Mindfulness is a way to be more present and aware of each moment. When we are more mindful in our every day life, we can understand what our bodies need and be more attuned to other people and our environment.
About 60-90% of doctor's visits are stress related. Mindfulness practices can reduce overall stress and activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, our rest and digest system that allows us to relax and rejuvenate. More and more research is emerging to show that mindfulness and meditation techniques reduce stress, strengthen the immune system and decrease pain, anxiety and depression. (1)
However, if you are like many of my patients or students over the years, it's hard to establish a routine or even get started because of work, home or other responsibilities. As humans, we also have mental hangups that prevent us from stepping into a practice that could actually transform our lives. Below are ways to think about your meditation practice or lack of practice in a new way that is sustainable and free of judgement and pressure.
1. Start by adopting an "I want to" Mindset: Instead of focusing on how you "should" meditate or put time into your spiritual practice, see if you can choose a type of meditation or mindfulness activity that is exciting and interesting to you. Through Insight timer, youtube, Calm, and other apps, you can find a style that resonates. You can also look up what meditation centers and classes exist in your area. Try each new meditation with openness, receptivity and the knowledge that not all will resonate. Some may make you laugh or feel uncomfortable, but eventually you will find the right practice. If you keep in mind the benefits of practicing and the excitement of trying something new, meditation will become something you look forward to. When I first started meditating 10 years ago, I dreaded meditating because I thought of it as a chore and assumed I had to stop thinking on demand. When I started acknowledging my thoughts, I was able to let them go. It also helped to find practices that resonated with me, Once I did, I felt the benefits of daily practice - higher energy levels, clearer mind, less irritability, more calmness and beyond. I now want to meditate because I felt the benefits and learned the techniques that work for me. I continued and now have a solid routine. The greatest meditators I know- teachers and students, seem to share this mindset of focusing on the benefits and looking forward to their time on the cushion.
2. Set up a convenient sacred space. This could mean creating a beautiful meditation room and sanctuary, a place that is inviting and calming. However, a lot of us don't have the space or lack motivation. For some, putting a yoga mat and cushion right next to the bed (and keeping it there) allows you to see it when you wake up and you don't have to make any extra effort to go into another room. You can plan what meditation you are doing for the next 40 days or if you crave variety, choose what you are going to do before the day of. Having a plan can prevent self-sabotage. When that is not working, try sitting up in bed with a meditation recording. If you tend to be sleepy in the morning, active practices like pranayama breathing or Kundalini yoga can be helpful. If the barrier to creating a sacred space is roommates, construction or other noises, be aware of that discomfort and use headphones. It is just as valuable in these situations to just BE in the present moment, listening to the sounds and noticing where you physically feel tension. You can also take walks or find ways to leave your space to get a fresh perspective.
3. Find excuses for mindfulness. Instead of thinking of meditation and mindfulness as simply a 10-20min daily practice, find ways to integrate it into your day. Great times are when you are standing in line, doing errands, laundry, in nature or interacting with people. The idea is fully doing each task with all of your focus and positive intention, even if the situation is uncomfortable. It means putting your cell phone down and stepping away from your computer, recognizing and allowing your thoughts to float away. Some people do best starting with mindfulness in their day to day activities. Applying mindfulness in this way is a great first step. Pairing sitting meditation with active daily mindfulness is an even more powerful way to activate your spirituality and manifest positive changes in your life.
4. Practice self love. It's common for people to be out of touch with their bodies and dislike themselves. Our culture and upbringing never taught us to say kind things to ourselves or celebrate our strengths. Many people fear they will be too conceited or egotistical if they verbalize their greatness. However, self love means stepping into your true power and confidence. By loving yourself, you can accomplish your goals and you can love others. An easy way to integrate self love is by looking at yourself in the mirror every day and saying 5 things you love about yourself- physical or character traits. You can also schedule time for yourself to do the things you love or book a massage, practice self massage, take an epsom salt bath, or make a salt scrub (1 cup kosher salt, 1 cup almond oil, 3-4 drops peppermint essential oil). For some people, certain self love practices are more powerful because they get to the root of emotional trauma. To make self love a meditation practice, here are a few exercises you can do:
Write a list of at least 40 positive qualities and strengths. Read them over to yourself daily
Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and gaze into your own eyes in the mirror. Notice if any negative thoughts or emotions arise. When you experience any of those, remind yourself of any of the positive qualities from your list. This practice may be challenging at first but will get easier each time you do it and you will notice a profound difference in how you feel about yourself.
Meditating is not just about sitting in silence on a cushion for 20 minutes. You can integrate it into your life through many avenues. I personally believe that it's more important to integrate mindfulness into your daily life and interactions than just sit in meditation for a short period of the day. The meditation teachers I've studied with recommend a sitting practice and mindfulness throughout the day. You can start with what is reasonable and doable with the intention of expanding our practice. Find what resonates with you and that will allow you to go deeper in your spiritual journey and give you the physical benefits.