Here’s how to get started with meditation:
- Start by sitting for just two minutes a day.
When non-meditators picture meditation, they often think of someone sitting for hours a day—but that’s not necessary, especially in the beginning. Instead, commit to sitting for two minutes each day for a week or so. Once you’re used to that, you can move up to sitting for more time.
The science is still murky on how long practitioners need to sit in order to see results, but students have told researchers that they see effects from as little as 10 minutes a day. So don’t assume you’ll need to work your way up to a half hour a day in order to get the benefits of meditation.
- Get comfortable with the reality of Monkey Mind.
If you’ve tried meditating and quit because you found it too hard to empty your mind, you might be looking at the practice the wrong way. Even experienced meditators will tell you that their minds seem to want to be busy while they’re sitting.
“Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’—the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. “From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking. …You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.”
Does this mean that you give in and let your mind do what it wants? Not necessarily. But leaning too hard on a goal of keeping your mind unoccupied might be too challenging, especially when you’re starting out.
“Beginning meditators often think the goal of meditation is to get to the point that they can focus without becoming distracted,” writes Alice Boyes, PhD, at Psychology Today. “A more useful goal is becoming aware of when your mind has drifted sooner.”
- Focus on the breath.
One way to get started meditating is to focus on your breathing. Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace, a meditation app, advises new meditators to silently count breaths: “1 as you inhale, 2 as you exhale, 3 on the next inhalation, and so on, up to 10. Then start again at 1.”
By paying attention to your breath, you’ll have a focal point, and since it’s easier to concentrate on something than nothing, you’ll be less apt to get frustrated—and more likely to sit down again tomorrow for another try.
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