The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer…you can’t ‘fail’ at meditation…all meditation, regardless of how much your mind wanders or how fidgety you are, is successful meditation. The key to that success, however, is actually Doing it, or more accurately, making the time to Be.
One of the most common things I hear from clients about starting a regular meditation practice is that they just don’t seem to be able to stick with it. The other is that they’re not good at it. It’s likely that if you believe that you’re not good at it, it won’t become a regular part of your lifestyle.
So first, why meditate? Meditation helps us get out of our thinking minds and just be in the moment. This helps to calm and balance our nervous systems and allow for healthy energy flow…it’s an amazingly powerful tool for managing stress, anxiety and overwhelm. And you don’t have to DO anything!
If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person, this could be the most effective tool in your toolbox for warding off overwhelm. Since I’ve made meditation a part of my daily routine I’ve not only become calmer overall, but I find that it takes much more to trigger overwhelm.
So how can you experience successful mediation?
1. Prioritize and schedule
If you have a loose plan to include a meditation session sometime during your day, likely that won’t happen. A specific clock time may not be helpful…our schedules can vary quite a bit and things can come up that can abort your plan. It may help to simply plug a session into a certain place in your routine.
If you want to meditate in the morning, choose a place in your usual order which you’re likely to be able to uphold, and add it to the routine. You can try first thing before you get out of bed, right after your coffee, after your shower, whatever sounds easiest for you. I need to eat in the mornings before doing anything, so I always meditate right after I eat and brush my teeth.
Until your meditation time becomes habit, it can be helpful to include it in your schedule…into your daily physical or digital list of to-dos, so you have a reminder to keep you on track. Eventually, once it’s a habit, you won’t have to remember…you’ll just naturally move toward your meditation spot at the right time.
2. Let go of the details
You don’t have to have a special stool or cushion, or clothes or music, or follow a specific guide or type of meditation. If these help you be more consistent and comfortable, go for it! The main thing is to acknowledge that there’s no ‘right way’ to meditate. If you feel better sitting or lying down, or even standing, that’s what you should do. I actually meditate on the couch with a cushion at my low back to keep me upright, and have my feet flat on the floor. If you prefer to lie down, you’ll just need to make sure you don’t fall asleep.
You do want to maintain good posture however you’re positioned…keep your spine straight so the energy can flow freely. You can place your hands wherever they’re comfortable…to your sides, on your thighs, hands facing up or down, creating a loop or ring between your thumbs and first or second fingers…whatever works for you. There’s no ‘wrong’ position other than slouching or otherwise compromising your posture.
You don’t have to meditate for a specific amount of time in order to be ‘successful.’ The Institute of HeartMath has done research which shows that just 3 minutes of heart-centered meditation can shift your brain wave patterns. The key is to just be for a period of time…to let go of everything else. Every minute that you’re meditating is helpful.
Although most people meditate with their eyes closed, it’s not necessary. Some may feel uneasy closing their eyes and surrendering to the process. If you find this to be true, just choose a focal point in front of you and down slightly and let your gaze soften on that point. This will work fine.
I generally recommend clients start with just 5 minutes. Most people can find 5 minutes in their routine to set aside for a practice, even if it means setting the alarm clock 5 minutes earlier. Once you get used to the practice and feel good about it, you may want to increase the time when you can. You’ll likely find that a certain amount of time allows you to get into the flow, to really feel like you’re letting go of the thinking mind and immersing yourself in the now.
3. Being vs. thinking
The ego, or thinking, mind is very good at what it does…think, plan, judge. When we meditate we’re asking that part of our brains to take a break, to be quiet. That’s not easy! You WILL start thinking while you’re meditating. That’s totally natural. At first, or on some days even if you’ve been meditating for a while, it may seem like you’re thinking most of the time. When you notice yourself thinking…that awareness is beneficial. It means you realize that you’ve slipped back into the norm and that you can come back to the present.
You can visualize your thoughts as clouds and let them flow by, or as specks of dust and let them fly away, or just identify them and let them go to refocus on the present. I usually just say, ‘thinking; come back’ to myself and refocus on my breath or heart space.
