Of course I know that meditation is good for me—it's even scientifically proven. So why do I struggle to do it?
As a yoga instructor, I’ve heard every excuse in the book for why meditation is too hard or how there's no time for it—sometimes from my students, but mostly from myself. I totally get that this mental practice isn’t easy to start—otherwise we would all do it already, no problem. But like anything with a worthwhile result, beginning is the hardest part. After that, we just have to keep showing up day after day. Some days, maybe even most days, that means doing it badly.
If the thought of sitting still, emptying your mind, and remaining seated for minutes—or hours—sparks anxiety or apprehension in you, keep reading. I’m about to lay out some incredibly simple techniques that will open meditation up to anyone.
Identify one or two times a day where you can definitely carve out 5-15 minutes of alone time.
For me, that's right after I wake up (and after I feed my cats). Even if I wake up late, I'll make myself just sit there for at least three minutes. By “sit there,” I mean have a spot in your home where you can sit upright and somewhat comfortably. Set a timer. Triple-check it's set and that it started so you don’t peek, wondering if you actually pressed "start." Close your eyes. Do all of this even if everything in your head is screaming for you to go do something else. The worst that’s going to happen by ignoring that urge? You sit still for a few minutes.
Don’t clear your mind—that’s crazy. Allow thoughts to happen!
The biggest misconception of meditation is that you must "clear your mind," whatever that means. In my opinion, no thoughts means you're braindead: You’re going to have some form of thought all the time. Meditation is about noticing thoughts, so in fact, thoughts are welcome. They are information. While this is simple, I get that it’s not easy. Sometimes I really don’t want to acutely notice some of my thoughts because they’re tough to deal with. This is where commitment and dedication come in: keep sitting there, see thoughts, see emotions, see body sensations while waiting patiently for your timer to go off.
Notice a physical sensation.
I find it helpful to constantly register whatever physical sensation I’m having in that moment, like how my fingertips feel pressed together. If I don’t place my hands this way, then I’ll focus my awareness on my breath. Here’s the thing: My mind is going to wander at some point. Some days, it does every few seconds; other days, I experience a few minutes of unbroken focus. My mind will wander to what I’m going to do later, to a memory, to a fantasy—at some point, I’ll notice this happening and say to myself, “Oh yeah, fingertips touching. Watch my thoughts. How interesting!”
After many years of attempting regular meditation practice I've found that the longer I go, the easier it is to make myself sit there and be quiet for a few minutes. It becomes easier for me to come back and watch my thoughts rather than wander off following them. It's been immensely beneficial in all aspects of my life to be able to simply be with both easy and difficult thoughts—I find myself less emotionally reactive or mentally attached to things that don't help me feel safe or content.
Reader, please go and be "bad" at meditation. Let your mind wander. Try—and fail—at concentrating, over and over again. When you let go of trying to be successful or to make something "look right," and rather maintain a consistent, humble effort to simply sit and watch, you'll find yourself unfolding like a blooming lotus. We can't will a lotus to bloom—it blooms because we sit there, patiently, and watch it. Happy meditating!