The Ultimate Guide To Meditation

From Meditation Guru Tara Brach.

Most people understand that it takes regular exercise to be physically fit. Now, many are discovering that a daily meditation practice is likewise the key to mental and emotional wellbeing. Research shows that meditation increases life satisfaction as well as improving memory and focus. It enlarges our perspective, deepens our capacity for intimacy, and enhances our empathy and compassion. Daily practice changes our lives, yet many people find it (like exercise) challenging to do.

Why don’t more people practice meditation regularly?

Learning to quiet the mind and settle into the present moment takes time and patience. We easily conclude that we’re not “doing it right” or we’re just too busy to set aside the time.

I had meditated daily for ten years before I got pregnant with my son. After his birth, my practice became erratic. I remember one morning, after a tense exchange with my partner, realizing how much I missed the balance and clarity that my regular practice gave me. I sat down and made a promise to myself: henceforth I was going to practice every day – no matter what. But I gave myself a crucial back door: the length of the meditation didn’t matter. As long as I took a real pause to come into stillness and pay attention to my experience, it counted.

Ever since that morning, I have made the time. Although I usually meditate for 30-45 minutes, I have had days when that just couldn’t happen. So I’d sit on the edge of my bed right before going to sleep and intentionally relax my body, resting in the movement of the breath and open to the sensations and feelings that were present. After a few minutes, I would say a prayer and climb under the covers. I’ve also had times when sitting was difficult for my body, so I did a standing meditation. Whichever way I went about it, the commitment to daily practice “no matter what” has been one of the great supports of my life.

For many people, this approach needs a degree of flexibility. Something happens—a bad cold, falling asleep early, simply forgetting—and the promise has been broken. The bottom line here is to enjoy, not stress over, a meditation practice. As Julia Child famously said, “If you drop the lamb, just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” If you miss practice for a day or longer, simply begin again. It’s okay.

How do I begin?

While there are many styles of meditation, often the best starting place is learning to come back to the breath, allow the mind to relax, and become aware of the present moment. You might pause right now and try this for 30 seconds:

Sit in a comfortable, yet alert way, and take a moment to relax any part of your body where you feel obvious tension. Now, take three long, deep breaths. With each, exhale slowly, and feel a letting go with the outbreath. Then sit quietly, continue to relax with the in- and out-flow of the breath, and simply receive the present moment – sounds, sensations, play of light – with awareness.

Many people wonder how long to sit. If you’re new to meditation, ten or fifteen minutes might seem like an eternity, but that impression will change as your practice develops. Should you decide to sit for longer stretches, you’ll discover that your mind becomes even quieter, your heart more open – that you touch real stillness and peace. Whatever the length, it’s best to decide on it before beginning, and have a timer so you can fully give yourself to the meditation.

Can I learn to meditate by myself?

If we tend to judge ourselves in other parts of our life, we’ll bring that to meditation. It’s hard to feel enriched if you get caught in self-doubt about your progress, or if you lock into the grim sense that “I’m on my own.” The best way to avoid these traps is by finding support: attend a meditation class with a teacher, round up a few like-minded friends or listen to a guided meditation.

However you arrange it, if you meditate daily you will come to experience noticeable benefits such as less reactivity, greater resilience, and inner ease. The most important thing to remember is your genuine desire to practice “no matter what,” even if it’s for just a few moments out of your day. As one of my students put it recently, “Just having those moments to be quiet is a gift to my soul.” Stepping out of the busyness, stopping our endless pursuit of getting somewhere else – even if it’s just one minute at a time – is perhaps the most beautiful offering we can make to ourselves, to our loved ones, to life. Enjoy!

Read about how to focus better and how to sleep better

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