Starting a Meditation Practice (Part 1): Changing My Beliefs

I was very young when I was first exposed to meditation. I’d see pictures of monks or yogis in my mother’s yoga books and wonder just how difficult it truly was. At the time, I couldn’t imagine the benefit of “just sitting there” and doing nothing, at least that’s how it seemed to me.  As I grew older and began to gravitate towards yoga as physical practice, I left meditation out because, in my mind, it really didn’t make a difference.  Why would I just sit when I could be upside down or in a split or back bending?

Much has changed for me. In truth, it’s still difficult for me to put in words why I meditate. Some days it’s hard to get myself there. Some days it makes me cry. And yet other days I feel invisible.  I don’t think meditation will solve all my problems or open some door for me that would have otherwise stayed close. I do know, however, notice a significant difference in my mood and focus through out my day. My meditation practice looks different every day. Some days it’s a quick 3-minutes in the shower where I just focus on how the water feels on my skin. Other days, it’s longer, in a seated position, with my heater on.

I have gone through all phases of meditation from using an app, to developing my own practice, to leading meditation groups. I wanted to start a series where I offer tips for implementing a regular meditation practice, as well as share my own personal experience. As with anything, I love to give credit to my wonderful teachers, Coby Kozlowski and Steven Leonard, who both broadened my perspective on meditation and re-ignited my personal practice. Below, I have my own personal misconceptions about meditation and how those beliefs have changed with my practice overtime

  1. Meditation must be done in a specific way

Out of all my original beliefs surrounding a meditation practice, this particular one was the most limiting.  I had a very specific image in my mind of what meditation “should” look like and anything outside of that picture did not count. I thought I needed to be seated perfectly, unmoving, breathing deeply, and my mind empty. Honestly, doing that every day seems exhausting to think about now.

I started to feel like meditation was just another “to-do” on my list because it made me a better yogi and more in touch with my thoughts. And that stressed me out, which is the exact opposite purpose that meditation serves. In truth, I feel like my meditation practice really thrived when I stopped focusing on doing it correctly and began to focus on what served me best in the present moment.  In truth, everything in life is fluid and ever-changing, so it seemed almost ridiculous to expect a singular practice to stay the same.

For me, this adjustment came with a lot of experimentation. I tried meditating in bed, after yoga, before yoga, while I am waiting in the doctors office. I tried meditating standing up and seated.  One of my favorite ways to meditate now is lying down, under my weighted blanket because it helps me feel more secure and safe. That’s not to say I don’t still meditate seated and unmoving because sometimes I need that too. The point, however, is that meditation can look and feel however I need it to. The practice should be serving me, not stressing me.

I like to keep a blanket nearby for when I get cold.
  1. Some people are “good” at meditation and others are “bad”

I am always in awe of people who meditate every day. I am in awe of people who can meditate more than 20 minutes.  My mother recently participated in a meditation live stream that lasted for over an hour. How amazing.  I think one of my biggest obstacles when I first started meditation was comparing myself to others and their personal practice. I felt disheartened and frustrated because my practice was nowhere near that length or intensity. I felt like if I wasn’t logging sessions that pushed a certain time limit or engaged my brain in a certain way, I should just stop trying.

I am naturally extremely competitive, mostly with myself, so of course whenever I start something new, I compare myself to others. The thing is, meditation should not be competitive. It’s personal and something that is entirely my own.  It doesn’t make me any “worse” or “better” at meditation than anyone else. If anything, I become better the more I explore myself and the practices that I like best.

I sometimes like to think of meditation like falling asleep. I am a very specific sleeper; I need to be on my side, hugging a pillow, and basically hidden under piles of blankets. In contrast, some people need to fall asleep on their backs with arms relaxed at their sides. And some people can fall asleep in any position.  In reality, everyone has the same goal of sleep, just different methods and positions to get there.

It’s the same for meditation.  While my mother may enjoy livestreams and morning meditations on the porch, I prefer 10 minute bursts through out my day. It doesn’t make either of us “better” at the practice than the other. We are just simply more in tune with our personal best ways to meditate. And that is perfectly okay.

I usually like to meditate while lying down.
  1. Mediation apps are cheating

I was actually turned on to the Headspace app by pure accident. I had had numerous conversations with my father about it because he was using it to help him manage his anger issues.  At the time, I didn’t do much research about the app and it’s offerings and just downloaded because I wanted something to help with my anxiety. It probably sat, downloaded and unopened on my phone for the first year because I was always telling myself I would eventually get to it.

About a year before I took my teacher training, I began to take it more seriously and really liked the structure that the app offered.  It starts slow, easing the user into meditation with sessions of 3 and 5 minutes.  It also offers a variety of courses to teach specific techniques such as visualization or pre-sleep mediation.

In the few weeks leading up to my teacher training, I began to feel a bit embarrassed by my reliance on the app. I started to question if I was really cut out to become a teacher since I relied so heavily on Headspace to guide me through meditation, rather than my own intuition and skill.  This was definitely not the narrative that was promoted during my teacher training and I am so grateful for my teachers perspective on meditation and using apps. Personally, during this time, I did stop using the app but it wasn’t because I didn’t like it or thought it was a “bad” way to mediate, I simply wanted to explore other methods.

Sometimes, I find myself straying from a regular practice and becoming bored or unfocused with my current methods. For me, this is the best time to return to the app because the structure and variety help me focus. More so, it can sometimes be easier to just be guided in meditation rather than guiding myself.  I also feel like I am returning to basics at times and refreshing some terminology or sequencing that I have stopped using.

I think given how trendy meditation is today, it can seem rather overwhelming and unapproachable.  For me, starting with the Headspace app was a great way to begin and learn terminology and techniques for starting a regular meditation practice.  I also think that a practice can be developed without the use of apps. Finally, I enjoy still using the app from time to time because making time for myself can be difficult at times.   

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