Of all the healthy habits I’ve introduced in my life over the years, meditation is one that has had the greatest impact. With only 20 minutes of daily sitting, focusing on my breath and letting go of busy thinking, I have found that I think more clearly, work more productively, exert greater control over my emotional states, and am more grounded in all aspects of my life and my endeavours.
Doctors and scientists have compiled plenty of research that confirms a wide variety of benefits, including reduced stress, improvements in mental conditions (anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc), reduced incidences of illness, enhanced creativity, increased productivity, and more besides. Read more about the benefits of meditation in this detailed list from Psychology Today. With all these documented benefits, one might wonder why more people don’t adopt meditation as a habit. There are many reasons why as a society, we aren’t so inclined to try it or maintain it. Here are some of the issues we face and how to deal with them:
1. Lack of obvious correlation to benefits. With most activities and endeavours, there are clear, even measurable benefits. When you take up strength training, you gradually are able to lift more weight. When you take up running, you are eventually able to run farther and faster. The benefits of meditation are a lot less easy to see or measure. If anything, the people around you are more likely to notice the changes than you are, whether it’s a calmer more pleasant demeanour, better contributions at work, or improved sociability. Meditation gradually and subtly changes your state of mind and your relationship with the world around you.
How to deal: Keep the bigger picture firmly in mind. The benefits of meditation are so vast and can have a profound effect on all aspects of your life. If you keep reminding yourself of this, the benefits will come.
2. Easy to lapse when something “important” comes up. Because the benefits of meditation come so gradually, it’s easy to think it’s not such a big deal to miss a day here and there, especially when something really important comes up that requires a lot more time, energy and focus. The problem is not so much taking a single day off here and there, but in breaking the pattern of behaviour. When you miss one day, it’s easy to miss another, then it just snowballs.
How to deal: Try to establish a habit with your meditation practice. Choose a particular time of day to meditate, like first thing when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. If you don’t make your particular time, find another time to do it in the day. A daily reminder bell, like the one in the Lotus Bud Meditation app (or any reminder bell) can be useful for establishing and maintaining the habit.
3. Association with alternative lifestyles. Many people associate meditation with “being a hippy” or with religions such as Buddhism, Taoism or Hinduism, making people feel a little iffy about taking it up. The fact of the matter is that meditation has become a lot more mainstream. Most of this has come with the overall acceptance of its benefits in the scientific community. A lot of famous/successful people credit meditation as being a significant contributing factor in their lives, including current UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon “Bones” Jones, NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant, Oprah Winfrey, Actress Goldie Hawn, Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, and many more.
How to deal: Simply recognize that you don’t have to adopt a particular religion’s approach to doing it. In the overall increase in acceptance, more details have come out as to what constitutes meditation in terms of how it should be practiced to glean the benefits.To meditate, all you have to do is take a particular position (sitting or standing are usually better than lying down because it keeps you alert), preferably in a quiet place, and focus on your natural breathing. You may choose to repeat a particular word or phrase (silently in your mind or out loud). Allow your thoughts, emotions and urges to come and go without judgement. Notice any particular body sensations that arise. Some people prefer guided meditation, whether it’s led by a person, or audio/video source. None of these practices are necessarily religious, they are mainly focused on your internal relationship between yourself and your surroundings. Here are more tips on how to meditate
4. Lack of private quiet space. It is indeed much easier and more pleasant to meditate in a quiet space. If you live with other people you might find it hard to create your own particular spot to meditate in peace.
How to deal: If you can’t create a special spot, find a special time. There is probably a time in your home when a particular shared area of your home is quiet and unoccupied. This may mean getting up before everyone else or waiting until after everyone has gone to bed. As you get better, you may find that you don’t necessarily need to be in a completely quiet or unoccupied space to meditate. Of course, if you have children, your situation may be different.
5. Difficulty sitting still. Like with most new activities, meditation can be challenging when you first start out. On the surface, it doesn’t look hard. After all, there is no physical reason why anyone can’t sit quietly for 20 minutes. In modern Western society though, we struggle with stillness. Our way of life is based around a “go-go-go” mentality. When we’re not doing something, we’re thinking about what we’re going to do next. This attitude permeates our home, work and leisure activities. So when people challenge ourselves to sit and “do nothing,” many people face an overwhelming desire to act in some way, whether it’s through thought or physical movement. This can be even more challenging for people with conditions such as ADD or ADHD.
How to deal: Twenty minutes is a long time to sit for people just starting out. Start small. Even just 2 minutes is a good stepping stone. Once you’re comfortable with 2 minutes, try 5. Keep gradually increasing your time until you can handle longer meditation sessions. Most studies on the benefits of meditation refer to 20-minute daily practices, but there’s no reason why you can’t go longer if you enjoy it and finding it beneficial.
Now over to you. Do you meditate regularly? If so, what challenges did you face in adopting your practice? How did you overcome them?