Sat, 13 June 2015
If you want to make today your favourite day – everyday – mindfulness meditation is a great place to start.
It helps us focus on the present moment rather than worrying about a future that may not materialise or a past that’s gone. So in a way it helps us make the most of every day by living more in the here and now.
It gives us a space to stand back from our thoughts and internal chatter and see them as just that – thoughts which are not us and don’t have to define who we are.
The basis of mindfulness meditation is simple. Gently focus your attention on something like your breath going in and out of your nose and be purposefully aware, in a non-judgemental way, of thoughts that arise and let go of them.
But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s always easy and straightforward to do in practice. It can be but equally it takes practise and commitment.
Here are 21 simple tips for mindfulness meditation, to help you start and/or stick to your meditation practice. They’re tips we’ve picked up from others or are our take on what we’ve found useful in answer to common issues. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list so let us know if you have any to add to the list.
Issue – My mind keeps wandering and I’m getting distracted by thoughts
This is normal. It’s the nature of our minds to wander and all part of the process of mindfulness meditation.
It might be frustrating sometimes when we get distracted with thoughts abut what we’re planning to do or replying something from our past. But mindfulness meditation is not about stopping the thoughts or getting it right or wrong.
It’s about practicing a way of thinking, of gently focusing attention on something specific like your breath going in and out, whilst being aware of the present moment in a non-critical way.
Tip 1 - Notice your thoughts
Notice your thoughts – what you’re thinking – acknowledge them and let them go.
Tip 2 – Name your thoughts
Name your thoughts. For example say to yourself –‘oh I’m an unhelpful thought’.
But bear in mind that one of the facets of mindfulness is to observe on purpose but without judgement or criticism. So the trick here is to observe and acknowledge the thought in a matter of fact way, as devoid of emotion as possible.
Tip 3 – Thoughts as bubbles and clouds
See or visualise your thoughts as something, give them a physical representation of them – e.g. bubbles, clouds or waves.
Tip 4 – Acknowledge your thoughts and take gentle action
Once you’ve recognised it - do something with the thought. If you see it as a bubble, burst it.
If it’s a cloud, let the wind blow it across the sky in your mind and out of sight.
Tip 5 – Quickly record truly persistent thoughts
If you have a thought that just keeps coming because it’s about something you absolutely have to remember to do, you can have a notebook to hand to jot one word to remind you – and then get straight back to your meditation. This is not necessarily recommended but is one way to deal with a doggedly persistent thought.
Issue– I haven’t got time to meditate
Yes you have and the answer is to make time so you can try it and see for yourself. You may find like others have even though you’re spending more of your time on meditation, paradoxically it seems to give you more time.
Tip 6 – Set a regular time
Set yourself a regular time to start with. It’s all about building a habit and that takes a bit of commitment, so set a reminder on your phone or put it in your diary.
Tip 7 – Get up earlier
If you really feel you haven’t got 10 minutes to spare in a day then set your alarm to go off 10 minutes earlier in the morning. Get up and meditate before the day starts – everyone can survive on 10 minutes less sleep in a night.
Issue – I could never meditate – it’s not for me – I can’t sit down for more than two minutes – I can’t stop my brain working
You don’t need to stop your brain working. No one can stop their brain working and you wouldn’t want to or you’d die! Revisit the first 5 tips about dealing with distracting thoughts if you’re worried about how you can’t stop the thoughts.
Tip 8 - Think about what you’re saying - because you’re worth it
Look at the reasons behind what you’re saying.
Are you saying that everything in your life is more important than your wellbeing. Or maybe you don’t think you deserve to spend this time on yourself for some reason.
Maybe it seems a little self-indulgent to be spending time on what might seem like a self-centred pursuit. If so read our article - Self-help or self-indulgence.
Tip 9 – Take a realistic look at how you spend your time on different activities in a day
This also ties in with the time issue. But can you really not sit down for 10 minutes in a day.
Spend a day noting down everything you do and the likelihood is you can fit in 10 minutes and you can sit down. Indeed you probably have sat down for 10 mins today.
Don’t forget that every time you watch television you’re sitting down and using time you could use for meditation – or at least a few minutess of it.
Tip 10 – Count your breaths
If you find it hard to sit down for a few minutes and softly direct your attention to your breath, you can help yourself maintain focus and bring yourself back to the present moment by counting your breaths.
Count each in and out breath up to 10 and back, and as you get more used to this type of focus, count just the out breaths. Or count to a smaller or larger number, whatever you find helpful. Maybe 5 maybe 100.
Issue – I sometimes fall asleep while meditating
This is close to our hearts – especially for Julian!
There are different views about whether we should do anything about this or not. Some say if you fall asleep it’s alright because it shows you need the sleep.
