The hardest part of becoming a meditator is the beginning, because your distractions are at their strongest and your mental power at its weakest. Here are 11 tricks that I learned in my journey that helped me develop a regular practice and superboost my meditation.
- Instead of a long meditation, do short ones several times a day.
When you’re just starting off, commit to short meditations multiple times a day instead of a long one. It’s easy to fall for idea that only long meditations count. What actually counts is creating a habit. If you can only commit to meditating 60 seconds at a time, then meditate 60 seconds multiple times a day. This is the perfect thing to do in those odd bits of time we have while stuck in traffic, waiting in line, or otherwise.
- Create a space for yourself.
Set out a corner of a room or a spot outside to be your designated meditation space. Decorate it in a way that makes you feel relaxed. This way, simply sitting in your meditation corner will get you in the right mood. Of course, this is not the only place you will be meditating, but it will help build a habit.
- Set your intention.
Is your goal to overcome anxiety? Gain control of your temper? Develop better relationships with your family and friends? Set a strong intention for why you are practicing. Having a clear goal helps you overcome your resistance to practicing and gives you a way to measure the effects of your meditation.
- Get enough sleep.
Another big hurdle to overcome in early practice is sleepiness. Having enough rest will supply you with the mental energy to overcome sloth and torpor.
- Stop eating animal products and processed foods.
Eating a whole food, plant based vegan diet will improve your energy, mental clarity, and karmic conditions, helping to superboost your meditation practice. Animal products are laden with high amounts of saturated fats and carcinogens that cloud your mind and destroy your health. More importantly, they are made from the suffering and torture of sentient beings, which is the opposite of the compassion we wish to develop. This is why the Buddha said, “Eating meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.” (Mahaparinirvana Sutra).
Above: Vegan sushi rolls from Beyond Sushi, NYC
- Stick to breath awareness.
There are myriads of meditation techniques out there that work on balancing the chakras, awakening the third eye, developing psychic powers (siddhi), visualizing deities, etc. To be brutally honest, they just are not as effective as the simple breath meditation (anapanasati) at reaching our goal of spiritual awakening. According to Zen master Nan Huaijin, simple breath meditation will balance the chakras and awaken the third eye anyways, so practicing them is only a distraction. When doing a formal sit, perform the breath meditation. When walking, standing, lying down, driving, or otherwise going about your day, become aware of your body’s movement and sensations and the thoughts in your mind. This builds the mental power we need for insight practice later.
- Count your breaths.
This is a traditional Zen method of developing stable awareness. One complete breath consists of an exhalation and inhalation. Mentally count your breath starting on the exhale. Repeat the number as long as you are breathing the same breath. Every time you think of the number, bring your attention back to the sensations of the breath in your nostrils. Once you reach 10, start over at 1. If you lose count due to mind wandering, simply bring your attention back to the nostrils and start over. When this happens, smile to yourself and imagine that you’ve won a game. By repeatedly redirecting your attention to the breath thousands of times, you will gain a stable, powerful attention.
- Make your breath subtle.
This is a trick taken from the Taoist classic, “The Secret of the Golden Flower” (太乙金華經). Use the sound of your breath as a gauge of your focus. The quieter your breath, the stronger your focus. Ideally, your breath should make no sound at all.
- Stop using intoxicating substances.
Yes, this includes cannabis. Intoxicating substances, addictive or not, change our experience of reality, whereas our goal in meditation is to perfectly perceive reality as it is. While meditating on weed or acid might feel like you’re going deeper, in reality this is like biking with training wheels. It will help you get on the road, but you will never become a great biker if you don’t take the training wheels off.
- Take cold showers.
Cold exposure is a trick practiced by Tibetan yogis, Shingon monks, and the Danish Iceman Wim Hof for developing meditative power. Luckily, we don’t have to go to the same extremes to start reaping benefits. Simply take a shower with cold water instead of hot. This forces your mind to focus on the sensations of the body in order to reduce the suffering.
- Be kind to yourself.
The spiritual path can be difficult at times, but we must always try to enjoy our adventure. Remember to extend compassion to yourself, accept, forgive, and correct your faults. Remember, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
Best of luck with your practice.