Starting a meditation practice is hard! But people make it even harder for themselves by focusing on the wrong sorts of things, or failing to prioritize consistency. That said, I wanted to share some of the more common mistakes I’ve seen beginning meditators make when trying to form a meditation practice.
1. Starting Too Small
Starting with 5 or 10 minutes of meditation may be the reason you’ve never been able to form a meditation habit. (It’s kind of like running a single mile over and over again.) Most teachers, including myself, recommend beginning with at least 20 minutes of practice a day. Not 4 days a week or 5 days a week, but twenty minutes, sitting down on your butt, every single day.
2. Not Sticking to a Single Method
There are a dizzying number of meditative techniques out there. There is walking meditation, there is vipassana, there is lovingkindness, there is Transcendental, Mantra-focused, object-focused — you get the idea.
Many of these are valid and appropriate. But what has worked for me has been simple, breath-focused meditation. In breath focused meditation, we (1) bring our awareness to the breath and (2) when the mind wanders, we note that the mind has wandered, and we bring our awareness back to the breath.
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You don’t have to stay here forever. Once you’ve done this for a couple of months continuously, you’re very welcome to begin exploring other interesting techniques. Lately, I’ve been especially intrigued by body scan meditation and loving-kindness meditation.
However, if you try to jump around with your tecniques early on you will not form the vital habit of sitting your body down and quieting the mind. In the earliest stages of meditation, all we’re trying to do is get our bodies and minds accustomed to sitting still.
3. Expecting to Feel Something MAGICKY
The benefits of meditation are real. They are also subtle and complicated and not always quick to reveal themselves. Things worth having are not easily won and reaping the benefits of meditation requires consistency.
Don’t stop because you haven’t felt something trippy of magical.
I’m currently on Day 128 of daily practice and my experience on my meditation cushion has been, for the most part, banal. (That’s not to say magic doesn’t happen). But if you’re looking only for the magic, especially in the beginning of practice, you’re more likely to get frustrated and quit. Don’t quit! It is absolutely 100% worth hanging in.
4. Spending More Energy on Accoutrements Than On Practice
You really don’t need much for meditation. When I started my meditation practice I bought all these candles and essential oils so that I could start a “ritual.” It made it all feel exciting and pretty. Today, 4 months into a daily practice, I get up, brush my teeth, sit myself on my cushion, and set a timer. No candles, no smells, no music, no journaling. This is a habit: A powerful daily habit that can change the way you interact with and experience the world. It is not a glamorous ritual. Now that’s not to say there isn’t room for these accoutrements, but they are more likely to be helpful when you have ample time and space to practice, and the energy: think Saturday afternoon practice vs. daily 6:00AM practice.
5. Failing to Get Buy-In From Family and Friends
I have tried, and failed, to start a meditation practice many times in the past. When I did, I would start my meditation practice quietly. I didn’t want to discuss my intention with my friends or roommates. Meditation felt a bit fringe to me and I worried they might judge me or think I was weird.
Luckily, meditation and mindfulness is becoming far more mainstream. Still, if you’re worried that the people in your life might judge you for your practice, it’s best to try to educate them about what it is that you’re trying to do. Be open and honest with people about your intentions and the known benefits of the practice.
I have yet to encounter one individual who has told me that my meditation practice was stupid or dumb or weird when I made a genuine effort to explain it to them. And if they’re thinking it silently…their problem, not mine!
Feeling that you can be honest with the people in your life about why you’re stealing away for 20 minutes makes it a lot easier to form a meditation habit. And they’ll probably actively support you in it, which is all the better!