I practiced yoga – a lot of yoga – for five years before I could bring myself to meditate. Every time I tried to sit still on the floor I’d space out, or cave and answer a call, or have a thought so arresting I’d literally unconsciously stand up abruptly.
For me, it took a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat in the middle of the jungle in Thailand, sitting for a total of ten or eleven hours a day, to teach me that I could really do it.
For a while I thought that that was the only real way to “get there.” Total immersion, total escape from the rhythm of my regular life.
But then I realized that while Vipassana is a truly profound experience, and one I would recommend to almost anyone, thinking that it, or something like it, has to be ground zero, is just wrong.
Meditation can be done almost anywhere at almost any time – at home, on the subway, at your desk, on a flight. Anywhere you can stop what you’re doing for a few minutes, close your eyes, and go inward.
Some people take the first step toward meditating by playing music or painting or cooking, and these activities are absolutely related to meditation in that they involve concentrating deeply.
True meditation, however, no matter which style you practice, is ultimately about being, and not about doing. It’s pursuing stillness without decision making, no matter how subconscious the decision of which color to use, or note to play, may feel. It is experiencing the self without the pressure to produce output, creative or utilitarian.
So now that’ I’ve made it sound even more intimidating, here are five super easy ways to meditate simply, within the requirements of a busy life, without having it stress you out just to get started.
1. Short bursts. Try sitting for only ten minutes at a time. Ten minutes max, once a day, and no more. Set a timer. Know it will be over soon. Maybe the timer will go off and you will decide to sit longer, but just because it’s short, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.
2. Sit still. In an ideal scenario you sit on the floor, on a blanket or a pillow, so that your hips are a little higher than your knees. Pad your crossed ankles so they don’t dig into the floor with a blanket. You can even put a pillow or block under each knee to support their weight. Try to sit up without leaning back on something. After a few minutes this will be uncomfortable if meditation is new to you. You need muscle memory for this like anything else! Make sitting still your practice and breathe through the discomfort. This is a great meditation.
Even if you’re at work or on the subway and can’t set yourself up on the floor this way, sitting totally still for ten minutes, feet flat on the floor, bum on the edge of your seat, is still a great practice.
3. Success IS trying! Simply sitting still and observing what goes on in the mind and body for ten minutes is a miracle practice. You don’t have to get to some blissed out state communing with the cosmos to do your brain and body a ton of good.
Even if you finish and say to yourself, “Whoa, that sucked,” or “I think I was spaced out the whole time,” you made progress. The act of meditating, with or without the achievement of a perceived meditative state, will bring positive results when done regularly.
4. Find a hook. Sometimes using a sensory organ – like the eyes or the ears – is a good place to get started. For example, light a candle and sit still, looking at the flame for a few seconds. Then close your eyes and try to retain the image of the flame in your mind’s eye. When the image starts to disappear open your eyes again, observe the flame, and then close your eyes and see how long the image lasts. Repeat until your time is up.
I also sometimes meditate to traditional Indian music like the sitar of Debashish Battacharya – nothing with words or emotional context. This way my ears hook my focus. Usually after five or ten minutes I can move on to observing myself without an outside stimulus.
5. Follow your breath. Once you’re seated comfortably somewhere, bring your attention to your breathing and try not to go cross-eyed! You don’t have to literally look at your nose, just try to concentrate on the cool air as it goes into, and the warm air as it goes out of your nostrils.
Don’t try to control your breathing. Rather, let its pace and depth be determined by your brainstem. All you have to do is watch, or attempt to watch. Every time a judgment comes up – I’m uncomfortable! I’m bored! This is hard! I have sh*t to do! – shut off the mental chatter, chill out, and breathe with it. It’s only ten minutes and it will do you a lifetime of good.