So you've gone through seven months of stressful Covid days and your stress level has reached a ridiculous high as the U.S is a week away from the brutally intense 2020 elections, and you figure now is as good a time as it will ever be to try this thing called 'meditation' and try to relax your mind, if that is at all possible...
Or maybe you are one of those people who have always wanted to meditate, but life and time and excuses and excuses and even more excuses came in the way... and finally you've emptied your bucket of excuses. It's 2020 after all. If you are a covid patient, health care professional, or have to home school your kids - then you have all the legit reasons in the world not to meditate, though you would likely find it even more helpful then...
Or maybe you are that guy, or that gal - always into the trends, and have heard that 'everybody else is doing it' and you got no will power to NOT cave to peer pressure. Besides, you are already living by the beach and doing yoga so meditation is a natural step to being a total cliche, no?
Or perhaps your doctor recommended it. Or your therapist insisted. Or you read about the benefits in a science guide. (yes, really, actual scientists meditate!) Or your spouse wants to make it a couple thing so you better dip your toes in it first.
Whatever the reason may be.... You are here. You wanna start mediating.
And maybe you've already tried the Headspace app everybody is talkin' about. And bought yourself a meditation pillow, 'cause it was on sale. Maybe you even paid a steep price to have your own personalized mantra to meditate with a la Transcendental Meditation (hiya David Lynch!). Or maybe you are a total newbie and this is the very first step you are making on your journey into meditation.
Don't get me wrong here, I may welcome you newbies to the meditation journey... but only as a peer.
I myself am also a beginner meditator. I'm not skilled or 'good at it' AT ALL. But after being on & off for years dabbling into meditation and relaxation exercises, 2020 is the first year I've been able to have a consistent daily meditation practice. So as a PEER (and no where near a teacher or guide to this life-long practice) I got some tips to share that have been incredibly helpful to me, and maybe will be helpful to you as well:
1. Do yoga/work out first.
This isn't a must, but it's highly recommended. If you do a daily yoga practice - your body will likely be in a relaxed state that would be ideal for mediation afterwords. If you do a more rigorous work-out - come down from the adrenaline rush with some stretches, and then shift into the mediation practice. The great thing in aligning the two together is that your body is already primed, and the mind is already focused so it may be easier to gently quiet it after a workout. This works like a charm for me. When I mediate without being in my body first - my mind will jump around with thoughts, making my meditation practice a whole lot LESS relaxing...
2. Put some meditation music on.
Spotify is amazing for this. I usually have a 'massage music' playlist on, or a 'stress relief' playlist on in the background through Spotify and it helps me dive deeper into my meditation and quiet my mind. If I find myself drifting in thought during mediation - listening to music or sounds, as well as focusing on my breathing, are great tools to sift back into the observer's voice, the inner voice, the awareness that meditation can lead us to.
3. Get comfy.
Need a pillow? Need a wall to lean on? Need to sit on a chair? ALL ARE GOOD. There are no rules to this. Especially not in the beginning. So get comfy! I usually sit cross-legged on on my yoga mat. Sometimes I lean on a wall for more support for my back, and when I am extra tired - I will even lie down for a lying down meditation. But fyi that way tends to be even more challenging because it's easier to fall asleep when the body is fully resting...
4. Set up a timer.
My sister suggested this and I think it's an awesome tool. At first, I would meditate as long as I 'wanted to' , which veered between five minutes to thirty minutes, but the consistency of using a set timer helped me track the ease and the difficulty, and when exactly those sensations arise for me. I also noticed when exactly my legs fall asleep during my meditation practice - which is approximately when I am 12 minutes in it.
Find a sweet spot of minutes to start from - maybe fifteen minutes to start, or ten, or twenty... try that for a week, and then add a minute or two every week that goes by. Before you know it - you'd be able to mediate for longer and longer. Don't have much time? Set up your timer to five minutes. Better than skipping a day. You always have five minutes, right?
Close your eyes and breathe. You may breathe normally, or take deep breaths through the nose and out the mouth, or even take short pauses in between your inhales and exhales. No right and wrong about it, just breathe and follow the breath. Some days it will lead you to track your body - is there a tension in your body you'd like to 'send' a breath to? Simply inhale towards that tension. You can start by breathing and focusing on a different body part until you'll feel the body is relaxed and ready. Anytime thoughts arise - notice them, and go back to your breath. I think of my breathing as an anchor to my meditation practice.
6. Track your thoughts GENTLY.
When a thought arises, before shooing it away - track it in your mind: is it a planning thought? Is it a creative thought? Is it a reenactment thought? Is it a to-do list thought? Is it a random thought? Is it a visual thought? 'tag' it, or track it, or make a note of it, and then let it go. This is a tip from my sister as well (thank you sis!), that I really like because it adds specific tasks to the study of the mind that naturally occurs during mediation. Only thing I found that is important to me is to be extra gentle about it... otherwise I find myself 'thinking about my thinking' way too much, and it kinda defeats the purpose of quieting the mind... don't you think?
If you don't use a mantra throughout your mediation to focus on, you may want to finish your meditation with a moment of acknowledgment. An inner message to yourself. I usually sigh to myself once the timer goes off, gently open my eyes, smile to myself and send a message of acknowledgment that "I am here. I am alive. I am grateful. I made it to my practice although I didn't want to. I did it!" Or something along those lines...Whatever I want to say as a subtle message to myself - I do. Sometimes I'll do it while I gently shake my body from the static pose it was in, or while I take a large glass of water immediately after and before going along with my day. The point is to acknowledge and make a precious moment from the moment AFTER the meditation.
There ya go, those are my seven tips for the beginning meditator.
And maybe if I ever graduate 'beginner mode' and sift into 'intermediate meditator' I'll share some more.
If you have any tips to add please write them in the comments!
In April 2020, while experiencing her first ever global pandemic, Tamar Pelzig pledged to write something every day, even if it's only a word, so she welcomed to the world a daily blog to keep her creative writing wheels rolling.
Header Art: Daniel Landerman