Top Tips for Starting and Maintaining a Regular Mindfulness Practice
Once it hits Autumn I am usually inundated with requests about when my next Mindfulness course takes place and bookings for Mindfulness talks and workshops. It appears that once the shorter nights start, people shift focus from holidays and outdoor activities to learning and study. For some people getting to access a course is not always possible and so they embark on a Mindfulness practice themselves. For others, they’ve already done a course and they just want to get back into it. With this in mind, I have decided to give you my top tips for starting and maintaining a regular Mindfulness practice.
1. Find a teacher
I know I said above that not everyone can get to a class but there are still plenty of ways to get access to a teacher. There are lots of online courses, including my own, as well as apps that have teachings from reputable teachers. Finding a teacher is very important if you want to have the right kind of practice for you, to make sure you are practicing correctly and also so that you can ask questions if you are finding it challenging or aren’t sure if you are on the right path. Make sure the person you choose to learn from is a regular meditator themselves and clearly demonstrate that they are living mindfully. This does not mean they are stress free and happy all they time. What it does mean is they are clearly self-aware and managing their stress and demonstrating the core teachings of mindfulness.
2. Choose your time wisely
Knowing when to meditate is very important as it is not the same for everyone. I am a morning meditator. I like to do it first thing so that way I won’t miss out on it if my day gets busy or if I am too tired later in the evening. That being said, I also allow myself the flexibility of doing it later if I decide to have a lie in or if I am extra enthusiastic and decide to meditate a second time later in the day. Other people prefer last thing at night because it helps you relax and can be great for sleep. If you do choose to meditate at night, then it’s better to do it somewhere other than your bedroom and most importantly not your bed.
3. Get a Timer
Often when people start to meditate they sit down and close their eyes with the intention of meditating for a few minutes. In my experience without a timer they rarely do the time they intend and spend most of they time checking their watch wondering how long they’ve been. If you get a timer, I recommend the Insight Meditation Timer App, then you can set your time and get on with it, knowing it will ring when your time is up. You can also set interval bells if you want to extend your meditation and like to have some idea of what stage you are at. You can do 5-minute bells, for shorter meditations and 15 minutes for longer, for example. The Insight Timer is also useful because it logs your meditations, which can be very motivating for some, including me.
4. Choose your duration
As with all things, there are recommendations and best practices. According to the research, which you can find in the book Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, the optimum time for meditation is 20 minutes. In the beginning this length of time can feel like an eternity so, it is important to start slowly and work your way up. If you go all gung-ho at the beginning, you will very likely give up after a while as the commitment may seem too much. Start by doing 5-minute slots, adding a few minutes a week over a period of weeks until you eventually get to 20 minutes a day. After that if you wish to do longer sessions, that is up to you.
5. Choose your location
Having a set location where you meditate every day is helpful. Having your zafu, stool or chair already set out with a blanket and cushion helps to make your practice formal, but also eliminates any excuses you might make for not having somewhere to practice or things not being ready. This should preferably not be in your bedroom or if it is, it shouldn’t be your bed. If you meditate in bed you will fall asleep. Having a candle or an altar can help some people too, as it gives the practice a sense of importance or value. Decide what works for you.
Mindfulness is a commitment. You must commit to doing it every day if you want to reap the benefits, or at least 5 to 6 days a week. Naturally we all miss a day every so often, but the research tells us that it is the daily practice that makes the difference to your brain and when we stop things go back to the way they were before. There are days when you will be challenged but if you make it part of your routine and commit to doing it for your own benefit, and the benefit of those around you, then you will be more likely to keep going when you’ve missed a day or when it seems like it is too hard.
7. Let go of your judgment
Mindfulness is a non-judgemental practice. What this means is, it is a way of being that allows what is, without trying to change or resist it. This is important when you practice because some days you will feel great and other days your head will be melted with over-thinking, itches, pain, uncomfortable feelings and general irritation. These are the times when you need to keep going and push through. This is when you need to be able to accept what is and let go of your attachment and judgement to wanting it to be different. These are the meditations that make the biggest difference when it comes to difficulties and challenges in your life. If it was always easy, then you wouldn’t reap the benefits of being able to deal with the hard stuff in life when they arise.
8. Give it a go
Finally, just give it a go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Play around with different types of meditation and find the one that works for you, and if you struggle with sitting do some mindful movement or walking. There are lots of types of meditation out there, I’ve trained in Zazen from the Zen tradition, Metta or Loving Kindness, Healing Meditation and Visualisation meditation, such as those used in Reiki. I practice them all at different times depending on my mood or needs.
If I can help you in any way or if you have questions then, please feel free to get in touch. You can find my online course on my website and links on my Facebook page and if you would like a one to one session this can be done via Skype or Zoom or face to face.
Thanks for reading.
I hope our paths cross again in the future,
Elfreda (regular meditator, often itchy, fidgety and has a monkey mind).