When you start meditating, it’s a good idea to begin with bite size pieces, or ‘spot meditations’. You may have read or heard that practicing 20 minutes twice a day is ideal, however, setting this as your initial goal is both ambitious and most likely a recipe for failure. I hear time and time again from people who have tried to sit for 20 minutes a day, off the cuff, and were put off by meditation because they found it difficult, or ‘impossible’ and concluded they’re no good at it and ‘can’t do it’.
Here’s 3 ways to get started to meditate, in as little as 10 seconds, to try on for size. Remember you need to do it, not just read about it. Simply set aside some time to practice one or two of the below spot meditations. A great place to practice these is during one of the many times you’re waiting in your day. Waiting times could include at the traffic lights, at the railway boom gates, in an appointment (sans mobile phone), waiting for the train, bus or tram, waiting for the elevator, in line for coffee, for the kettle to boil, at school pick up or in the supermarket queue. There’s lots of opportunities for you to practice throughout the day. The more annoying or frustrating you find the waiting time to be, the better as you’ll not only have found the to practice but also changed your mindset to see it as an opportunity or gift, rather than a ‘time waster’.
Here’s three of my favourite ways to get started meditating:
1) FOFBOC* ‘Feel your Feet On the Floor and your Bottom On the Chair’. If you’re standing, just do the ‘FOF’! As you say the words, feel the sensations. If you find this isn’t working for you, it may be that you’re just ‘thinking it’ intellectually. The key is to shift from your thinking mind to your sensing mind and really feel the sensations of your feet in your shoes, the weight through the soles of your feet, resting or standing on the floor.
2) Stop before you start** As you finish an activity, consciously take note of this fact, of sending an email, leaving a meeting, finalising a report. Then take a conscious, deep breath in and a gentle, longer breath out (can be a sigh). As you breathe out completely, mentally stop. Find the point of stillness at the end of the breath. Acknowledge you’re starting the next thing, and start.
3) Tune in to the four phases of your breath: Take a moment to follow your breath and notice 1) the inhale 2) the pause at the top of the breath 3) the exhale and 4) the pause at the base of the breath before you transition back to 1) inhale.
You may like to add a rhythm to this in the timing of 2:1:2:1 (breathe in for a count of 2, pause for 1, out for 2, pause for 1), adjusting the speed of your count to a rhythm that works for you.
As you progress, you can gently extend the length of your inhale and exhale; for example, to a 4:2:4:2 rhythm.
Each of these practices, while simple, quick, and opportunistic, can have a positive impact on your energy and stress levels, even if practiced a hand full of times a day. Each time you practice these ‘spot meditations’ you’re shifting out of your thinking mind and into sensory awareness, allowing your nervous system a stint in a more relaxed state, easing the mental tension in your head and physical tension in your body.
While these spot meditations are short and sweet, you can extend each of them to a more formal practice by:
1) Tuning in to the sensations of your body sitting; the weight of your body, the texture of your clothing on your skin, the air touching your face and shape your body is making, for example. Each time your mind prompts you with a random thought, notice this and bring your awareness back to the sense you’ve chosen to focus on, of your body sitting. Practice from 2 to 10 minutes.
2) After completing a task, or before or after having a break, take a few minutes to consciously follow your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice where you sense the breath most easily and keep your awareness there as you gently breathe in and out. Again, when your mind wanders, bring it back to your focus (the breath in this example). Practice for 2 to 5 minutes.
3) Follow the four phases of your breath as a meditation practice; or start with this and shift to a broader awareness of the body breathing, bringing your awareness back each time the mind wanders, as it is going to. Practice for 2 to 10 minutes.
Tip – you can’t stop the mind from thinking, that’s what it does. You can however choose whether to get caught up in the thoughts of your thinking mind, or to ‘sit back’ and tune in to your sensory experiences as detailed in the three practices above. Shifting from the active, thinking mind state, to a more passive, meditative mind state starts by tuning in to your sensory experience. The passive mind state this enhances, does not mean you won’t have great ideas, and lose your edge. Quite to the contrary, you may find you’re more receptive to insights and surprisingly more efficient and effective when the thinking mind is less disruptive and distracting.
*I picked this up from a practice done in some primary schools. The feedback I’ve received from people in corporate workplaces is this is super helpful when in a heated meeting, to stay present and able to respond rather than react in discussions.
** this is inspired by Eric Harrison’s book ‘The 5 Minute Meditator’ which contains a variety of spot meditations.
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