There has been a surge of interest in mindfulness lately. Yet many people who want to develop a practice feel overwhelmed and uncertain of how exactly to start. Mindfulness is a skill that is honed through meditation. Like any other skill it is best developed through consistent practice. Below are five tips to kickstart your zen.
- Consistency over length – Any meditation teacher you meet will tell you that the key to meditation practice is to be consistent. I recommend committing to sitting at least three times per week and building up to daily. Most people are surprised to hear that a mere 5-10 minutes practiced consistently can have lasting impact off the cushion. The good news is you don’t have to meditate for hours on end, but you do need to be consistent to start feeling the impact of your efforts.
- Create dedicated space – I find it helpful to use the same space in my home for my daily practice. For me this is a dedicated cushion that faces a window. Some people find decorating their space with candles, incense, or photos of people or things that inspire them to be helpful. You can sit on the floor with a meditation cushion or choose to sit on a chair or bench if more comfortable. Over time, having this space will help you form the habit of meditation.
- Remember, you can always begin again – Even now, but especially when I first started meditating, I would chastise myself if I missed a day or if I didn’t have time to sit for as long as I wanted or if I constantly found myself distracted from the breath. When this happens remember, “You can always begin again, it’s just one breath.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Sharon Salzberg, a world-renowned mindfulness teacher. Ever since I heard this quote, I repeat it to myself every time I sense the self-aggression creeping up. It keeps me focused on what matters and I hope it will help you too.
- Get a guide – Starting a practice can be intimidating. Guided meditations are a great set of training wheels to help you on your way. Do a quick Google search to find a meditation center in your area to attend a drop in Sangha, or community sitting. There are also a plethora of mindfulness apps available on iTunes. Two that I really love are iSleep Easy and Take a Break. Many people I know also find Headspace useful. Whatever your preference, whether live or digital, a guided meditation is a helpful way to focus and can jumpstart your confidence when it comes to practicing mindfulness.
- Recognize that mindfulness happens on and off the cushion – In NYC, a city of eight million people and likely the same number of off-putting noises and distractions, I often notice people plugged out wherever I turn. For me, I used to constantly listen to music on my headphones the minute I stepped outside for a walk or a subway ride. One of the biggest changes to my daily life since I began meditating is that I started taking my headphones off and eventually stopped wearing them altogether when walking / commuting. I noticed I was more engaged with my environment and actively seeking out the noises and curious people all around. Through meditation you will realize that every moment is an opportunity to be present and mindful.
As you go on your way, remember that mindfulness is a journey and meditation paves the way. When you first start, you may be asking yourself “Is this is it? Am I meditating?” When you find yourself asking these questions, keep focusing on the breath. Overtime, you won’t have to ask them anymore because the results of meditation will reveal themselves to you the more you engage your mind. Happy meditating!