Meditation looks like the simplest thing in the world. After all, what could be easier than sitting on a cushion and doing nothing? For many who try meditation the simple answer is: anything. Why? Because when people begin to meditate and park themselves on their meditation cushions, their brains often hit Mach 5. They're often unable to stop from thinking about every little worry in their lives. In my early years of meditation, I would frequently rise from my cushion with a fresh to-do list. I was reminded of this recently when a group of yogis who hadn't had much luck in adult meditation classes asked if I could give their kids lessons for 40 days. I agreed, and now the yogis, along with a couple hundred people in our mindfulness together online community, are practicing mindfulness four minutes a day twice a day for 40 days.
How, then, to make meditation easier when you're starting out?
1. Make sure you know what you want from your practice. For starters, take a look at why you're practicing meditation. Many novices hope meditation will help them manage the ups and downs of every day life. And you can develop mindful awareness through the practice of meditation. Mindful awareness is paying attention to what's happening in, to, and around you -- with kindness and compassion for yourself and others.
2. Don't take it too seriously. Mindfulness in everyday life is not a religion, so don't approach it as one. Don't take it too seriously and try to keep your sense of humor. Many of the machinations of our minds are hilarious when looked at from this perspective. Which leads me to #3.
3. There's no such thing as success or failure in meditation. Don't judge yourself as a success or failure at meditation -- there's no such thing. Remember your answer to #1 -- your aim is take the mindful awareness that you develop on the cushion out into your everyday life.
4. Keep it simple. If you can commit to meditating 30 to 45 minutes a day and stick with it, that's fantastic. But this can be an unrealistic goal when you're just starting out. Try to commit to practicing twice a day, for a few minutes at a time, for a specific number of days. Maybe you're comfortable committing to seven minutes in the morning and seven minutes in the evening for seven consecutive days. Maybe four minutes a day, twice a day, for 40 consecutive days. It doesn't matter which regimen you choose; what matters is that you choose one that you can manage in your daily life and stick with it.
5. Find a buddy. If possible, enlist someone to join you in this experiment. You don't need to practice in the same room at the same time as your buddy but it's helpful to check in with someone else when you start out so you have a sounding board and can help each other stay on track.
6. Have some fun with it. Before you sit down to meditate, spend a few minutes doing a simple physical or playful activity that you enjoy. You might try jumping jacks, stretching, sipping a cup of tea, or playing music and singing or dancing along. It's tough to meditate if your mind is busy with planning, organizing or analyzing, but by playing first, you can help yourself transition from an analytical mindset into a more relaxed and playful one.
7. When in doubt, count. To get past your thoughts so that you can hear what you are feeling, meditators count breaths. Here's a simple breath exercise to focus and quiet a noisy, thinking mind: Relax your body on the inhale, and on the exhale hold the number 1 in your mind for the entire out-breath. Repeat this sequence with the next two breaths, holding the number 2 in your mind on the second exhale and the number 3 in your mind on the third. Repeat the sequence, starting with 1, and keep counting three breaths until your mind quiets and you can rest in the sensation of breathing in and out without counting.
8. Take it off the cushion and into your life. If your aim is for mindful awareness to help you better manage life's ups and downs, take some time during the workday to get in touch with your sensory experience. Once a day, do something mindfully where you're aware of all of your senses while you do it -- whether it's opening a door, putting on your socks, or drinking a warm cup of coffee. Take the time to feel (not to think about, but feel) the touch of the doorknob against the palm of your hand, or the soles of your feet against the floor with each step, or the smell of your morning coffee. My guess is you'll be surprised by the power of this simple practice.