Setting up a meditation practice requires the right combination of 2 ingredients: self-commitment and inner friendliness. Here are some tips to support you along the way:
1- Choose a Time of Day and Be Consistent
Try to meditate at the same time every day. Over time, your body will become accustomed to practicing at this time, just as your body prepares itself for food at noon when you are in the habit of taking your lunch break. Of course, life will not always allow you to be 100% consistent, but this is a good practice in general.
Most people find it easiest to practice first thing in the morning. This keeps you from avoiding excuses later and starts the day on the right foot. The most important thing is to avoid “waiting until the moment feels right” to start your practice — this time may never actually come! Be realistic in choosing a time that suits your current lifestyle. You don’t need to rise at the crack of dawn, but you do need to be consistent.
2- Lighten up your Diet
Choose more fresh fruits and vegetables. If you have studied ayurveda, choose foods that suit your constitution and that are more sattvic in quality (see the 3 gunas). I also cannot say enough about kicharee, which is a dish that is very supportive of meditation and of a strong, healthy body in general. As much as possible, reduce foods that are processed, pre-packaged or microwaved, and reduce your intake of wheat and refined sugar. This makes it easier for your mind to rest and relax.
Perhaps you are not necessarily hat you eat, but a diet that is light, freshly prepared and eaten with care, attention and enjoyment will go a long way to supporting your total health, as well as your meditation practice.
3- Create a Space of Beauty
Choose a space in your home where you can feel comfortable and sit without disruption. You may choose to practice on a cushion, or you may prefer to sit in a chair your back supported. A nice blanket, shawl or carpet can also make the area more welcoming. If you like, decorate your area with pictures or objects that remind you of your intention, uplift your heart and invite your tranquility.
4- Keep Good Company
Enjoy the company of people who uplift and inspire you. To strengthen your practice, consider taking regular classes with a teacher you trust, or meditation retreats. Mother Nature is also a lovely companion to a daily practice.
Don’t worry too much if your friends or family members do not currently meditate. You might feel ‘weird’ or guilty for taking up the practice (actually a surprisingly common sentiment), but I assure you are not alone — there are millions of people around the world who are practicing each day with you. As you practice more, you will start to find them.
With time, your peers and family members will get used to you having a practice, especially as they see the benefits in your health and happiness. They may even follow suit. Don’t be afraid to be different, to take steps outside the norm, and to be who you are.
Setting aside some alone time, even if it’s just 20-30 minutes a week, can have a powerful effect on your perspective and tranquility. The urge for more introspection is normal when starting a meditation practice. The important thing is to choose activities which rejuvenate you and support your self-inquiry.
Journaling is a powerful tool at this time, as is any artistic expression. Writing, music, nature walks and inspirational books are also helpful.
5- Don’t Worry about Results
You may want to celebrate the subtle rewards of your practice. Sleeping better? More naturally joyful? More relaxed under pressure? It’s normal for a meditation practice to bring certain immediate improvements to your day-to-day life. As much we know that meditation brings endless rewards, meditation may not also fundamentally change anything — at least not in the beginning, or in the way that we expect.
Your daily practice will bring great tests of love, self-commitment, patience, courage and non-attachment. As your awareness grows, you will often come face to face with certain parts of you that you don’t like — for example, anger, impatience, apathy, insecurity. It is common for beginners to get discouraged in the face of their inner turmoil, and assuming they are “not doing it right” or “not good at meditation” or that maybe they need a different practice or a different teacher.
To be a meditation warrior, you have to maintain a light hearted commitment to yourself in the face all your storms. If you make up your mind that meditation is something that you want in your life, you can easily pass through the test of wanting quick-fix, immediate results. Through patience and self-love, progress comes naturally.
It’s a good idea to incorporate some breathing exercises (called pranayama) before beginning your practice. Breathwork is a powerful tool to bring calm and clarity to the the mind, reduce anxiety and frenetic behaviors and open the doors to deeper states of meditation and realization. By improving the flow of oxygen to the brain, we bring relaxation to the body-mind, supporting good sleep, digestion and elimination.
7- Be Yourself
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to free your mind from all thoughts, be a perfect Buddha to benefit meditation. Naturally in your practice (and in your life), there will be good days and bad days. Meditation serves to uplift, enhance and purify whatever state you’re in. It serves to put you in touch with a great inner source of wisdom that is beyond your superficial mistakes, bad moods and worried thoughts. It is something that grows gradually within you, when practiced over time.
You don’t have to be perfect to have a meditation practice. The more you learn to accept yourself as you are, the more easily you will be able to sit with yourself in the wisdom of a quiet inner knowing, which defies all thoughts, worries, frustration and insecurities. It is this same state of friendliness toward yourself, in whatever you are experiencing in your life, which purifies you, brings forward your heart in whatever form of expression you choose.