feel like you’re in greater control of your day
- Helps you detach yourself from situations and outcomes
- Slows down your day
- Allows you to cut through the busywork and focus on doing what matters most
- Creates silence during our noisy, busy days
According to Tim Ferriss, the majority of top performers (80%) he has interviewed through his podcast have some sort of meditation practice. I know some of the above might sound “woo woo” and some of it probably is. But the important part is how meditation affects you personally. If you get even a modicum of peace and calm from a 5-minute meditation, maybe it’s worth it for you? After all, 5-minutes is not a bad tradeoff for that kind of feeling.
Part II: How to get started
I initially struggled to get my meditation practice going. When I first tried to meditate, I read a book called Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield. I listened to the accompanying CD and went through the guided meditation practices but I found the experience to be extremely difficult. In fact, I began to dislike meditating after realizing I wasn’t particularly good at sitting in silence for 15-20 minutes.
Retrospectively, I think I tried to do too much too soon. In my opinion, a 15-20 minute meditation is too long for a beginner (especially without some sort of meditation coach) to do on their own. The key is to start small with a 1 or 2 minute meditation. This way you get a small “hit” of that calm, rewarding feeling to get you going.
The “calm” feeling could be different for you. It might not be a feeling of calm but rather a feeling of inspiration and excitement. It could be a feeling of understanding and love. Try to remember that positive, rewarding feeling so that it brings you back your next meditation session.
Rain Wilson (from The Office fame) talks in a podcast episode about how meditation for him is like watching the ticker symbol of a stock market go by. The symbols are your thoughts and they just scroll past you. You’re not attached to the thoughts, you just observe them and let them by. I think that’s a pretty good analogy. Meditation is not eliminating all your thoughts and getting into a “blank” mindset. It’s about appreciating the thoughts and that they exist, but not getting caught up in it.
So here are a few tips to help you start to meditate and I’ll break them down for you in a bit more detail below:
Start with just 2 minutes.
Meditation is just like any sport or exercise in that the more “reps” that you put in, the better you get at it. You wouldn’t run a marathon for your very first run, right? So it make sense to not make your first meditation session a 60-minute session. Start with something small – like, very small. Start with a 2 minute meditation and see if you’re able to handle that. From there, up the timing to 5-10-15 minutes. But take it really slowly. Don’t rush yourself. It’s one of those things where you won’t just be able to “will” your way to doing more. Mary Meckley, host of the Daily Meditation Podcast, suggests that you meditate just up to the point that where you’re able to continue a little bit longer but you save that “little bit” so you can come back excited to meditate next time.
Learn simple techniques to get you going. (e.g. box breathing technique)
I learned a simple breathing technique called the “box-breathing technique” from Ben Greenfield at a conference in 2015. The technique is simple but surprisingly hard to master. Basically, you slowly breathe in for a count of 5, hold your breathe for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, and hold (your empty lungs) for a count of 5. Then repeat. This technique allows you to oxygenate your body while allowing you to focus on your breath – not your distracting thoughts – during your meditation. If you find yourself having difficulty concentrating, this is a good technique to practice. Try it once or twice during your first meditation.
Find out what time of day you are best able to meditate.
I’ve experimented with all sorts of times during the day but early mornings and evenings seem to be the best time for me. For you, it might be different. Try experimenting with a 2-minute meditation at different times during the day to see which one delivers the greatest benefits. When I used to work at a fast-paced sales organization, I would find time to do a quick 5-minute meditation over lunch which created some calm in an otherwise chaotic environment. It was super helpful in helping me reset and get ready for the second half of the day.
Part III: My favourite resources
There is a ton of great resources available to get started with your meditation practice. Books, apps, podcasts, and so much more provide resources that you can often tap into for free. Out of all the resources that I’ve experimented with, here are the two that have allowed me to cultivate my meditation practice.
Calm is a meditation app available on iOS and Android. It gives you the flexibility to do a timed, non-guided meditation or a guided meditation based on different themes like gratitude, happiness, sleep, etc. It’s the first app I used to help me create a meditation habit – starting with a 2-minute meditation. It has a ton of great background sounds that you can choose from and I like how simple it is to use compared to other meditation apps that come loaded with too many extras. Download the app and start with the 1 or 2 minute meditation then go from there.
This (free) podcast allowed me to take my meditation to the next level. Led by a fantastic meditation teacher, Mary Meckley, a new podcast episode is released everyday. Every episode is unique as there is a new weekly theme and every day of the week features a new style of meditation from affirmations to mudras to walking meditations. When I started getting bored of my 5-minute Calm app meditations, I was looking for alternatives to help me improve my meditation practice and The Daily Meditation Podcast was the perfect fit. I wouldn’t be able to meditate now for 10 to 20 minutes without having learned the meditation techniques Mary teaches through her podcast.
Another notable app is called HeadSpace. I’ve tried HeadSpace in the past and they’ve got a great (and free!) called the Take-10 which provides 10 short meditations with helpful video explanations to get you started.
The good news is current meditation apps are constantly updating and innovating to make meditation more accessible and new apps are being created as more people begin to meditate!
So I hope this gets you started with your meditation practice. It’s a powerful practice to cultivate which impact so many different aspects of your life. Just make sure to be kind to yourself. Your first few weeks or months of meditating won’t be easy. I still struggle to convince myself that it’s worth the time to meditate especially when I’m in the midst of a busy day. But those just might be the days where you need to meditate the most.
Good luck! And feel free to post your personal experiences with meditation. I’d love to hear from you.