“I find it difficult to focus for an extended period of time.”, said Angie.
“My mind is so busy. I dont know why. Why is it so difficult to stop all these thoughts?” asked a frustrated Alice.
“I’ve attended a couple of group meditation classes at yoga centres. How can I practice meditation on my own?”, asked Lily.
I hold meditation workshops offline and online and I hear these thoughts and questions from participants often. The trouble with meditating as a beginner is that there is an unrealistic expectation of being able to do it right the first time, just because you’re an adult.
Think about it. When a baby starts learning to walk, she falls several times. First she learns to stand and find her balance, and then she takes her first couragous steps. And she falls, gets back up and starts all over. She is building new muscles and learning a new motor skill. Take heart. Be kind to yourself just like you would to that baby, and instead of getting frustrated, encourage yourself. Let me tell you. It takes practice. It takes time. And just like the baby that doesnt start running as soon as she learns to stand, you won’t reach nirvana the first time you sit down to chant Om.
There’s three things you need to remember if you want to build a success habit of meditation:
1. It takes practice – It’s true. Learning anything new takes practice. That means doing it at least daily or consistently over a long period of time to actually notice any benefits. As adults we spend most of our day in Beta brainwave state, where you have lots of thoughts. There are two best times to practice meditation. One is right before going to bed, and the other is upon waking. During both these times you are accessing a brainwave called Alpha. In alpha brainwave state, you have fewer thoughts, your breathing is slower and deeper. It makes sense to utilize Alpha brainwave state to your advantage. You can meditate twice a day at these times. One will help you with improved sleep. The other will orient your brain positively for the day. If flossing is for oral hygiene and bathing is for physical hygiene, then meditation is for emotional well-being. It’s best done daily because the average person thinks between 2100 to 3300 thoughts per hour. That’s 35-55 thoughts per minute. That’s a lot of thoughts! Imagine trying to bring that number down to a 5 or a 10. Practice. Don’t give up.
2. It takes 20 mins – There’s a zen saying that goes, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes. Unless you’re too busy, then you must sit for an hour.” Notice that it says “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes,” and not “You should meditate for 20 minutes.” It’s interesting and I love it because the experience of “minimal thoughts” does not start the moment you sit down to meditate. It takes time to observe and watch your breath slow down, observe your thoughts and not get distracted by them, to remember to come back to yourself and your breath when you do get distracted. Once you’ve spent about 20 minutes just sitting and observing your breath and your thoughts, you’ll begin to notice that your mind has gone quiet, and then you will feel an expansive presence – as if there is actual space that has been created between you and everything you are observing. If you sit a little longer, this is the space that provides you with wisdom and truth about yourself that Google cannot tell you. It’s a good time to ask yourself the question “Who am I?” It’s very well worth it. Try it out. And if you need further assistance, please reach out to me. I have been practicing meditation for over eight years and I’m a qualified Hatha yoga instructor.
3. You won’t reach nirvana each time you sit in meditation – And that’s okay! Think about this. What is the purpose of meditation? More importantly, why do you want to meditate? Having a reason to meditate definitely helps you to anchor your practice. You don’t have to have a reason to meditate. You can try it out just out of curiousity, just for the experience. And maybe you’ll like it. But meditation is like a gym for the mind. It’s a work out to build your mindfulness muscles. Just like if you exercise, run, do yoga or go to the gym, it’s something you do 4 – 7 times a week for about an hour. You won’t do 6 hours at the gym in one day and forget about it for the rest of the week, would you? And, some of your workouts will suck. But that doesn’t mean you stop exercising or working out. You do it because it’s good for your health and your body feels good. Period. Similarly you won’t reach that 0 – 10 thoughts per minute (described in point #2) each time you meditate. And it’s fine. Do it anyways. Do it because otherwise it is easy to fall out of practice. Some days you would meditate just to calm your mind and re-centre yourself. Other days you may want to go really deep and listen to the wisdom of your body. Every time you meditate, you will have a different experience. Just like in meditation, it is important that you don’t get attached to how the meditation should turn out to match your expectations. Sometimes it’s okay to just be with yourself.
It’s absolutely okay if you fall asleep during meditation. It’s very common. It happens because your body is relaxed. Congrats! You’ve reduced stress in your body. Meditation is one practice that the more you do it, the more you feel you are learning about yourself. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a time of reflection for many. We’re shifting from too much thinking i.e., being in beta brainwave, as we learn to manage our thoughts and emotions by slowing them down i.e., alpha brainwave, and finding creative solutions to existing problems. It takes practice.