How to start a daily mindful practice
Sara Eve Alarie
If you've ever told yourself "I should meditate" but have never found the time, we've got the plan for you!
Autumn is a great time to establish a new health habit. With the lazy days of summer giving way to a more structured routine for the fall, this can be a stressful time of year. Scheduling just a few minutes a day to meditate can help you keep calm and focused throughout the busy days of autumn—and beyond.
Although it can take many forms, one of the most widely researched forms of meditation, mindfulness meditation, is awareness of the present, moment by moment. Put simply, meditation involves practising intentional awareness on the present moment.
Meditation may look to an outsider like a difficult practice. But when you let go of what you think it should look like and adapt your practice to your life, it becomes less difficult to understand.
The benefits of meditation are from the journey, not the destination. “Meditation is a way to experience and appreciate joy in the present moment, regardless of circumstance,” says Sarah Elmeligi, who teaches a meditation circle at the Yoga Lounge in Canmore, Alberta. Research studies find that meditation practice leads to increased feelings of calm and decreased anxiety.
Researchers have also found positive effects for improved sleep, stress management, self-compassion, and the ability to focus. Simply bringing your attention to your breath can bring on a relaxation response and calm your nervous system.
Meditation requires commitment. It is helpful to have a guide facilitating your meditation when first beginning to develop your practice. Attending community classes, participating in an online introductory course, or using a phone- or tablet-based meditation app can help you develop your new meditation habit.
In her meditation circles, Elmeligi guides participants through different types of meditation including mindfulness meditation, walking meditation, and yoga nidra.
Getting up 10 minutes earlier works well for many people with an established meditation practice who also have a family or a hectic work schedule. If finding time is preventing you from trying meditation, check your schedule to see if you might schedule a few minutes for yourself at the beginning or end of each day.
Once you start your meditation practice, you might find you don’t want to stop because of the many ways it benefits your day. Elmeligi says, “I encounter people who think they can’t meditate. [But] everyone can meditate. Everyone has five minutes!”
Creating a peaceful atmosphere in which to meditate is important to begin a successful practice. If possible, find a quiet place with as few distractions as possible. When first starting your practice it can be helpful to use a consistent space to meditate.
Creating a sanctuaryWhile Elmeligi instructs that anyone can meditate anywhere, it is helpful to cultivate a special place in your home for your practice when first starting out on your meditation journey. If it is possible for you, dedicate a small area in your home for meditation. You can start creating your meditation area simply by selecting a comfortable chair or meditation cushion. With time, you might add a vase with flowers, a family photo, or a special shell from a treasured holiday.
Some people enjoy meditating outdoors on a quiet bench or in a peaceful garden. Find a place that works for you and keep practising. Once you become more adept at practising meditation, you may not require a consistent space.
In fact, Elmeligi sometimes finds it hard to find a quiet place or the time to meditate. “Sometimes, I meditate in the airport, waiting for my flight. There is chaos all around me and the seat is uncomfortable, but I can do it. It’s not perfect. You don’t need to sit in a certain way in a certain place. It’s not what is happening around you or where you are. It’s an internal experience. It’s about being aware of this moment.”
It is normal to have thoughts while meditating. Try not to judge yourself for thoughts that enter your mind when trying to focus on the present moment. Elmeligi suggests new practictioners try repeating, “I am inhaling in this moment. I feel joy in this moment.” She adds, “If you tell yourself something long enough, you’ll believe it.”
Try to be an observer of your thoughts and treat them as something transient and passing. You can think of thoughts as clouds passing through the sky or scenes in a movie. Watch your thoughts arise and watch them move away. For example, if you think, “Did I remember to send that email?” just acknowledge the thought and let it pass, let it be transient. Try not to follow the thought and mentally add it to a to-do list or try to solve the problem.
Elmeligi reminds the people she guides “to bring their focus and awareness back to their breath. Eventually you can let the thoughts fall away. You don’t need to follow the thoughts.”
Here are some tips for increasing the length of your meditation session. By adding five minutes each week over the course of a month you can build your meditation session into a 20-minute practice.
Your goal this week is to find five minutes to dedicate to your meditation practice each day. Try to build this new activity into your routine. Sarah Elmeligi, who teaches a meditation circle in Canmore, Alberta, suggests treating it like something you do regularly for your health, just like brushing your teeth.
Try a few different times of day to see what works for you. Morning and early evening often work well, as our minds can be less busy during these times.
Now that you’ve found a time of day that works for you, make sure you’ve found a way to sit comfortably for longer periods of time. Consider trying some different cushions created for meditation.
Set yourself up for success and let go of the idea of a perfect meditation practice. It is acceptable if you miss a day. Steady practice, not perfection, is your goal. Remind yourself of all the benefits that developing this new practice will bring to your life. Make a list of all the ways meditation might improve your health.
Continue to build on the success of previous weeks. But, if you’ve skipped a day or find sitting for longer is challenging, be gentle with yourself. Remember that spending five minutes a day in meditation is better than not meditating at all. As Elmeligi says, “Expose yourself and allow it to unfold. Accept and love whatever presents itself to you.”
If you find you are distracted with thoughts of how much time is remaining in your meditation session, set a timer with a gentle ring to bring you out of your meditation.
Reflect on any changes you’ve noticed in yourself outside of your meditation time. People with an established meditation practice report feeling calmer throughout the day. “Meditation is a way to feel joy in the present moment, regardless of circumstance,” says Elmeligi.
Celebrate your commitment to a daily meditation practice at the end of the month. You’ve worked to build a practice into your routine to bring you more vitality. Choose joy.