Whilst that might be the case we think it’s good to try and do something about it, like get more sleep at night if you need it, but also there are some people who just fall asleep very easily and often! So here’s a few tips to make it less likely.
Tip 11 – Keep your eyes open
One way to deal with it is to keep your eyes open. Many people like closing their eyes when they meditate, like we do, because it helps take away the distractions of what you’re seeing, but you can meditate with your eyes open.
If so try lowering your eyes, let them glaze over a little (sometimes called having a soft gaze or focus) and not really focus on anything in particular.
Tip 12 – Light a candle
One way of helping keep your eyes open but your gaze soft, in other words not getting distracted by looking around you, is to gaze softly on a lighted candle. This gives you something to rest your eyes on without really looking at it.
Tip 13 – Think about your position
Are you lying down to meditate or reclining right back? If so, your body may be too relaxed and in an all too convenient a position for nodding off.
So think about the position you’re meditating in. Which leads us to our next tip
Issue – I find myself slumping over
If you find yourself slumping or drifting down your chair it’s worth thinking about posture or position.
Tip 14 – Sit up straight
It seems to be generally acknowledged that whether you’re sitting on a chair or the floor or using a meditation cushion, you’ll have a better meditation experience if you can sit with your back straight, away from the back of the chair. Otherwise you’re tempted to lean against it and before you know it you’re back to slumping over.
Tip 15 – Shuffle on your chair to get evenly distributed!
Shuffle around on your chair for a second before you start, rocking from side to side to get comfortable and distribute your weight evenly.
Many people (including us) don’t actually sit straight most of the time but have a tendency to slightly lean to one side.
If you don’t believe it, look at how you’re sitting right this minute – is your weight evenly placed on your seat?
Tip 16 – Imagine you’re a puppet
There are a couple of little visualisation tricks to help you keep a better posture. Imagine there’s a string coming up your back and neck and out of the top of your head – like a puppet.
Imagine your head is touching the sky.
Issue – I don’t know how long I should be meditating for
Like so many things in mindfulness and meditation there is no right and wrong. It’s about what suits you and your lifestyle.
One minute is better than no minute, and 10 minutes is often better than 1 minute, simply because it may take you a minute or two to settle into your meditation.
But 1 minute spend in mindfulness meditation can be enormously beneficial in some circumstances, like a stressful situation at work or home where it can help to step back and take time out.
Tip 17 – Do what you can
Try starting with however long you can manage or feel comfortable with.
If you’re worried about the amount of time then 5 minutes is a good start.
If you like to have a set amount of time to aim for, 10 minutes twice a day seems to be enough to experience benefits and cultivate the habit.
Tip 18 – Build up gradually
Start with 5 or 10 minutes and stick with that if it’s convenient and doable – or try to build it up a few minutes a week.
And you don’t have to do the same amount of time everyday – sometimes you can do it for longer and other times keep to the 10 minutes.
It’s about regularity rather than overall time.
Issue – I wonder if it’s better to use music, sounds or silence
It all depends on what works for you.
Many people like to be silent where possible because it’s about being aware of the thoughts in your mind, and you might find it easier to notice your internal chatter with the least distraction. You can meditate with any sounds going on around you either from others or of your own choice.
Tip 19 – Try a selection of sounds
Whilst silence is golden, you may like to try meditating to other sounds sometimes.
It’s not so much about listening to the sounds but having them replace or cover other more distracting noises in the background.
This can be good where you can’t meditate in silence – e.g. on the bus or train or in a café or park. It’s a matter of trying it to see what suits you.
You can use meditation music or natural sounds, for instance we have a seascape on our guided meditation – with a choice of a silent background or seascape with sea and seagulls.
Issue– I’ve heard a lot about it but I’m not sure meditation is for me
The thing to do is just give a go. You’ve nothing to lose and a lot to gain.
Tip 2o - Keep a journal
Keeping a journal or diary about your meditation practice can be useful, especially when starting out and you’re not sure what to make of it all.
The idea is that you act like a scientist observing an experiment from the outside and take notes of what comes up for you.
Tip 21 – Start with a guided meditation or short course
And we have just the thing for you. If you’d like to do a short course where in 1 and a half hours from now you will be up and running and have a guided meditation to keep – then Julian’s Beginner’s Guide to Mindful Meditation is a quick and reasonable way to get started.
Alternatively download our guided meditation mp3 ‘Meditation Moments - With Breath in Mind’
Episode 46 of The Changeability Podcast
Listen to episode 46 of The Changeability Podcast where we talk about all these tips and more.
Links and resources mentioned in Episode 46 – 21 Simple tips for mindfulness meditation
Hope you find these tips helpful – we’d love to hear your suggestions – so send them and any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message on Twitter or our FB page at Brilliant Living HQ