Meditation doesn’t require making big life changes.
Meditation doesn’t require changing the way you eat. It doesn’t require changing your religion. And it doesn’t require ditching alcohol or becoming celibate, said Tobin Blake, meditation teacher and author of Everyday Meditation: 100 Daily Meditations for Health, Stress Relief, and Everyday Joy.
All you need is a few minutes out of your day. “Meditation can be the simplest of practices,” he said. “Meditation generally focuses on releasing thoughts about the past and future and becoming grounded in the present moment.”
Below, Blake offered his tips for starting to practice meditation.
1. View meditation as a simple relaxation technique.
Meditation is an opportunity to release everything that’s stressing and irritating you, Blake said. “[This is] not another chore, but something for you; [you’re] investing in yourself and your own peace of mind.”
So meditation is simply “sitting down, closing your eyes and intentionally relaxing,” Blake said, adding that you can start with as little as three to five minutes twice a day. Eventually you can work your way up to 20 minutes.
Don’t worry if 2.5 minutes of your 3-minute meditation is spent feeling restless and distracted by surrounding sounds, Blake said — feeling relaxed for just 30 seconds is still a powerful thing “that reshapes our thinking.”
2. Choose a particular style.
Blake doesn’t use any particular meditation technique, although he believes beginners can benefit from one. For instance, he suggested a simple mantra meditation that uses one word, such as “peace,” “joy,” “soft,” “light,” or “God.”
Blake also suggests finding a comfortable spot to sit; sitting up (it keeps you alert); taking several deep breaths; and intentionally relaxing your body by tensing and relaxing your muscles. After you feel relaxed, on your next inhalation, breathe normally and repeat the word “peace” either aloud or silently. Then repeat the word as you exhale.
If you’re a visual person, focus on an image as you’re meditating, such as watching ocean waves go in and out.
The goal is to pick a practice that “relaxes you enough to the point you feel that inner click.”
3. Schedule it.
Schedule your meditation practice so you’re consistent about it, Blake said. “Make a firm commitment from the outset.” Many people think they’re too busy to practice. But, as Blake said, “If you can’t spare 3 minutes a day, you need to make big changes to your life.”
4. Don’t resist your thoughts.
Many people get upset with their monkey minds. But “your thoughts are a part of this experience,” Blake said. He likened it to a body builder doing bicep curls. They don’t curl just once. As they curl a dumbbell their muscle flexes; as they uncurl, their muscle relaxes. “It’s natural during meditation to go deep into the practice and then get back to the ordinary thinking process,” he said.
Acknowledge your busy brain, and let your thoughts come and go, Blake said. “Meditation is more about introducing peaceful thoughts into your thinking,” he said.
Also, this is why starting with a short practice is a good idea. At first, it’s much easier to focus for five minutes than for 15.
5. Reprogram your thoughts.
It’s hard to meditate when negative thoughts bombard your brain. Blake teaches his students to reprogram their thoughts by using positive, affirming phrases. Such sentences “give you a place to refocus and calm your thinking, free from judgment,” he said. You can use sentences that are meaningful to you from books, poems or even something you’ve seen on TV, he said. “Use words that will reinforce happiness in you.”
He gave the following examples:
- I love who I am.
- I love the people in my life.
- I am strong.
- I am healthy.
- I am beautiful.
- I am well.
Repeat these sentences during your meditation, he said. Repeat them anytime you feel the opposite of that affirmation, he said. Or better yet, repeat them every hour, Blake said.
Blake never leaves his house without spending a few minutes becoming aware of his thoughts and deciding the type of day he’d like to have.
For more information on meditation and Tobin Blake’s work, check out his website.