If you follow me on Instagram, then you might know that I recently committed to doing 365 consecutive days of meditation. Yep, an entire year.
I've had an on and off relationship with meditation since I was about 21 years old and until recently, I had a practice that looked pretty similar to many people's prayer practice. I only did it when I really needed something—usually a massive decrease in my anxiety levels. Even though meditation can be helpful during periods of great stress, the deeper benefits of meditation tend to really blossom with a steady, daily practice, so I decided that this year would be the year that I finally build a really strong, grounding, daily meditation practice.
My year of meditation began on September 10th, the day that I set off on a road trip to celebrate my 33rd birthday with one of my very best friends, Suzanne Campbell, who just so happens to be a certified meditation teacher. I figured that there probably wasn’t a much better time to create a new habit than on a camping road trip during which I would have lots of distraction-free down time and the support of a meditation teacher.
It’s been 2 months since then and I am happy to say that, despite a couple of close calls, I haven’t missed a day. Today marks my 62nd day of 365 consecutive days of daily meditation and in celebration of the milestone, I thought I'd share what I've learned so far.
Set a reminder timer. This is huge because there have been at least a handful of days in the last 2 months where I've been so busy from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed that I would have completely forgotten to meditate. I now have a daily reminder timer set for a couple of different times during the day, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, that actually says, “Did you meditate today?” This reminder helps me stay on track with my commitment to myself and my practice.
Find your sweet spot. I find that I benefit most when I meditate for 15 minutes in the morning and again for 15 minutes in the evening, but I knew that I was unlikely to keep a commitment to meditating twice daily. Instead, I committed to meditating once a day, which was a much more approachable goal, and, of course, left the option for me to meditate more frequently if I felt inspired to do so. Over the past couple of months, I've realized that, if I'm going to meditate only once a day, mornings are definitely the best time for me. I'm much more likely to get in a full 20 or 30 minutes of meditation if I do it first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed. Once I’ve opened up my to-do list for the day, the chances of my meditation getting pushed into a 5-10 minute block of time right before I go to sleep increase exponentially.
Something is better than nothing. With a daily meditation practice, and really any kind of daily practice, consistency is the key. Even if it means only getting in a few minutes of sitting in silence and focusing on your breath, maintaining your commitment to your practice by getting in at least a short meditation on the days where you don't have much time or perhaps aren't super motivated makes is much less likely for you to get sucked into the “I fell off the wagon” spiral where one day off turns into 3 weeks sans meditation.
Get a good meditation timer. When I first started meditating, I would just set the timer on my phone for however long I wanted to meditate for. It seemed fine at the time, but I didn’t realize how abrasive the timer tone was until I switched over to a meditation timer app. Now I use the i-Qi clock and I absolutely love it! You can create timers for however long you wish to meditate for, but the best part is that you can choose from a variety of different chimes and gongs for a sound that will bring you out of your mediation. My favorite is the “heart bowl”, which has a low frequency and brings me back from my meditative state gently.
Don’t rush the coming out process. Speaking of coming out of the meditative state gently, I've noticed that I often have a tendency to want to jump up and into action as soon as my meditation timer goes off. This is definitely a mistake for a number of reasons. For starters, I’ve found that I'm sometimes in a deeper meditative state than I realize and jumping up to do something right away is sort of like trying to get dressed while you’re still half asleep. It’s important to take time make sure that you are connected to your body, your senses, and your surroundings before bounding in to action. I’ve also noticed that I seem to get more benefit from the meditation if I sit for just a minute or two after and sort of steep in the experience. The moments right after I come out of a meditation are often full of great clarity and can provide a space in which answers to personal issues seem to arise effortlessly, so I've learned not to rush, even when I feel like I have a million things that I need to do right now.
The days that you don’t want to meditate are the days you need it the most. I have heard many yoga teachers say that the pose you avoid or resist the most is the one that is most vital to your growth and the same seems to be true of meditation. There have definitely been days over the past 2 months where I just really didn't want to meditate. I had either packed my schedule way too tightly and felt that I didn’t have the time (I mean, who doesn’t have 5 minutes to sit still, really?) or I was feeling distracted by some really intense emotions (usually excitement or anger) that I wanted to stay submerged in. I’m not going to lie, my sessions on those days were definitely harder and I had to employ a technique one of my college professors shared with me. She taught a class on the psychology of Buddhism and we would meditate for a portion of every lecture. She wisely knew that many of us would certainly struggle with the barrage of thoughts that most people experience almost constantly but rarely notice and so she suggested that as thoughts came up during our meditations, we simply label them, let them go, and return to our breath. I’ve found this so helpful over the years and have actually found that my thoughts fall into one of a few categories—planning, fantasizing about the future, or reminiscing about the past. On the days that I feel too busy or too amped up to meditate, I often find myself making lists, scheduling, and mentally organizing my day during my meditation. As soon as I catch myself in these thoughts, I simply say silently to myself “planning” and then come back to my breath. This might happen hundreds of times over just a matter of minutes, but I've found that, despite the difficulty of staying with it, my meditations on those days in particular seem to have a dramatic impact on my ability to stay centered and aware, regardless of what's going on around me. And that is exactly why, after 2 months of daily meditation, I feel more committed to this practice than ever.