Breathing deeply is generally very helpful for meditation. It automatically calms the nervous system and provides an anchor to come back to when your mind wanders. If you start thinking, you can let the thoughts go and focus on your breath, imagine it filling up your whole body. You can also use a mantra…a word or phrase you say to yourself repeatedly, using that as an anchor to the present.
4. Use a guide at first
You can certainly mediate on your own…you can do that anywhere, any time, with whatever music you prefer that allows you to pretty much ignore it (music with lyrics or a distinct beat or rhythm leads you to pay attention to the music, rather than your experience). There are many options for meditation music, including those based upon Solfeggio frequencies, also available online.
It can be helpful, though, especially at first, to follow a guided meditation. There are so many available these days. Listening to a guide helps to minimize your thinking time; the guide’s voice serves as an anchor to keep you focused on the present. I recommend trying several different people to find those who resonate with you and allow you to to become calm, relaxed and still and able to let go of thought. I have a couple of meditations on my YouTube channel you’re welcome to try to get started.
5. Release judgment
It’s helpful to call your meditation plan a ‘practice,’ for that’s what it is. You practice being still, being present, not thinking. Remember that you can’t be ‘bad’ at mediation. There’s no perfect meditation, though you’ll have times when you feel more in the zone than others. It’s all part of the practice.
They key to feeling like you are successful is not judging. When your mind wanders, thinking, “I can’t stop thinking,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I just came back to my breath and I’m already thinking again. It’s hopeless!” will lead to frustration and likely a justification for not continuing your practice.
When you realize you’re thinking, recognize it in a neutral way…it just is. Notice, then let go. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, you’re not hopeless…it’s normal. If you begin your meditation with the understanding that your mind will wander, and that’s ok, it allows for those times without condemning yourself. There will be many times! You’re just practicing letting your thoughts go, experiencing times of not thinking. Just enjoy the times of thought-less-ness and come back to the breath or mantra or guide when thoughts come in.
I think it helps to get yourself ready for your mediation time. Our lives tend to be go go go and usually as soon as we get up in the morning we’re already planning our days and lives. Shift your mindset toward the meditation…consciously give yourself this time without expectation but also without planning what you’re going to do immediately after. Get ready to allow yourself to Be.
Choose a regular spot for your mediation, somewhere you’ll go to each time, so it becomes a representation of your practice. Create a quiet environment and reduce potential distractions…silence your phone and computer, let others know you’re not to be disturbed, make sure the pets have been fed, etc. This is your time and you’re not going to be solving or taking care of anything while you’re meditating.
You can also make a list after you sit down, before you begin, of what you want to remember for afterward. As you start to calm yourself and focus inward, it’s common for the mind to really start thinking, because suddenly nothing is getting in the way…you’re not Doing anything. Spend 30 seconds or a minute jotting down what comes up, so you’ll remember, then set aside the list for later.
If you’re not listening to a guided meditation, set an alarm for your desired time. If you don’t have this set, part of you will be wondering how long you’ve been sitting, worried that you may go over your time and make yourself late for something, and not allowing yourself to be in the moment and truly let go.
Slow, deep breathing in itself helps to shift your brain wave patterns and calm the nervous system. There are mediation techniques which focus solely on the breath, or breath-work exercises that are a form of meditation. Breathing deeply and slowly signals your body to relax and let go and helps to release thoughts of the future or past.
If you’d like you can meditate on your breath the whole time. When your mind wanders just become aware then refocus on the breath, without judgment of course. You can imagine the breath coming into to heart center, or the top of your head or up from the Earth, filling the belly like a balloon, then radiating throughout your entire body, into every cell.
If you’re doing a guided meditation, you can still use the breath as a tool for re-focusing on the guide’s voice or the mantra or intention. Even though you’re listening to someone, your mind will still wander and the breath can bring you back.
Your New Practice
However you’re choosing to meditate, take a few deep, slow breaths, close your eyes (or soften your focus), be conscious that you’re giving yourself permission to let go and release expectations of being perfect, and begin. Repeat every day. You’ve begun a successful mediation practice…well done!