Tips for starting a mindfulness meditation practice

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on April 21, 2012 at 7:00 AM

The benefits of meditation have been well-established over time through numerous scientific studies showing it is a helpful practice for stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, improving anxiety and depression, lessening pain, and increasing focus and concentration, along with enhancing feelings of well-being. In our hectic, stress-filled lives, meditation may well be the perfect prescription for those who want to maintain their health and practice preventive care.

But if you have ever tried to meditate you have probably discovered how difficult it is to “do nothing”, which is one of the main requirements of a meditation practice. In fact, one meditation teacher estimates that only 5% of his new students successfully establish a regular practice of meditation and continue it over time.

So why is it so hard to just sit still? For one thing the pace of life pushes us hard to be always on the go and constantly moving from one activity to another. Not only do we have a hard time slowing down physically, but our minds are accustomed to jumping from one thought to another with little discipline or rest. But the fact that meditation is so hard for us to do is evidence of how much it is needed.

In his book “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life,” Jon Kabat-Zinn gives recommendations for starting and maintaining a meditation practice through numerous essays about the ups and down of such a practice. Here are some of his suggestions, which might help you in your efforts to become a meditator:  

  • Make time each day for practice. This goes without saying – if you set aside a regular time each day (like first thing in the morning or before you go to bed at night) you’ll be more successful at keeping up a consistent practice. 
  • Keep it simple. Don’t go to too much trouble or create a complicated ritual because you’ll be less likely to keep it up over time. 
  • Stop and be present. The most important step is stopping whatever else you have been doing for even a few minutes and notice the present moment. You can do this anywhere, at any time. 
  • Pay attention to each moment. No matter what you are feeling or thinking, this is what you should pay attention to. You don’t have to notice anything other than what is already happening right now in this moment. 
  • Focus on the breath. Watch yourself breathe in and out and follow each breath. This simple technique can help you anytime you get overwhelmed or distracted. Just keep returning to your breath. 
  • Be patient. Cultivating a practice such as meditation takes time so you have to have patience for the process.  
  • Practice, practice, practice. The consistency with which you practice will make all the difference, so keep it up whether you feel you are making progress or not. 
  • Don’t judge. Keep an open mind and let your practice unfold in its own way. There is no right or wrong way to meditate so stop trying to be perfect. 

Remember that you will reap the benefits of a meditation practice no matter how long you practice or how “well” you do it. Just get started and see where it takes you. The harder it is for you to do, the more you need it, so even if you begin and fail, just keep trying again and again. After all, it is your intention to grow that makes all the difference.

Categories: Spiritual Practice, Spirituality, Transformation

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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