You’ve got a lot going on. Not only is spare time probably a fantasy for you, but if you ever have any, you should probably spend it sleeping. If you’re reading this blog, however, then you’ve either already made an effort or are trying to find a way to incorporate some form of mindfulness meditation into your life. High five for that. Intention is where it starts, and it is the heart of a strong mindfulness practice. If you have found a good meditation groove and it’s working for you, I couldn’t be happier to hear it. But hang on for this one anyway because as they say, the only constant is change.
Among the most common reasons people cite for struggling to establish a consistent mindfulness practice is lack of time. The combination of being overcommitted and sleep deprived makes additional commitments difficult enough, let alone ones that require slowing down. Our society, and we as people in it, value action and tangible accomplishments. What did you do this morning? I took these actions, and created these deliverables. It feels good to be productive. We’re contributing, and important! Meditation doesn’t feel super productive, especially when you’re starting out. Eventually, you realize that it can make you more productive. But at first, you might get antsy, restless, bored or even sleepy. This happens in established practices as well. We think we’ve got it figured out, and then…ugh. It’s not working anymore. It feels tough all over again.
In these moments, it’s important to remember that this is a practice, and in some very real ways, it’s a workout for your brain. Each time your attention wanders off during a meditation, gently noticing that and pulling it back to your breath or other focal point actually increases gray matter in areas of your brain responsible for emotional regulation, learning and memory, among other things. That very act of coming back to your breath is the meditation. Sometimes it’s like a boomerang that almost seems to bring itself back; other times you may feel like you’re chasing a runaway puppy. Every day can be different, but like any workout, it usually gets easier over time…until you change, or it changes, and you have the opportunity to get even stronger by sticking with the commitment. The only way to make sure it doesn’t get easier, though, is to quit working out.
Good news: unlike most physical workouts, mindfulness can show you results in as little as 10 to 15 minutes a session for potentially as few as two weeks. These guys saw a difference in three consecutive days of 25 minutes of mindfulness. Now obviously, the more consistent you are, the more likely any changes you experience will be lasting. Like any routine, getting started is the toughest part. Since we’re living in 2016, we have the benefit of modern, digital convenience to help us. Have a phone? Then you have a nearly infinite supply of meditation resources with you at all times.
Like any foray into uncharted territory, when you first set out to build a mindfulness meditation practice, it’s helpful to have a guide. To add structure as you get started, check out the wide array of meditation apps available, such as Buddhify, Headspace and Calm. You can also access loads of guided meditations online. I’ve listed several below in the footer of this blog, but I find these particularly accessible.
Most importantly, remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect meditation. You don’t need a certain amount of time, or a particular kind of place or a serious attitude to meditate. Leave the judgement and self-criticism out of it. Over time (not a lot!), you will figure out what works for you, and how to build a practice you can stick with. Make some space, take a deep breath, and exhale. Repeat. See, there you go. It’s just breathing. Turns out, you’ve been doing it all along.
Photo Credit: Breather