After years of failed attempts at meditating on my own, I met a man who eventually became my Vedic meditation teacher. This was back in 2003, when hardly anyone I knew was meditating. There were no apps. Just a handful of fringe meditation books, and even fewer course options.
I trained with with my teacher, and quickly went from being a reluctant meditator, to a confident, daily meditator, sitting once in the morning and again in the early evening, every day like clockwork.
Although the training I did was far out of my price range, it was a leap of faith that paid off in ways I could never have predicted. When I add up all the benefits I gained from 12 years of daily meditation (that’s more than 8,000 sittings), plus having access to my teacher for technical support, it was easily the best investment I’ve ever made.
As a full-time meditation teacher of over eight years, I’ve discovered a lot about what it takes for the average person to master the practice.
Here are seven “insider” tips from my experiences, that will hopefully make things a bit easier for your meditation endeavors:
1. You don’t need to meditate for hours.
Meditating for long stretches of time is an advanced meditator’s program (aka “the monk approach”). For regular people, sitting in meditation for an hour or two a day is unsustainable, especially when you factor in time for work, kids, hobbies and recreational activities.
The benefits of meditation actually occur faster from sitting for shorter periods every day, rather than from meditating for long stretches of time every blue moon. 15-20 minutes, no more than twice a day, has been shown to be optimal investment of time for busy urban professionals.
Even 5 or 10 minutes of meditation every day is better than meditating sporadically, or not meditating at all.
2. There is a right way to meditate.
There are certainly more efficient ways to meditate, just like there are more efficient ways to swim. With proper technique, swimmers can glide through water with ease. But without training, that same body of water becomes potentially hazardous.
Likewise, employing a simple meditation technique will allow you to glide through the multiple caverns and passages of your thinking mind with ease. Without training, you risk getting distracted by outside noises, fighting your body and drowning in your thoughts — all of which can cause your meditation to feel like torture.
The appropriate technique for you is generally going to be one that is enjoyable, and leaves you feeling more relaxed than you were before you sat to meditate.
3. Studying meditation with a teacher really pays off.
Nowadays, there are all kinds of options for learning meditation, from books, to apps, free courses and very expensive courses. And when it comes to meditation, the saying, “You get what you pay for,” still applies.
For best results, I recommend skipping the books, videos and apps, and joining a course or, better yet, studying with a teacher. No one in the history of meditation has mastered the practice from a book, or an app. When it comes to teachers, you have free options, bargain options and expensive options. Generally, the cheaper you go, the less comprehensive the instruction and support will be. Look at it like an investment — learning properly the first time around will yield a lifetime of benefits while saving you years of shoddy guesswork.
4. It's totally normal to have thoughts during meditation.
Swimmers get wet. Meditators have thoughts. Each is an unavoidable part of their respective experience. No matter how long you’ve been meditating, you will still experience thoughts, emotions and sensations in most meditations.
The only difference between longterm meditators and brand new meditators is that brand new meditators are shocked by all of the thoughts! They spend the majority of their time in meditation resisting, fighting, or feeling sorry about these thoughts. Seasoned meditators on the other hand, have long-since gotten used to the idea that they will be thinking all sorts of strange and dark thoughts during meditation, and therefore have a much easier time accepting this as a normal part of the practice.
Once you begin embracing all of your thoughts, meditation will feel a hundred times easier. And if you can go “deep” in a particular sitting, you will do so a lot quicker and easier by welcoming all of the thoughts as they arise.
5. Meditation should feel easy.
This idea that meditation is supposed to be uncomfortable, dates back to a time when people associated meditation exclusively with monasticism. But did you know that the original meditators were householders and that they had families and jobs, just like you? Householder styles of meditation were born out of the need for family-oriented people to maximize the little time they had for meditation.
These styles of meditation have quietly co-existed alongside of monk practices for thousands of years, and they got revitalized when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began teaching Transcendental Meditation in the late 1950’s. Since then, The Relaxation Response, ACEM, Primordial Sound Meditation, and Vedic Meditation all surfaced, using similar principles, such as sitting comfortably with back support, and using a sound (usually a mantra) as a triggering device for de-exciting the mind.
When you experience the householder approach, meditation goes from feeling austere and rigid, to being as natural as dreaming. If your meditation doesn’t feel that easy, it’s probably because you’re still trying to meditate like a monk.
6. Meditation is compulsory for optimum health.
Every day, our bodies accumulates stress which, if left unchecked, can have a diminishing effect on your sleep. Getting quality sleep is important for the mind to organize thoughts, and for the body to make repairs. It also helps the body protect itself against stress. Mediocre sleep, on the other hand, makes us susceptible to rapid stress accumulation, which can have detrimental effects on our long-term health.
Meditation is renown for its ability to enhance the quality of sleep, and therefore helps to ward off anxiety, depression, and other common health imbalances that have given rise to a trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry.
7. Not meditating can be expensive.
Speaking of the pharmaceutical industry, did you know that the average American spends a whopping $7,000+ a year on healthcare, and that nearly every major health problem we face has strong ties to stress accumulation? Need convincing? Just Google “symptoms of stress” and see if you don’t find every known non-genetic health issue that we suffer from as a society.
According to the Institute of Stress, “It’s hard to think of any disease in which stress does not play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected.” A recent study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion showed that daily meditation cut healthcare costs of the 142 participants by nearly 30% within five years of practicing meditation, whereas the 142 non-meditators showed no significant changes in their healthcare costs.
The bottom line? Investing in a daily meditation practice now, saves a lot of time and money down the road.
Photo courtesy of the author