Years ago, before I was truly on my health journey and way before I got my Lyme disease diagnosis, I found myself constantly at odds with my stress and anxiety. Completely burnt out and feeling like my brain was mush, I was frequently breaking down emotionally, crying in public places, and struggling in relationships. It was not healthy for me or my life. Numerous times, people suggested I exercise more, embrace gratitude, do yoga. A doctor once told me I needed to “build up my resiliency” – whatever that meant. Not knowing what to do and overwhelmed by decisions, I did nothing about it. One day, I was listening to a podcast that suggested a daily practice of meditation. The person being interviewed said they simply just started doing it one day and I thought – hey, why can’t I do that. So I did. Here’s my guide to beginning a meditation practice for busy people.
I could talk you through all the scientific benefits of meditation, but what better than to just send you to the Mayo Clinic’s info on meditation? Since I’m not a doctor or an expert (surprise!) all I can do is talk about my own experience with meditation: it changed my life. Not in a big or obvious way, but by changing small parts of my life: my attitude, my mindset, my concentration. Since starting my daily meditation practice, I feel like I’m finally in control of my anxiety and stress. Not all the time, of course. If you deal with anxiety, you know the symptoms can sometimes bubble up and boil over. For me, it’s the best way to start the day and it sets me up for a good day, every day. Best of all, it incorporates many other pieces of the puzzle people often suggested I try – it’s truly one of the best daily habits you can have!
What meditation is
Meditation is one of those things that’s hard to define since it is used for many different outcomes and can be done in different ways. Essentially, however, it is the practice of focusing and training your brain to be more aware. That goal can be mindfulness, learning to self-calm, or just gaining perspective. For me, I wanted to learn mindfulness and also learn to self-calm and control my brain and emotions better. Meditation, as you know, is often done in a seated or lying position in silence.
Let’s talk about what meditation is not. Sometimes, when speaking to others about meditation, they say “Oh yeah, I love meditation! I basically meditate when I do X.” These activities range from taking a walk to “getting into the zone” at work, but either way, this is not meditation. Although these other things are awesome and extremely beneficial, taking the time to do nothing but meditate is what meditation is all about. We are almost always multitasking now, sometimes without even realizing it. That has made meditation all that more important.
Getting set up to meditate
Meditation doesn’t work if you don’t set it up correctly to work well with your life. For the best results, you will need a time of day where your mind isn’t buzzing with a million thoughts. For most, that’s in the morning. I’m not saying you can’t meditate anywhere at any time – in fact, with daily practice, it’s totally possible to meditate at any given time. In the beginning, however, it does help to pick the time you are already at peace the most. You will need to pick a place where you won’t be distracted, preferably with no electronics on. Finally, you will need to find a comfortable position that works best for you. In the beginning, I laid on my back because I have a hard time sitting up straight comfortably. Now, I use a pillow and lean against my guest bedroom futon – hey, whatever works.
More than just the physical, you need to set yourself up to succeed with your mindset as well. A good thing to remember is that it’s called a meditation practice for a reason. It will be really hard in the beginning because your brain will not be used to it. Be kind to yourself, and keep practicing. It will get easier with time!
Different ways to start a meditation practice
The awesome thing about living in 2020 is that there are so many ways to start doing pretty much anything. The same goes with meditation. Depending on what you’re most comfortable with, there are many options to explore as far as starting a meditation practice. Here are a few options:
Using an App
This is a really great option for many people, but especially busy people. Many apps have experts who have carefully mapped out the best route to go for starting a meditation practice. They can set you up with a timeline and you can log your daily practice. They also usually have resources for you to use and include tips and tricks along the way. This is a wonderful option if you’re not quite sure what to do and don’t want to – or can’t – just dive right in. One that comes highly recommended is the app Headspace. Not only do they offer a free trial for a week to see if you like them, but right now they are offering a year of membership for folks who are unemployed. Another (free) option is the app MyLife, which helps guide users into good daily habits with other mindfulness tips.
Long before I started meditating daily, I used guided meditation on Youtube. My usage was occasional and mostly when I found myself anxiously awake at night with a million thoughts running through my head. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of guided meditation videos on Youtube – almost too many, in fact. There’s a video for pretty much anything – troubles sleeping, basic meditation, meditation for anxiety, etc. This is a really great way to ease into meditation without just diving in as well, and is a great option for folks who don’t want to deal with an app. You just go to Youtube, search for “meditation” and go along your merry way. It’s also a great option for busy folks because you can find videos of all different lengths.
I’ll suggest two of my favorite Youtube channels for guided meditation – Jason Stephenson and PowerThoughts Meditation Club. Jason Stephenson has a meditation video for pretty much everything, and I’ve had great success in following his guided meditation. He has an incredibly soothing voice that doesn’t make me roll my eyes, which is awesome. PowerThoughts Meditation Club is also a popular choice, with many videos addressing various topics and 1.54M subscribers.
Dive right in
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, I started my own meditation practice simply by just doing it every day. One night, I said to myself “I’m going to set my alarm and get up early to reserve time to meditate for 5 minutes” and I did just that. As a busy person who is also budget-conscious, I didn’t want to spend time clicking around on an app or online. One of my biggest problems is with online distractions, so having an egg timer in my meditation area with no electronics was my way to go. The best way to start meditating this way is to set small attainable goals for yourself. Start with two minutes, and do that every day for a week. Build up to 3 minutes, then 4, etc. I stayed at 5 minutes for a really long time, and now I meditate between 7 and 10 minutes. I’d like to work up to 30, but my time is limited so it’s time I’d have to set aside just for meditating.
The hardest part of meditating is just that – meditating. It is possibly one of the hardest things I have ever done. Just sitting there clearing my head and only focusing on one thing – or sometimes, nothing – is an extremely difficult task. I have fallen off the meditation wagon multiple times and had to start back at 2 minutes before. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay that it’s difficult. Your brain is a muscle and this is just like working out, and equally important. I hope this guide will inspire you to start a daily meditation practice of your own, because meditation is truly wonderful no matter where you are in your meditation journey!