Fitting something else into our already over-stuffed lives can be a real challenge. The will might be there, but life gets in the way and sweeps us along. This can be even more the case with meditation. We still might not be absolutely sure it’s worth making the time for – that it’s a worthwhile endeavour. But like getting regular exercise, the benefits are definitely felt if we stick with it, to the point where you may feel like something’s missing when you haven’t done it. So here are a few tips on establishing a regular meditation routine.
- It’s worth setting a firm intention to practice. You could write this down, including all the reasons why you want to commit to this. You might also like to keep an ongoing journal to record your experiences of mindfulness practice. Looking back over it later you may notice patterns, shifts or changes that will encourage you to keep at it.
- Decide when will be the best time of day for you to practice. It’s no good choosing to meditate at dawn if you’re someone who habitually stays up late. Sleep is important too. Or there may be practical reasons why you can’t meditate first thing, such as having to be up very early anyway to commute to work, or to look after a child. It may feel like there’s no perfect or obvious time, so experiment a bit. In the evenings you may struggle with tiredness but if that’s the only time you have, practice accepting the tiredness, but also try and make things more conducive to staying awake, such as meditating in a cool room, doing walking meditation instead or mindful stretching or even splashing some cold water on your face before you start.
- Start small, maybe no more than 10 minutes. Even 5 minutes is worthwhile. Watch out for that perfectionist tendency which tells you it’s not worth meditating if you haven’t the time to do the full 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Even if you only manage to pause for 3 mindful breaths in the course of a day, celebrate that! Relating back to intentions you could say to yourself – “I will definitely sit for 5 minutes as my absolute minimum every day and where possible I will sit for longer”
- It definitely helps to have a dedicated space for practice. It doesn’t have to be a whole room. It could be a corner of your bedroom or living room (or the garden shed!) – ideally somewhere where you won’t be disturbed by others. It will offer a focus point for your practice and remind you of the value you place on it. You could set some flowers or a potted plant on a small table, an inspirational quote or a meaningful object. It could be very simple or you could really invest some creativity in setting it up.
- On the other hand, in the long run it is also important not to be too particular about practising in a certain place or at a specific time, so that you can adapt to other situations like when on holiday or visiting family or friends, or just if something disrupts your plans – like sleeping in, or an unexpected visitor arrives. Plan for how you’ll work with these occasions in advance where you can.
- Let the people you live with know that you’re serious about wanting some time to practice mindfulness meditation and ask for their co-operation. Without getting into a long dialogue with someone who may not really understand the importance of this for you, keep it simple and clear so they understand you won’t want to be disturbed at this time (unless it’s something really important or an emergency of course). Tell them you won’t be answering your phone during this time either, but reassure them you’ll get back to them after you’re done.
- Get your cushions, meditation stool or chair set up in place the night before, or when you get home from work depending on when you plan to practice. Maybe also lay out some loose clothing to change into which will also help you “de-role” from your day or help to remind you that this is the first thing you’re going to do today if you plan to meditate in the morning.
- For a morning meditation, resolve to do this before you switch on your phone or laptop. In this way you can start the day in “being” mode rather than leaping straight into “doing” mode. It can be hard to switch out of busyness once it’s got going! You could always have a quiet cup of tea before you start your mindfulness practice if you need a bit of time to wake up. For an evening meditation, or at some other time of day, likewise switch off or mute devices and consciously drop down into being mode, slowing down your movements, tuning into your body and breath.
- In your practice journal you could set a plan to rotate different practices eg mindful stretching one day, short sit the next, mindful walking the next. As your stamina for practice increases you could then experiment with longer sits, perhaps at the weekend. You could also include reminders to practice mindfulness in your day to day activities.
- Remember it won’t always be a smooth ride with meditation practice. Some days it will seem boring and pointless, other days it will be uncomfortable and difficult, and on some days it will be easier to focus and will feel delightful. Don’t throw in your hat at the first sign of difficulty. Recognise that the judgement that says “this is pointless” is just a passing thought and the next day you might equally be thinking “this is wonderful”. So stick with it over both bumpy and smooth terrain and you’ll learn an awful lot about how your mind works in the process.
- If possible, take opportunities to meet up with others to practice. Some mindfulness teachers, myself included, hold regular mindfulness drop-ins for those who have experience of mindfulness meditation. Practising with others and hearing how they manage in their daily lives is often a great inspiration. If there’s nothing like that in your area, then search for online groups, Google hangouts and the like, where you can get the same sense of fellowship with others. This is especially important where the main people in your life aren’t all that sympathetic or encouraging of your endeavours, which can be very de-motivating over time. It’s important not to blame them for this, but instead actively look for ways to counterbalance that influence by finding like-minded others to be with from time to time.
- In the absence of others to practice with (or in addition to), there’s heaps of other options such as reading mindfulness or Buddhist books on practice, reflecting on poems, and a whole plethora of online resources – talks, films and written materials. All of this can help feed your inspiration and desire to keep going with practice.
Remember that old much quoted adage of Lao-Tzu – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? Well substitute “sit” for “step” and you’ve got the sense of beginning on a great adventure when you make a daily habit out of meditating.