7 Ways to Maintain a Meditation Practice
“What’s encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance. We see very clearly that we’re closing off. That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance.”
— Pema Chodron
Meditation and mindfulness have blown up in the Western world in recent years, and for good reason. There is a growing body of research that shows that meditation can not only positively impact our mental health, but can also hugely improve our physical health. From decreased anxiety and depression, to lower blood pressure and fewer headaches - it’s benefits seem to be far reaching.
BUT, there’s a catch. Meditation ‘works’ best when we commit to our practice. Our brain is incredibly efficient and when we do the same thing over and over again, the brain ‘rewires’ and creates new connections and neural pathways that make us ‘better’ at that thing. With consistent meditation, you start to feel more grateful, calmer, less reactive, more creative, and more optimistic, without even really trying. It just becomes our default mode.
So how long should you meditate? There is no magic number. The science shows that as little as 5 minutes of meditation a day is enough to make a difference (although we tend to be able to go ‘deeper’ with longer sits). So, it’s awesome to aim for 15+ minutes of meditation a day but if you can only squeeze in 5 minutes, that’s still perfect.
TIPS TO MAINTAIN A CONSISTENT MEDITATION PRACTICE:
Meditate in the morning: if you can, meditate first thing in the morning. It’s less likely you’ll be ‘too tired’, will nod off, and you’ll set yourself up for a more mindful day.
Make it a priority: make your practice a priority. Scheduling your meditation into your day makes it more likely that you’ll actually do it.
Familiarity: meditating in the same place, at the same time every day will help you to establish it as a habit! Your mind will associate your environment with meditation and so that it becomes easier to ‘drop in’. You can take it a step further and create a meditation space with an altar, or create a sort of ritual around your mediation practice – lighting a candle, incense, or smudging before your sit.
Be Flexible: life happens. Not every day is going to look the same, and you may have to change the time, place, or duration of your meditation. Don’t let having to shake up the routine be an excuse for not meditating at all.
Connect with others: having people in your life that you can reach out to talk about your practice is a game-changer. It can keep you accountable, help you to deepen your practice, and make you feel more ‘normal’ (some of what comes up in a contemplative/meditative practice can feel new or strange).
Explore different types of meditation/mindfulness: if you find yourself feeling bored or unmotivated to practice, try something new. There are countless guided meditations available on the internet (I can also record a custom meditation just for you!). You can also try different meditative practices like walking meditations, mindful movement – ex. yoga or running, or breathing exercises, pranayama, or use an app like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer.
Practice self-compassion: your meditations will look very different from sit-to-sit. It will be easier to calm your mind at times, and more difficult during other sits. That’s perfectly normal as we move through the ‘layers’ of our inner world. Just be kind to yourself as you develop in your practice.
Every time you sit down to meditate, you turn your attention inward and start a sort of ‘releasing’ of stress and stagnant energy. Even the thoughts that come up, the twitches, the emotions and sensations – all representative of a releasing. So even what seems like a ‘bad’ meditation, is actually perfect.
Attending a retreat is a great way to deepen your practice quickly. In a retreat setting you are able to focus entirely on your inner world, void of any distractions of the ‘real world’. My own meditation practice is built on the foundation of a Vipassana retreat - 10 days of deep contemplative practice and an environment that is conducive to having the kind of profound meditative experiences that convey the power of meditation in facilitating transformation. There’s a centre in Albertathat offers retreats year-round and cost participants nothing up front - instead they make a donation at the end of the course if they found it beneficial.
Author - Shay Bachelet