Over the last several decades, scientific research into meditation has revealed a wealth of profound benefits. Daily meditation practice is a form of mindfulness that has been shown to positively impact your mind, body, emotions, relationships, and performance, as well as deepen your connection to spirit. Essentially, every layer of your life stands to benefit from making meditation a part of your daily routine.
But what if you’re new to meditation? How do you create a successful meditation practice—one that works for you and yields the fruits of a long-term relationship with stillness?
Let’s assume that you’ve already determined what type of meditation is best for you. You’ve settled on a meditation technique and/or tradition that suits your needs and you’re eager to start off on the path of a lifetime meditator. As you to begin your meditation practice, there are several foundational recommendations that will set you up for success. Consider each of the following six tools as helping hands along the way, there to assist you in making meditation a regular part of your life.
1. Start Small
If you’re a new meditator, the idea of sitting still for 20–30 minutes might feel a little intimidating. After all, you might be very active and externally focused in your day-to-day life, so temporarily going within and focusing on your breath or a mantra may represent a paradigm shift.
To make this transition comfortable, you may want to start with shorter meditations to allow your system to adapt to this new experience. Set a timer, and begin with perhaps 5, 7, or 10 minutes of meditation to lay the foundation for your practice. As these times feel increasingly comfortable, you can gradually meditate for longer periods. Focus on taking a gentle, progressive approach to longer meditations. In the same way that you wouldn’t try to do 200 pushups on the first day you begin a new exercise routine, you wouldn’t necessarily want to meditate for 30–60 minutes your first time. Give yourself permission to take it slow and build up to a comfortable and regular amount of time to practice.
2. Be Consistent
Meditation, like any regular and repeated activity, is most beneficial when practiced consistently. Human beings are habit-forming creatures. Any new behavior, if practiced diligently with self-discipline, will become routine over time. In the beginning, however, it takes a degree of commitment to stay with the practice.
Homeostasis is the tendency for your mind-body system to maintain a relatively stable equilibrium. You can think of it as your body’s thermostat for “normal conditions.” When you begin a new activity (such as meditation), your system’s homeostatic balance is somewhat disrupted by the new activity. However, through the adaptability and flexibility of your nervous system, and with regular practice, your mind and body begin to acclimate to the new experience. As more meditation experience is accumulated, the presence of the new activity becomes part of the “new normal.” Eventually, the new behavior gets mapped into your body’s homeostatic set point, making it feel more natural to do the new thing (meditation) than to not do it.
What it boils down to is this: Repetition is the mother of all skills. When it comes to your fledgling meditation practice, just keep showing up—the rest will take care of itself. Also remember the 21/90 rule, which states that it generally takes 21 days to form a new habit. If that same behavior is continued for approximately 90 days, that habit will become a lifestyle. Once you’ve made it to that point, you’ve switched on the autopilot and your meditation practice will be self-sustaining.
3. Protect Your Fledgling Practice
In the beginning, your meditation practice will be a delicate thing. You will want to nurture it so that it can blossom to its full potential. To do this, you want to take steps to ensure your practice is sheltered from unwanted influences. It’s like placing support wires around a new sapling—it protects it from the strong winds until it sinks its roots deep enough to stand up on its own. In the same way, as you begin your meditation practice, consider the following steps to support your routine:
- Determine a regular time and location for your meditation practice.
- Find a meditation space free from disturbances—silence your phone, close the door, and let others know you’ll be out of pocket for a few minutes so you won’t be bothered.
- Sit in a position that is comfortable for your body.
- Let go of any expectations—don’t have an agenda and let the practice unfold organically.
- Treat any disturbances without resistance. Deal with them as necessary and return to your meditation session.
- Use a timer if it helps you let go of the need to check the time.
All these tips help to keep your meditation safe from unwanted influences that might make it more challenging than it needs to be. As you become more seasoned in your practice and the roots of your tree grow deeper, they won’t be as necessary, but in the beginning they help provide the greatest chance for success.
4. Join or Start a Meditation Group
Being in the presence of like-minded people helps to reinforce the value and importance of your daily meditation practice. A regular meditation group helps you to not only feel less isolated in your practice, but it weaves you into the coherence generated by several individuals coming together in stillness. The collective consciousness of local meditation groups can also strengthen your practice by giving you an energetic boost of shared intention and purpose. Plus, veteran meditators can help to mentor those who are new to a practice, lending a helping hand whenever needed.
A meditation group is, therefore, a sangha, a spiritual community made up of people who follow a specific tradition or set of teachings. While traditionally a sangha was a group of monks or nuns, it also can include novices or householder practitioners who find refuge in being part of a group of seekers who are traveling a similar path together.
5. Keep a Meditation Journal
As a new meditator, you are essentially running an experiment. You’re testing out a spiritual methodology that has the potential to create specific changes or transformations in your life, be they physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. As with any experiment, noticing and documenting your experiences can be a powerful way to see the effects of your practice. Recording your results can take different forms—a narrative, stream of consciousness writing, or simple data-keeping. At a minimum, for the first 21/90 days mentioned earlier, it is helpful to track the following details of each meditation session:
- Date and time
- Length of meditation
- How you are feeling (mind, body, emotions) prior to meditation
- Experiences during meditation (mantra or breath awareness, thoughts, sleep, pure awareness)
- How you are feeling following your meditation
After a few months of recording your thoughts and feelings after meditating, you will have a rich body of evidence to indicate patterns or tendencies to help you better evaluate the effectiveness of your practice. It’s important to note that the purpose of recording your experiences isn’t to analyze your meditation, but rather to help you become the witness of your experiences and recognize the meditation’s benefits, irrespective of the individual details.
As time goes on, you may no longer feel a meditation journal is necessary, but in the beginning, it’s a simple way to objectively observe the unfolding of your experiences.
6. Be Easy with Yourself
Finally, remember that one of the benefits of regular meditation is lightness of being. Therefore, allow yourself to enjoy the journey of awakening that meditation offers and lighten up. Taking your meditation practice too seriously is a sure-fire way to make yourself miserable. Meditation is the ultimate act of self-care, so relax, enjoy the practice, and let go of the outcome. Ultimately, what separates a long-term meditator from a beginner is the level of comfort the veteran meditator has with the experiences of their practice and how they continue to unfold naturally. No forcing, no stress, no compulsive thoughts and feelings—just effortless ease, comfort, and acceptance of what is in each meditation, in each moment.
So when you’re starting to meditate, go easy with yourself. Smile, pause, breathe, be willing to laugh at the paradoxes of life, and gently return to your meditation. Becoming a long-term meditator is a marathon, not a sprint. Take it one moment and one meditation at a time. Before long, you’ll have built a practice that will last you a lifetime.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.