Starting anything gives you a burst of energy, but sustaining it is something else altogether. When starting a meditation practice we’re often full of good intentions, but – like pretty much anything that hasn’t been established as a habit – there’s a high chance that we’ll stop before we’ve really started.
Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to help us start a realistic meditation practice that we can sustain for years to come.
After years of meditating on and off and often relying on guided audio meditations, in early 2017 I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat. It went deep, was intense and quickly I got used to sitting for up to two hours with nothing but my own breath and body as a guide. On the last day the teacher said, ‘you must do at least two hours of meditation per day; one hour in the morning, one at night’. Two hours seemed too big a call within my normal-life routine, but in a post-retreat glow I quickly committed to meditating for one hour each morning.
The next morning I got up at 5:30AM to sit for an hour. I lit a candle, propped myself up on my zafu and resolved not to move from my spot for the entire hour. Starting with anapana breathing, I then moved onto Vipassana practice. The hour melted away. I continued to glow.
The next morning I did the same, and the next, and the next, but what started to become apparent was that each day I was a little shallower in my connection with the practice that I’d experienced during the retreat. I became increasingly agitated and distracted. I started to check the timer, again and again.
Then I slept in and skipped my meditation practice. A few days later I slept in again and skipped mediation again. The next day I had to leave early for a work appointment so cut my meditation short.
I’m sure you can guess how this unfolds.
10 minutes a day is okay
If you’re anything like me, you’re overly ambitious but being overly ambitious has it’s fair share of problems, including losing focus when you can’t fulfil those ambitions. For someone like me, jumping from my regular 20 minutes a day up to an hour wasn’t realistic. Not straight off the bat.
When I realised that I wasn’t going to achieve the full hour, rather than getting disheartened or making excuses I could have instead sat for a shorter period of time. 2 minutes a day. 5 minutes a day. 10 minutes a day. Pretty obvious, really.
In fact 10 minutes a day is enough to set you up with good habits and allow yourself to experience some of the benefits of meditation, says Andy Puddicombe, founder of leading mediation app, Headspace. Here’s his All it takes is 10 mindful minutes TED talk from 2013:
Most of us can manage 10 minutes a day. Some days we might manage more.
Some is better than none.
Schedule and prioritise your meditation practice
For years I was a ‘do-it-when-I-can’ kind of meditator, but I know all to well that this lack of structure can cause havoc on a sustainable meditation practice.
It’s helpful, then, to set aside some time every day that you know will work for you. I’ve discovered that early mornings are best for me and set me up for a calmer day ahead, but maybe lunchtimes or after work wind downs might suit you better.
As life coach Ora Nadrich suggests on her MindBodyGreen blog post, it’s key to schedule something in and ‘make a meditation date with yourself’.
Meditate with others
Better than making a meditation date with yourself is to make a meditation date with other people. This is, says Melli O’Brien of the Mrs Mindfulness blog, a key part of setting up a successful meditation practice.
Many of us are probably more familiar with this in a fitness or work context: by making a commitment to others, we’re more likely to stay on track. I’m grateful that my husband will often meditate with me and – on the days when I’m feeling sluggish or flat – will suggest a sitting. When he suggests it, I won’t back out.
Beyond partners, group meditations can be an effective way to practice deeply and consistently. There’s something about multiple people meditating together that’s extremely powerful, and again there’ll be some accountability if you don’t show.
Create a space for your meditation practice
Something I’ve come across in courses, websites and books is the need to create a space that is conducive to meditation. Ideally it should be separate from your day-to-day activities, a designated ‘special’ space.
This meditation space, it is suggested, will take on an energy of its own the more that you meditate in this space. Think about the slightly-different-feel-to-a-normal-building that you experience when going to a meditation centre, for example. How else can you explain that?
I don’t have the luxury of having a designated meditation room, so a corner of my lounge room is where it happens much of the time. Along with my zafu and zabuton, my coffee table top complete with a candle, a singing bowl and crystals makes up my dedicated meditation area. I’ve had to accept that sometimes guests put coffee cups or place their bags in my meditation space. (Someone even left a mini skateboard with a missing wheel, last time I checked. I kind of like it there.)
Some might say my space is less than ideal but it works for me.
So find a dedicated space/room/corner that works for you, and sit there every day while you meditate. Let me know if you (or any visitors) notice any changes to the energy of that space.
OVER TO YOU
- Block out time in your calendar to meditate. This is your time.
- Start with 10 minutes of meditation a day and see where it leads. No pressure.
- Create a designated meditation space/room/corner for your daily practice.
- Find others to meditate with, whether that be your partner or friends or a local group.