By Maria Novak
Let’s admit it: starting a meditation practice can be completely overwhelming. Why? Because change, especially developing a new habit, is HARD! The good news is that many people (including me) have had some experience with an exercise routine and have gained some benefit from it. Meditation is like exercise! The same lessons, tips, and ideas that we use to develop an exercise routine can be applied to beginning or sustaining a meditation practice.
Here are 5 exercise tricks and how we can apply them to our meditation practice:
Number 1: Prep yourself for success.
Just like setting out your running shoes the night before or getting into your workout gear as soon as you get home from work, preparing yourself for your meditation practice can be the key to completing it each day. First, set a realistic daily practice time. Then, before that time each day, set out everything you will need. I do my personal practice in the morning. So, to ready myself the night before, I do the following:
- Set out warm comfy clothes. (My meditation space tends to be cold.)
- Put a mug with water in the microwave and set out a tea bag.
- Clean up my mediation space and set out my cushion.
This way, I am ready to jump into my warm clothes as soon as I wake up. Then I hit the start button to heat my water for tea, turn on the heat in my meditation space, and light the candles. Before I know it, my practice has begun!
Number 2: Don’t start by bench-pressing 300 pounds.
You wouldn’t set outrageous goals for yourself the first time you walk into the gym, so why set unrealistic expectations when you meditate? Many people are under the impression that a meditation practice has to be 40 minutes, an hour, or more! Begin slowly – start with 5 minutes. (Even one minute can be beneficial!) Stick with 5 minutes for a week or two. Then, if it feels appropriate, increase by a few minutes. Each week or so, increase by a minute or two, until you get to 24 minutes.
One of the great “ah-ha moments” from my time in the Mind Oasis Meditation Immersion was that an optimum time to meditate each day is 24 minutes, which equals one-sixtieth of a day. That seems so much more feasible than an hour, right?
Beginner weightlifters don’t put 300 pounds on the barbell. Beginner meditators don’t need to either.
Number 3: Consistency is everything.
We know that weekend warrior athletes tend to get injuries. Sitting at our jobs all week and then running a marathon on the weekend is not the way to condition our muscles for success. The same process of conditioning happens in our minds. Practicing a long meditation only occasionally and sporadically will probably continue to be difficult, just like being a weekend warrior athlete.
Sitting for a shorter, comfortable meditation each day can create a consistent practice that pays off. A little bit, every single day is the key to developing both a healthy meditation practice and a successful exercise routine.
Number 4: Allow yourself to have a day off without guilt.
I try to get outside for a walk every single day, regardless of how I feel or what weather is occurring. I know that there will be days (hopefully rarely) that something overrides my ability to complete that walk. When that happens, I don’t abandon my walking habit. I just go right back to walking the very next day.
Our meditation habits can be like our simplest exercise habits. If we miss a day, for whatever reason, we can get right back into the habit the very next day: no guilt, no berating ourselves, no quitting because we weren’t perfect. Aim for every day. Then when one day doesn’t happen, extend compassion to yourself and pick up where you left off.
Number 5: Realize that the real benefits aren’t seen at the gym.
I certainly wouldn’t go for a walk every day, or strength train, or stretch, or do any form of physical activity AT ALL if all of the benefit was only in doing that very thing. I exercise because I see the benefits for my body later. I exercise because when I need the strength to lift a child, or the lung capacity to climb the stairs, it has been built into my body, slowly over time.
In the same way, the benefits of a meditation practice come in little doses all through our “non-cushion” times. It comes when we can respond to an emotionally challenging situation more calmly and with less reactivity. It comes when we notice that we are more patient and peaceful since we started meditating. It comes when our lives have been tossed upside down by fill-in-the-blank (losing a job, global pandemic, loss of a relationship), and we can remain emotionally intact.
When we exercise, we are training our bodies to have more strength, more endurance, and more resilience. Approaching a meditation practice the same way we approach a successful exercise routine can help us develop these same qualities of strength, endurance, and resilience. I hope that these five tips can help you on your way to establishing and maintaining your meditation practice. I’d love to hear some ways that you have found to keep your meditation practice flowing!
Maria Novak is a yoga and meditation instructor living in Madison, Wisconsin. See Maria’s bio here.