Looking to improve or nourish your meditation practice? Eager to refine your focus and develop your continuity of practice? Look no further, here are 10 foolproof ways to boost your practice…
1. Make It a Daily Practice
If meditation isn’t yet a daily practice, make it one (if it is, jump to #2). I can’t emphasise the importance of consistency enough. Making meditation a habit is the best thing you can do for your practice over the long term. Find time or make time, whatever, just commit to doing it day in, day out. Make it a priority in your day. Make a 100% commitment to it and don’t leave it as a choice, make it an obligation.
If a day comes that is just full of obstacles (tiredness, sickness, short of time), then shorten the meditation, but don’t skip it. If it’s that desperate just sit for 2 minutes. This way you will still retain the habit of sitting down and taking the time for yourself. It will become a habit, not a chore, and will just be a part of your day. When you have to brush your teeth, do you ever think ‘but I don’t have time today’ or ‘I’m too tired’ – no, you just do it because you always do it. Make it so with meditation. The best way to form the habit is commit to a month without skipping a day.
- When you do miss a day… don’t miss the next!
When you do miss a day, because eventually you will – you’re human, make absolutely sure that you don’t miss the next day. The next day is crucial to make sure you get back on it and don’t allow a run of missed days to form. Accept the missed day and just like you’d bring yourself back to your point of focus during a meditation, bring yourself back to your practice: calmly and smilingly.
2. Have a Meditation Buddy
Having a friend that you meditate with is a tremendous way to support your practice. When I first started meditating in China I was lucky enough to have a close friend who was also just starting to learn at that time. We went to classes together, exchanged tips and shared our experiences on the learning curve. We lent each other books on the topic and meditated together after work before going out for noodles or just hanging out. At the time we were both working as teachers at the same institute and when we both had a long enough break between classes would take an empty classroom and sit for 20 minutes. Overall we turned out to be a great support to each other and both of our practices were strengthened because of our influence on each other.
- Alternatively, your meditation buddy doesn’t have to be someone you physically meditate with, it could be an accountability buddy. You can check in with each other daily to make sure you are both keeping it up.
3. Create a Dedicated Spot For Meditation
Set up a little ‘meditation space’ in your home with cushions on the floor. Ideally this space will be used exclusively for meditation and you will not do any other activity there. The physical segregation will create a ‘safe haven’ and this will help your mind to settle down more quickly thus allowing you to go deeper with each meditation.
4. Read a Book About Meditation Or Mindfulness
This is a truly effective way to supplement and rejuvenate your practice. Each time I read a book about meditation or a related topic my awareness gets a little boost because I’m getting reminders and calls to awareness whilst reading – and I could be doing this anywhere (commuting, in the park, before bed). I’m generally more aware of the mind and its wanderings and I ‘catch’ my mind, and therefore place my mind, far more often. Moreover, when reading you learn new techniques and gain insight into the practice of meditation, enriching your understanding and expanding your practice. Personally, reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s books have been hugely influential in extending my mindfulness from my formal meditation to daily life and everyday tasks.
Two Books I’d Recommend To Develop Your Practice:
- Thich Nhat Hanh – Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
- Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
5. Do a Course Or Silent Retreat
Doing a course is a surefire way to boost your practice. You will get the time and mental space you need to do serious meditation. Escaping the distractions and frenzy of the modern world will enable you to develop your level your focus and you will almost certainly learn something new about the technique of meditation as well. Moreover, after an intensive period of meditation it seems much easier to extend the duration of your daily meditations and integrate it further into your life. I have done temple stays and meditation courses and if you are serious about meditation then one course I would certainly recommend is the 10 day vipassana meditation course – I even convinced my Dad to do one. They are available all over the world and there is lots of info online. To read my advice about how to make the most of a 10 day course go here…
6. Join a Weekly Group
Like meditating with a friend, meditating with a group can be a superb boost to your practice. Moreover, it’s a great way to meet other meditators and a place where you can share your experiences and receive support. Having a weekly appointment in a set time and place is a great way to make meditation into a fun and sociable event on your calendar and mixes up your practice helping to keep it fresh.
