Meditation! What a tough nut to crack. I’ve been attempting to keep up with a meditation practice for over 3 years. Rather, I maintain an awesome meditation practice for about 2 weeks at a time and I feel GREAT! I am calmer and nicer; things just don’t get under my skin as easily when I meditate in the mornings. Of course, after a few weeks of consistent meditation something happens and it throws a wrench in my routine. I stay up to late working on a project and then don’t want to wake up early to meditate, OR I need to wake up early to do something for work and that 30 minutes of sleep kind of trumps my meditation practice. By the time I have a minute to meditate I’d rather curl up with a nice glass of wine and throw on my favorite show on Netflix!
I always feel guilty when I fall off the meditation wagon, and I'm not always so fast to hop back on it! I just cannot ignore the benefits of a meditation practice. Relieving anxiety, improving mood, sharpening my thinking, and lowering my blood pressure -- and these benefits add up to improve overall quality of life! So, how do I get myself to maintain a consistent practice when it seems so daunting and measuring the benefits is so difficult.
Then it hit me, what if I thought about meditating like a workout for my brain? Just like working out, there are so many benefits to doing it. In the short-term it may be challenging, but in the long-term my WHOLE life is improved. So I thought, “What would happen if you treated your meditation practice like your workout routine at the gym”?
1. First, you would need to make a commitment to integrating a meditation practice into your life.
People decide to go to the gym for various reasons; to fit into a wedding dress, improve cardiovascular health, build muscle mass, win body building competitions, or just to maintain a healthy life-style. No matter what brings you to the practice, you’ll only get the results you want if you STICK with it. The same thing applies to meditation, whether you are trying to combat depression, improve your memory and cognition, mitigate stress, or join a Buddhist monastery, the only way you get the results that you want is to make a commitment and stick to it!
2. You would build up your routine slowly.
We all know that person (maybe we are that person) that goes to the gym SUPER hard, for about 3 days. They become so sore that they ‘take a few days off.’ A few days becomes a few weeks, a few months, and then January 3rd they make their annual trip to the gym. The key to maintaining a workout routine is to build it up slowly, know your limits and honor them. It’s the same with meditation. Sure, you can join that group that does hour-long meditation circles every Friday—but if you’re new to the practice you’ll probably do it once or twice and then never come back! Meditation can be very challenging, it can be difficult to focus, feel boring, hurt your back, etc. If you’re new to meditation, maybe you start with a commitment of 5 minutes a day 5 days a week and set new goals for yourself. After you complete a month of 5 minutes a day you go on to 10 minutes a day, so on and so forth. Over time you may even find different WAYS to meditate that helps keep your practice consistent, which brings me to my next point....
3. You would find the method of meditation that you like the best!
There are SO many ways to workout, while some people may hold strong beliefs about how to best achieve a certain goal, it really all comes down to what you enjoy doing and that you are doing it in a SAFE way. Whether its cycle, weight lifting, Zumba, aerial yoga ;-), running, mountain climbing, WHATEVER—do it because you LIKE it, not just because you need it. Same with meditation, you will meet plenty of gurus out there that say they have the only ‘real’ method of meditating, but the truth is there are countless ways to mediate. Sure, you can sit on a cushion close your eyes and OM, you can also do visualization, guided mediation, walking mediation, coloring, the possibilities are endless. The main point is that you are present in the moment and honest with yourself about any thoughts or feelings that arise while you meditate.
4. When life throws you lemons, you would still find a way to practice!
Those with a consistent workout routine know that life can get in the way of your routine, whether it’s a work problem keeping you from the gym, you’re on vacation, or maybe you broke your pinky toe. To most people these problems are big enough to keep you away from your routine (at least temporarily) but the truth is, it doesn’t have to. If you’re truly dedicated to maintaining your practice, you find ways to work around difficult situations. Like doing push-ups in your office, finding the nearest cycle studio to your vacation pad, or taking up bench based workouts to protect your little toe. Nothing stands in the way of your workout. The same is true for meditation. Even when life gets in the way you can find ways to press the pause button and connect to the moment; whether you turn the lights off in your office and focus on your breath for five minutes, take a slow intentional walk around a nearby park or change up your meditation style to suite your physical needs. It can be done with a little creativity.
5. You would keep coming back to it.
That cross-country road trip, family emergency, broken leg, rough semester at school, little bundle of joy; something finally caught up with you, and you weren’t able to work out for months. At this point you probably forgot the exhilaration of an invigorating lift, or the feel of the endorphin rush from a 5-mile run. But one day you have the time, and instead of reaching for that bag of Doritos, you throw on your running shoes because it’s a damn beautiful day outside. Within a mile you’re out of breath and the next day your legs feel like jelly, but you could smell the fresh cut grass, or that familiar feeling of climbing chalk on your hands and you know that you’re home again. And you want to get back to where you were before. That same feeling happens with meditation. After some time away, it may be difficult to calm your mind, but afterwards you feel a little lighter and you know that you can always come back to this practice and build up to the place you were before.
No matter who you are or what you do, just know that it is okay to take the time and focus on yourself. It is not selfish or egotistical to feel good about yourself. You spend more time with yourself than anyone else, so you might as well enjoy your own company and do what you can to stay healthy, alert, and happy. Namaste.