Day after day, you sit on the cushion, but every time you commit to sit your thoughts pull you away. Or maybe it’s not your mind, but it’s your body: your legs fall asleep, your back starts to hurt, and pretty soon all you can think about is the tightness in your spine. Day after day this is your cycle.
You’ve heard the benefits of meditation, but you only leave the cushion more stressed out. The issue isn’t your dedication: I’d like to lay out a few tips that will help rekindle your love of meditation and maybe help you go deeper than you’ve ever gone.
1. Create a space
Sometimes we carry all of our problems, issues, and worries onto the cushion with us. Instead of starting with an open mind, we start with a mind that’s already in a fury. We’re worried we don’t have time to meditate, or it’s going to make us late for work. What we need to do is inject some space, and we can do this simply by dedicating a certain area of our room to meditation. Maybe it’s a corner that we decorate with a rug or some shrine, or a picture of our loved ones. Whatever it is, just make sure it invokes a sense of peace within you.
Before you set foot in that space, make sure to go in with a clear head and positive intentions. Do your best to leave your problems off the cushion, or out of your corner. It might seem silly, but ask your mind if it could mellow out for a moment. Offer a reward for your mind once you’re out of meditation—just make sure to follow through.
2. Get rid of expectations
So many of us have the expectation that the moment we engage in meditation we’re going to be calm, serene, and forget about our daily stresses. When our experience doesn’t measure up to the image in our minds, then we get discouraged. Instead of letting whatever comes up arise and pass, we let ourselves get caught up. The secret is going into your practice with no expectation of an outcome. Think of this practice as allowing you to go beyond your thoughts.
Think of your thoughts as a raging waterfall; now imagine that you’re in the cave behind the waterfall, letting your thoughts flow by. There’s no need to get caught up in the stream.
3. Don’t force or judge
This goes hand-in-hand with setting expectations for our practice. We often demand too much of ourselves, not letting ourselves ease into our new practice. We make ourselves sit for an hour every day, or at least hold the expectation we should be doing this. The key here is to demand less.
Don’t force yourself to sit if it hurts your body, and don’t force yourself to sit longer than you can endure. Instead, think of your practice as something that builds slowly over time. Start small—try five minutes a day. The benefits are more tangible and actually increase faster when you use continual steady effort, similar to compound interest.
Over time, you’ll find it easier to sit for longer and longer periods. Start small and you’ll have huge gains in the long run.
4. Use an anchor
We expect that once we sit down and resume a posture that our thoughts will stop, as we’re seeking a state that is complete emptiness. Instead of beating yourself up every time you get taken away by the current of thought, just remind yourself to come back. This should be a gentle nudge; laugh at yourself if you have to.
The key here is to have an anchor, such as your breath. When you get washed away and start engaging in thought, just try and remind yourself to come back to your breath. What you’re doing is building awareness: The more often you realize you’re caught up in thought, the less often you’ll actually get wrapped up.
When in doubt, start to follow your breath.
5. Use technology to drop you into a deeper state
If you’ve tried everything above and nothing seems to be working, you might need a little assistance. There’s a certain kind of audio track called “binaural beats”: what they do is play sounds at a certain frequency that your mind can align with. This is usually coupled with other relaxing sounds, such as waves crashing or birds chirping. This combination of sounds gives your mind something to focus on, while at the same time your mind syncs up with the lower frequency tones, bringing your meditation to a deeper state.
If you want to boost your meditation practice and drop into deeper states than you’ve ever been, give the above tips a try, make some space for one or two of them in your routine. Remember that the lasting benefits of meditation really kick in once you’ve established a set routine.