Meditation groups can be found almost anywhere- I’ve attended meditation groups while I’ve been based in China, Spain and Korea and they have helped me in numerous ways. I’ve often found the quality of my meditation was improved when sitting with a group and others reported the same. Moreover I’ve learned different techniques of meditation, and met lots of new people in the process. Search online for a group and if you can’t find one try starting one yourself, all it takes is setting up a facebook group.
7. Meditate For Longer When You Can
Yes, I’ve banged on about the importance of consistency and cementing the habit. Shorter and daily is better than longer and less frequently. But it doesn’t always have to be shorter, meditate for a little longer when you can. If you normally meditate for 5 minutes a day but on Sundays have more time and an easier schedule, then meditate for 20 minutes. You’ll notice a difference in the meditation and be more composed and collected afterwards.
8. Integrate Mindfulness In To Your Life
The aim of meditation isn’t to become skilled at watching our breath for 20 minutes a day, it’s to become more aware and to have more ownership of our minds and lives. Mindfulness is basically meditation in a non-formal setting and is the practice being aware of where your mind is when you aren’t sat down in a quiet spot with your eyes closed. While mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and anytime, it will be much easier in the beginning to practice during activities that are done alone and that can be done slowly: taking a shower, brushing your teeth, taking a walk, eating. Choose one or two of these, and everytime you do that particular activity, make it an exercise in mindfulness, a mini-meditation if you will.
Mindfulness really can be extended to anything. Just like meditation, it is the practice of choosing one thing, your anchor in the present moment, and being totally conscious of it. Simply do as you would do with a sitting meditation, but rather than using your breath or mantra as an anchor you will use the activity you are doing. Focus on the thing that you are doing, taking care to do it calmly and with all your attention. This will keep your attention in the present moment and not swept up in unrelated thoughts. Every time you notice your mind has wandered off, calmly bring it back.
9. Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Do Miss it
When you are meditating and you realise your have drifted off in to ‘thought-land’ it is important to retain your equanimity and calmy, smilingly bring yourself back to your point of focus. The same is true when you miss a day or fall out of rhythm with your meditation practice; it’s the same teaching on the macro level. When you realise you have let your regularity of practice slip or skipped a few days… don’t be annoyed at yourself or feel guilty. Calmly accept the reality and return to your practice, just as you would return to your point of focus.
10. Don’t Keep It a Secret: Come Out As a Meditator
When I first started I was a bit timid about sharing the fact that I was a meditator; I was worried about being judged and mocked; indeed, being teasingly called a hippy by those that did know along with some strange looks didn’t help. Despite its recent growth and increase in becoming a secular practice, it’s still not the most commonplace practice and for many people conjures images of ascetic monks and calls to mind religious practices and connontations of ‘weird’ Eastern religions (often not too favourably viewed, especially in today’s growing climate of militant atheism). Whilst there’s no real easy way around this ignorance until cultural perceptions change, it’s better just to be honest and open that you are a meditator (isn’t that the case with most things?). You may be surprised to find that someone you know is interested and may even want to learn – you could even find a meditation buddy.
Housemates, friends and those close to you will understand that you need that quiet time alone and it will be easier to make time to sit without worries of distraction. If your boss knows you could even ask if there is somewhere at your place of work that you can meditate. By ‘coming out’ you will identify yourself as a meditator and this shift in mentality will help you to maintain your continuity of practice.
In this way you can also break the stereotype that meditation is only for buddhists and hippies. A former work colleague of mine was surprised when it came up that I meditated regularly and went to a local meditation group. It turned out that he’d already read a few articles about meditation online and was curious to try it. Upon finding out about my practice he seemed relieved and said ‘well… if normal people do it too’. (!)
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These methods have all proven to help me along the way and I’m sure they will help you to develop your practice too. Do you have any tips for how to improve meditation practice? Or maybe you can recommend a course? If so, leave it in the comments below.