Establishing a meditation practice has been hard for me. Like most people, the demands on my time, not to mention the "importance" factor I like to put on other things, has been my biggest hurdle to overcome. I've dabbled in it for years, but after reading the book, The Zen Leader, I enrolled in a weekend program with its author, Ginny Whitelaw, at the Institute For Zen Leadership (IZL) hoping to kick start my practice. We were on the mats at 6:00 every morning. Wow - what a great experience! So I returned home, all energetic, and quickly watched my sitting, once again, dwindle over time. But persistence runs deep within my DNA, and I was determined to find a way to make this as routine as brushing my teeth. Here's how I finally made it stick:
Make it the first thing you do
I'm an early riser, with plenty of time in the AM for coffee and emails before I "officially" start my day. Deciding to sit, before I did anything else, was the time slot I needed - just like when we were at the dojo at IZL. The mind is a lot quieter in the morning, which helps to reduce all the chatter. But more importantly, there's nothing yet on my plate when I first wake up to distract me. And I am SO easily distracted!
Sit in bed
Speaking of distractions, just the simple act of walking to another room can get my mind starting to churn around the upcoming day's events. So I decided to sit right where I was - in bed (OK… maybe there was a comfort factor in play here as well:-) I take one of my many extra pillows and fold it under my bottom to give me the perfect cross-legged triangle. My mattress instantly becomes a gigantic sitting cushion. I can even toss some covers over my legs to keep my feet warm! "This is awesome!" I say to myself the first time I tried this. Why didn't I think of this before?
Do it for 20 minutes
Don't try and over do it - you'll discourage yourself. Twenty minutes is plenty of time each day to start reaping the benefits of meditation. If you count each breath up to 20, with a long, slow, exaggerated exhale for each one, you can do about 3-3.5 sets of these in 20 minutes. Since you ARE in bed, I suppose you could set your alarm. LOL But it won't take long for your body to automatically know when 20 minutes has passed.
Do yoga as a supplement to your sitting
Meditation is not just a few minutes of your day where you quiet the mind. It's a practice that helps you cut through the clutter, see a bigger picture and make decisions fearlessly. Doing yoga is great supplement to sitting, as it is another breath practice with similar benefits, plus an added one - it's good for your body. Yoga increases flexibility, strength and balance. It integrates the body into a mindful practice that sitting alone doesn't do for me. The incredible thing is that yoga changes me mentally, too. I eat better and take better care of myself when I am doing it on a regular basis. Yoga is a great example of how the body can change the mind.
There are many books that can teach you how to meditate, but where they often fail is in showing you how to establish a practice that is suitable for a chaotic life outside a monastery. This is how I did it. You may also download a free mediation guide to help you get started. I'll be thinking about how many others are joining me on their own pillow-top cushion tomorrow morning. Strike that - I'll think about it AFTER I sit:-)
Gassho and Namaste!