However, this does not mean that all you need to do is sit down, close your eyes and hey presto: land of peace and bliss. If you’ve tried this you’ll know it’s not that easy. Just as you need to warm up before playing sports, or practice scales to learn the guitar, there are ways to train and prepare yourself for meditation and there are tricks and techniques that can make all the difference to the effectiveness of your sitting practice.
Which is good news for the many people who have tried meditation and found it difficult, because it means there is reason to hope. If you have trouble concentrating in meditation or other problems with your practice, there are a number of things you can do about it. Here are ten tips I teach people to help improve their meditation.
1. Meditate regularly at the same time, twice a day.
If you sincerely want to advance in your meditation it is important to establish a habit of regular practice.
- Regular meditation has been shown to build new, healthy neural pathways in the brain. Think about when deer repeatedly follow the same route through the forest. They wear a path, which eventually becomes the default. A neural pathway is the default path created by your thoughts when you keep thinking along the same lines. Imagine if the deer only walked that path occasionally rather than every day. During the periods between the animals irregular visits the weeds and grass would grow back over the path and it would never become the default. You can only carve new neural pathways with regular practice. This is the way to change your brain and take control of your default thinking. Make neuro-plasticity your ally and reshape your brain, your mind and your life.
- Meditating at the same time every day creates a rhythm in your physiology. Just as eating at regular times trains your body to prepare for digestion by secreting digestive fluids right on schedule and you feel hungry just before meal times, your body’s bio-rhythms can be trained to prepare so that when meditation time rolls around you ‘feel’ like meditating. Optimum times for meditation are around sunrise and sunset - that keeps us in tune with the rhythms of the Earth.
- One reason to practice twice a day if you are using a mantra in meditation is because the subliminal effect of the mantra carries over for about twelve hours. So if you meditate twice daily this subliminal effect will be continuous and will build over time.
- People who are beginning meditation frequently report having difficulty finding the time to meditate. Try writing down everything you do during the whole day for a couple of days. Then look for spaces where you could fit in even a short meditation. Almost everyone has time somewhere in their day when they are doing something unimportant. Use those time slots for meditation. Experienced meditators often find that they need less sleep due to the deep state of physiological rest during meditation. So you may gain back most of your time spent in meditation by sleeping less.
- You can try short meditations at first. If you find it difficult to sit for a long time, start with short sessions and gradually build it up. I know someone who had great difficulty concentrating but she knew that she needed to meditate so she started with just two minutes per session. Each week she increased the time and now she meditates quite happily for half an hour or more. Regularity is the key.
2. Choose your meditation spot carefully.
- Set up your special meditation place. It should not be the same spot you sleep in. Choose a separate corner or even a small room as your meditation space. Keep it clean and fresh and meditate there regularly. After a while you will find that when you go to this space you naturally want to meditate there.
- The impression we leave in a physical space is subtle but builds over time. I’ve meditated on a flat rock outside a cave where a great yogi used to meditate for many years. It was a very powerful experience and it helped me to appreciate that the atmosphere we generate over the years in our meditation spot can also be felt by others.
- Meditating in nature can be a special experience. I love to meditate by the ocean or near a waterfall or stream. The negative ions generated by the moving water induce an alert, calm state. I’ve also had wonderful experiences meditating in the snow…
- Of course you can meditate anywhere, but it helps to have a quiet and special place dedicated to your practice.
3. Meditate on an empty stomach.
- After eating the energy of your body is directed toward your digestive processes at the expense of your mental processes. Think of the mental sluggishness you feel following a heavy meal. Meditation requires alertness, concentration, mental energy and ‘wakefulness’. It is much easier to meditate with an empty stomach.
- If you are really famished and your hunger is distracting you, try eating something light like fruit, or drink some juice. Then meditate.