Meditation has always been a struggle for me. I have a hard time sitting still, and am always fidgeting or multitasking or something. So this blog post is something of a (humble) triumph: I have finally been able to stick with a regular meditation practice. Given that it's taken me ten-plus years of classes and retreats and a yoga teacher training to get here, I thought I might share my routine with the hope that it will inspire you to create and play with possible routines of your own.
1. Make time in the morning. Like so many other things, if I don't meditate right away, I am likely to not do it later in the day. Right now, I am putting off a run that I should have done this morning. Make the time to practice self-care and start your day off right.
2. Get moving. It doesn't have to be a run. I usually start my day with three rounds of simple sun salutations. Just enough to wake up the body and get the blood flowing.
3. Get comfy. I sit on a meditation cushion (I use an older version of this one) propped on my futon. This is an extremely comfortable combo that keeps my legs and spine supported. The more comfortable you are, the less likely you are to become distracted.
4. Use technology. My iPhone has changed the way I practise. I've set the timer's alarm to a lovely soft chime, so that when it's time to move into the next stage of my morning practise, I am reminded to do so gently. Using an alarm also means there is one less thing for your mind to worry about.
5. Practice pranayama. This is the newest addition to my morning routine, and it's the one that has made all the difference. Once I've finished my sun salutations, I make my way to my cushion-and-futon setup. And then I set my iPhone timer for 3-5 minutes to practice something called the four-square breath: I inhale for four counts, retain for four counts, exhale for four counts, and retain for four counts (avoid breath retentions if you're a mama-to-be). All breathing here is done through the nose, rather than the mouth. I repeat this until my chime-alarm sounds.
6. Meditate in stages. After my pranayama, I set my iPhone timer for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. During that time, I use my mala beads to practice japa meditation, repeating a mantra that's near and dear to me 108 times (once for each bead). And then I rest my hands on my knees, or in my lap, and focus on mindful breathing or metta (loving-kindness) meditation, depending on what I need most that day.
7. Don't rush. Once the alarm sounds and my time is up, I allow myself lots of time and space to bring small movements back to my body, to open my eyes and all them to adjust to the light, to begin thinking about and moving into the rest of my day.
That's it! Nothing too complex, just a solid routine -- which appeals to my Type-A organizational skills. And the positive effects are more than enough to keep me sticking with it: I'm feeling better able to focus on tasks, my energy levels are up, my moods are more even-keel and I am way less stressed. Self-care for the win!
If you still need some convincing about the positive benefits of meditation and mindful breathing, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out. It's full of practical examples and scientific evidence about how meditation can make you happier and more productive.