There’s an old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
In the modern world, people are more aware of the health benefits of meditation, yet still struggle to make it a regular habit. Why? Simply put, the daily grind gets in the way.
For many people, feeling stressed out is pretty commonplace, thanks to various issues like work pressures, busy schedules and overwhelming family responsibilities. When you’ve got a looming deadline, the last thing most of us have time to think about is sparing twenty minutes in the morning not working on that task.
While the thought of beginning your day with a more focussed mind of course sounds appealing, putting in place a daily meditation habit can feel a little challenging at first. We're not suggesting you suddenly start to try and sit for an hour every day, but if your brain feels constantly frazzled, building a regular meditation practice can be an incredibly useful tool when it comes to managing stress. And you can start small and build from there.
Health benefits of meditation
It can sometimes feel difficult to get on top of everyday stressors. You may even find yourself living in a state of permanent low-level anxiety, figuring that's just the way life is! But it doesn't have to be.
Building a regular practice of meditation is a bit like going to the gym for your brain. Over time you can build up the strength and ability to recognise and better manage anxiety and stress.
There’s a common misconception that meditation is about stopping all thoughts from entering your head. Or that you must be still and have a completely clear mind throughout the entire period. But this is not the real point of meditation.
Meditation is much more to do with building a greater awareness of your thoughts and, over time, not getting so caught up in them. It's also about building self-compassion rather than trying to brutally control yourself, your surroundings and your feelings. Meditation can help build focus, clarity, awareness and a real sense of presence.
But if we're aware of the positive effects of meditating daily, why is it sometimes so hard to keep up and how do you keep it going when life gets really busy?
How to make meditation a habit
1. Start small
There are many different types of meditation you can try, so explore a few different types and see what works for you! This also means that you can find the right mix of styles to support you depending on the mood you're in, from days when you want it to be short and sweet, to the ones when you can spare some more time.
If you're new to meditation, start out with 5 minutes and work up from there.
2. Make your practice a habit
This is the tricky part for most people, but finding a regular time that works for you is the best way to build a meditation habit. Some people prefer to meditate as soon as they wake up in the morning (and before they get distracted by the smell of fresh coffee), while others like to wind down with some meditation after a busy day at work.
Setting aside a set time to meditate each day makes it much easier to fall into meditation with less effort. If you struggle in the beginning, it may be worth looking at your meditation time as an appointment: book it into your calendar as you would a hair-cut and stick to it. You might even like to add a popup reminder on your phone just as an extra little nudge.
It does take a little discipline but don't give up!
3. Add a touch of self-kindness
One important thing to remember with meditation is to be kind to yourself. We’re all human and life and emotions get in the way, so if you’re trying to develop a regular practice and miss a day here and there, don’t worry. You won’t erase the time you've put in to this point nor will you fall off track on your journey with mindfulness.
So if you do miss a day, try to remember the rule to be kind; self-deprecating inner dialogue won’t solve anything. Simply remind yourself that, just like in meditation when your mind wanders, recognise you've missed your meditation 'appointment' and that you can continue with your meditation practice the next day.
4. Find a meditation group to help keep you on track
Sometimes a personal meditation practice can be hard to stick with and it easily falls away when other things come up – so why not consider looking into a meditation studio where you can join a group to help you stay on track? You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the positive energy you feel trying something new, as well as the increase of motivation you get by being surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals.
5. Download meditation apps
While technology gets a bad rep for making us scatter brains, it can actually be very helpful when it comes to meditation. Nowadays, there are numerous apps available to help you stay on track of your practice by providing wisdom, exercises and daily reminders, like Calm and Headspace.
My personal favourite is the free Insight Timer app. You can either meditate in silence for a set period of time or use one of the many excellent guided meditations. It covers lots of types of meditation of differing lengths, so you can use it to explore different styles and find ones you enjoy.
Life can sometimes feel really hard to navigate and fitting in time to meditate becomes just another thing on your to-do list. However, the busy periods in life are often when meditation can help the most. If you put some good foundations and routines in place, your meditation practice is much less likely to fall between the cracks – and may even help you find those tricky times feel just that bit less tricky.