Thanks to MRI imaging, scientists can now see that meditation can actually changes the structure of the brain for the better, and you'll definitely feel the effects in your everyday life. Meditation has been proven to help bust stress and anxiety, improve decision-making ability, improve sleep quality, and even help preserve brain power as you age.
So what's holding you back? For starters, meditation sounds really hard to a lot of people. Possibly it seems like something only new age hippies do—not regular folks like you. Or maybe you have a truly limited amount of "me" time, and, let's be honest, that new Netflix series has a awfully powerful pull.
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But while the barrier to entry may seem huge, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as the story your mind is telling you. All it takes is a commitment to the routine of meditation—just like you commit to brushing your teeth each morning and making time to brew a pot of coffee before work. The following ten tips will help you get started in making meditation a daily habit. Remember, beginning is the hard part—and Netflix will be there for you when you're finished.
1. Make Meditating A Daily Habit
The first thing to do is commit to meditating daily. When you do, meditating starts to become a habit like brushing your teeth or eating your lunch – your body will expect it and even crave it.
To help you develop the daily habit, choose a consistent time of day. For many people morning or evening work well. If you can roll out of bed and meditate right away, it will set you up for your day. Sitting just before bed tends to work well for people, too, since you’re naturally starting to settle down. If your schedule doesn’t allow for a consistent time, that’s OK – just aim for manageable chunks of time each day instead of setting a goal for one or two long sits per week. (For busy days, check out these five meditations you can do at your desk.)
2. Sit. Stay. Good Dog.
Set a timer and commit to meditating until the timer dings. The classic amount of time to sit for is 20 minutes, but you can start with 10 or 15. Once you set it, make like a good dog and stay. You will want to get up, but do not get up until the timer dings. It takes time for the body and mind to settle and you won’t be able to really drop into a meditative state if you allow yourself to get up each time you feel restless or distracted. (Read about how yoga and meditation are transforming underserved schools.)
3. Sit Up Tall
You don’t have to sit twisted up in Lotus Posture. In fact, you don’t have to sit on the floor at all. You can sit in a chair with your feet planted on the ground and your hands resting comfortably in your lap. What’s crucial, though, is that your spine is upright. Slumping leads to sleepiness. If you notice that your back gets tired or achy, pile some pillows behind your lumbar spine for support.
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4. Make It OK To Relax
Most of us have high-octane, driven days from the minute our feet hit the floor. You might have to consciously invite yourself to chill out a bit. Doing so will help set you up for a smoother, easier experience. When you close your eyes to start meditating, spend a minute or two doing a body scan. Start at the top of your head and then work your way down to your forehead, your jaw, your shoulders, your belly, all the way down to your toes. As your mind scans over these areas, simply say the words, “soften.”
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5. Notice Your Breath
You don’t have to control or contain the breath in meditation practice like you do in yoga. But bringing your attention to your breath is an accessible way to start focusing your mind, which is really what you’re after with meditation practice. Notice if your breath feels deep or shallow, if it feels rapid or relaxed. And notice how it feels cool coming into your nostrils and warm as it goes out.
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6. Anchor Your Awareness
The most basic technique is to simply choose an anchor or focal point and bring your mind there. When your mind wanders, you label the wandering as “thinking,” or “planning” or “worrying,” then you bring your attention back to the anchor.
A common anchor is the belly – the area just above the navel to be specific. But I like to teach the heart as an anchor: Imagine that there’s a doorway in your chest that leads to the heart. Let your breath come in and out of the heart. And, if you think a mantra might help you drop in more deeply, you can choose one that feels right. Some common ones for this meditation are “love,” or “trust,” or “let go.”
Related: How I Overcame Drug Addiction And Mental Illness Through Meditation, Diet, And Yoga
7. Just Do It
It’s important to know that everyone’s mind wanders. In the beginning, most of your meditation practice will probably be spent noticing how the mind wanders and bringing it back. Meditation may feel like hard work at first – it’s kind of like crunches for the mind. You don’t think about whether or not you like crunches, you just do them because you know that your body needs them and you’ll be better having done them. Meditating is the same.
8. Keep Going. You’re Not Doing It Wrong
Chances are that every doubt you have and everything that’s happened to you during meditation has happened to everyone else who’s tried to meditate. No matter how terrible a meditator you think you are, you’re just not. Everything that happens while you’re sitting counts. The most important thing is that you stay with the practice. Little by little your mind won’t wander as far. Little by little you will feel yourself dropping in more deeply and more easily.
Related: I Have Zero Patience For Meditation—But I Finally Found The Trick To Loving It
9. Come Out Gently
Don’t bound right back into your routine as soon as the timer dings. Move gently, wiggle your fingers and toes. Have a journal nearby to jot down what’s on your mind – it could be what happened during meditation or how you feel after or your intention for the day. (These morning meditations will set you up for a fantastic day.)
10. Come Back To It Throughout Your Day
Take one-minute meditation breaks throughout your day. If you’re impatient and waiting in a line, you can focus and meditate. If you need a little centering before a confrontation, you can focus and meditate. The more you do it, the more natural it will feel.