11/13/2013 02:13 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

'I've Tried, But I Can't Meditate!'

Written by Jan Cloninger

I've heard that countless times. I am sure I even said it to myself when I was first learning about the practice. I've taught meditation classes for many years, and I think there are two main reasons why many people believe they can't do it: Either they don't understand the basic techniques, or they only try it a couple of times and give up.

As a parent, I know it can be especially difficult to find the time to start a practice. But I also know the time is well spent because the results can create a world of difference in our daily experience. It can also be a helpful tool for our children to develop especially as they near or enter adolescence. Meditation helps us identify and listen to our inner voice, manage stress, develop greater focus and creativity, and enhance our emotional development and overall well-being.

Many books and articles on meditation talk about mindfulness -- the ability to quiet all the chatter in our heads and be fully present to ourselves and the world around us. But mindfulness is something that is developed. Like anything else we try to master, it takes time and practice.

In order to start a meditation practice, it's helpful to use concentrated techniques. In the beginning you'll want to start each meditation with a particular focus for your mind. You can use your breath, a happy place in your imagination, or a word/phrase. I also suggest you have a timer handy.

Then sit in a comfortable position, set the timer for 3-5 minutes, and begin to breathe as deeply and comfortably as you can. Once you begin to settle in, focus your attention on your breath, happy place, or word/phrase. As you notice your mind wandering off into the never-ending mindless chatter most of us experience, just gently return your focus back to your original intent. No judgment. No frustration. Just keep returning your focus back until the timer goes off.

If you do that for 3-5 minutes once a day, before long you'll find yourself able to just sit and have a quiet mind -- although how long it lasts may differ depending on what you have going on that day. Anytime you find yourself caught in the chatter again, just return to a concentrated focus for a minute or two until the quiet returns.

It's really that simple. And the real gift is that whatever you learn how to let go of during meditation -- fear, anxiety, worry, anger, stress, to-do lists, etc. -- you will eventually learn how to let go of during your day-to-day activities, even when you're not sitting in a meditation.

Of course, you can increase the time and frequency whenever you like. It's like anything else -- the more practice you put into it the better you'll get.

I remember when I first committed to developing a meditation practice. The hardest part was just sitting down to do it. I always had a million reasons why I should be spending my time doing something else. But once I sat, quieting my mind for just a few minutes, I was always so glad that I did.

Developing a meditation practice changed the way I move through life. It helped me to find a place of calmness at my core, understand and manage my emotions, increase my focus and creativity, make more intentional choices, be more fully present to whatever I am engaged with in this moment, and so much more.

If you've wanted to develop a mediation practice but just haven't had much success, I encourage you to try again. It's a skill that can provide many benefits -- personally, as a parent, and in the lives of your children.

You can contact Jan at