The benefits of meditation have been sweeping the world in recent years. Popular apps like Headspace and Calm show that humans are incorporating meditation into their daily lives.
What was once a mystified Eastern practice has become a new way for the regular Joe to find calm and re-connect to him or herself in an incredibly busy world. Meditation is so widely accepted now as a helpful heath regime that you may even be prescribed it by your doctor.
When I started meditating, or at least attempting too, I thought what the majority of us think when we start this incredibly simple yet initially frustrating practice, “this isn’t for me”. My monkey mind would bounce around and meditation seemed to make me feel more stressed than I was before starting. I would get very frustrated with myself and give up again and again.
Closing my eyes and focusing on my breath felt like trying to ride a bike in a 60mph windstorm — I wasn’t getting anywhere. And I would set unrealistic goals and expectations like that I would meditate for 20 minutes everyday right off the brink. Another silly expectation that I has was that as soon as I meditate I would find all the answers I seek and let go of all the negative emotions I had. I thought this process would happen quickly so when it didn’t I was hard on myself.
Meditation is like a Garden
But if I’ve learnt anything from my meditation practice it’s this: meditation is like a garden. At first you need to put a lot of work into it like weeding and setting up good soil. But with even just a little bit of attention and love, it begins to grow more graciously and colourfully. A little work consistently goes a long way.
So many of us go into practicing meditation expecting it to be sunflowers and roses right from the get go when often times meditation can feel like entering a storm, especially in the beginning. It’s common to go to meditation as an escape from life’s difficulties but that is not it’s purpose. Meditation is the space to work through those difficulties, come to terms with them, and maybe even watch them grow into something spectacular.
How to get to a place to easily do this takes time but it’s not hard. Once we change the way we approach meditation, it gets easier. Here’s how:
Learn to Breathe First
We are obviously a society that needs meditation is we are a society that has forgotten how to breathe! Taking short, shallow breaths is the natural state for most of us, but such breaths do not instigate calm. Instead they instigate stress, which is the most common reason individuals come to meditation today.
That being said, first learning how to breathe will help your body relax so that your mind can also relax too. If you don’t know how to breathe you will never be able to access the benefits of meditation. Deep breathing is incredibly healthy for the body: It increases blood flow, improves digestion, and detoxifies the body among many things (India Times). Taking a moment as soon as you wake up to take just 3 deep breaths can change your entire day.
In its simplest form, meditation is all about being present with yourself. Once you can do this, you can be more present with the world around you. Your ticket to presence is through breathing. Breath brings you into your body and fills you with gulps of fresh oxygen that get energy flowing. So often we have stress accumulated all over our body and with breath we can begin to loosen this stale energy and wish it farewell.
By learning how to simply breathe before committing to meditation, you will avoid the common meditation frustration of feeling overwhelmed and be able to feel the power of meditation sooner. Soon taking slower, deeper breaths will become more natural for you and your body will remember to do it before you do!
Let go of all Expectations
A common mistake among new meditators is their expectation that meditation will change them quickly. This simply isn’t the case. Meditation has a steep learning curve, and if you begin with high expectations you will set yourself up for failure and give up too soon.
Not only are high expectations going to make getting into meditation more difficult but so are false expectations. Like the common expectations that meditation will make you forget about your problems, ignore negative emotions, or make you some angelic human. Meditation is simply the tool through your issues and it doesn’t transform you into a butterfly. If anything, it transforms you into your true self. But it takes time.
So if you can put the expectations aside, you can enter your new practice with more curiosity. This curiosity will allow you to soak into your practice for all that it’s worth. A big theme in meditation is practicing non-judgement — in how you feel, what you are thinking, and what is going on. By simply being present and allowing, you will create peace with your inner chaos and finally get the chance to know it.
Replace expectation with a willingness to feel all that is real inside you. Simply sitting and witnessing the chaos is proactive.
It is through this understanding and attention that we may begin to untangle the mess and find lasting calm. Having no expectations will ease your meditation practice and your relationship to it. It will allow you to finally feel without judgement.
Less is More, Especially at the Beginning
A little bit well done every day is better than forcing yourself to sit through 2o minutes of misery. You will leave the practice feeling satisfied and fulfilled rather than angry and stressed. While many meditations will vouch for sitting through long periods of meditation at the beginning, I believe that this is unrealistic and off-putting for the average beginner.
Why set yourself up for failure when you can reach little successes everyday. Forcing yourself to sit for long periods of meditation could create a negative relationship between yourself and your practice. It did for me. It made me dislike meditation and made it feel like a burden hence why I quit it so many times.
But meditation requires consistency, especially at the beginning, so starting small is a smart move. Over the years what has worked best for me is practicing less meditation more. Committing to even 2 minutes a day is realistic. You could increase the time span by 1 minute every week and see where it takes you. By doing this, I created a healthy relationship with meditation and it bloomed so much more beautifully with time.
Meditation is like a plant. At first it requires consistent care and attention, but after a while it will naturally grow bigger on its own.
Your Body Eventually Remembers
After several weeks or months of practice your body learns what to do in meditation. It becomes muscle memory. The fidgeting and tension will subside and you will find yourself naturally breathing deeper as soon as you sit or lay in position. Since you will have to think less about setting yourself up, you will be able to sink into deep meditative states more easily.
You may even notice your body calling you into meditation once it has felt the benefits. Consistency, compassion and patience are the key to getting to a place where your body remembers. The more you practice, the sooner your body will naturally know. Practicing compassion during this process is essential because some days will be harder than others. Give yourself some slack when you forget to breath or cannot concentrate. Being hard on yourself will create more tension in the body. And practice patience because all great things take time. Your body will know when it knows.
Relax and allow your practice to bloom
Meditation gets easier when you relax your relationship with it. How can you feel the benefits if you feel tense or uneasy about it? That would be a contradiction. The way you treat your practice influences your practice. Give it gentle care and compassion and watch it grow into something very healthy, strong & beautiful.