Meditation is simply a tool for connecting with your true self and does not have to be a rigid practice for you to benefit. Learning to focus your attention is rigorous work and you have to be ready to listen to your intuition. Posture and breath are important building blocks to assist you in disciplining the mind, but don’t let them discourage you at the outset. Once you learn to focus your mind, meditation can be done while preparing a meal, doing the dishes or walking the dog.
Begin your meditation practice by keeping it simple. All you have to do is be present. Sit still and be aware of your breath. Breathe and let go. In and out. The involuntary rhythm of breathing acts like a metronome with which to focus our attention. Just feel the breath coming in and going out.
Next, be an observer. Don’t try to think or feel anything. Most important, don’t try to achieve results. The beauty of meditation is that it is the one place in our lives where we can allow ourselves not to have an outcome. Just fully experience the moment. You can only do that by simply being present and observing what comes up inside of you.
When you begin a meditation, the process can feel like a press conference. Thoughts and feelings come rushing forward for attention. Acknowledge them and try to let go. The mind is used to jumping from one idea to the next; it is humbling to realize how scattered and fragmented one’s mind is most of the time. If you can wait it out long enough for the mind to settle down, gradually you will develop increased periods of awareness. Finally, a calm emerges and you can relax in just being present, nothing more, and fully savor the moment. Crossing this gateway empowers you to reconnect with your inner resources of creativity and intuition, transforming your outer world in healthy and compassionate ways.
There is no right way to meditate. Try to set aside thirty minutes a day for your practice. This is usually enough time to get through your random thoughts and ease into stillness. But certainly, twenty minutes or ten or five will reward you. If you cannot sit erect like a mountain, then use pillows or lie down and get comfortable. The most important thing is that you try the best of your intention. Feel good about your endeavor and feel the pulse of each and every moment.
Sometimes the best antidote to our worries is simply to live from one breath to the next. The breath acts as a metronome to center the mind in its stream of incessant thoughts. As your chest swells and your thoracic cage enlarges, oxygen rushes in to nourish the body. At the height of the inhalation, there is a brief pause—stillness—followed by a gush of air leaving the body. The lungs not only exhale carbon dioxide but also release accumulated tension and stress.
Close your eyes and focus on one of your favorite images: a tree you love, a garden path, a deserted beach.
Begin your inhalation by extending the diaphragm downwards and breathe in slowly counting to ten.
Hold the breath for one count at the peak of the inhalation.
Slowly begin the downward slide of the exhalation, repeating the count of ten.
Wait for a beat and begin again.
Repeat the cycle 5 times.
I’ve discovered that setting a good tone for the day helps to both attain a positive attitude and to stay intentional throughout the day. That’s why I talk to my clients about establishing a morning ritual.
Ritual versus Routine
A ritual is not the same thing as a routine. A morning routine might involve exercising, showering, dressing, reading the paper and eating breakfast. Because we’ve done it so many times before, we know what to do and in what order without having to do much thinking. A ritual may involve these same mundane chores, but a ritual takes on a meaning beyond getting a task completed. Rather, the focus is on the process of the task or an appreciation of its side benefit. With a ritual you have the added value of feeling energized, focused, grounded, clear-headed or some other additional benefit beyond completing something on your to-do list. Some common morning rituals include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, reciting affirmations and setting daily intentions, such as remaining patient with a difficult coworker, experimenting with a new stevia recipe and following through on your plan to snack only on fruit.
I found a meaningful morning ritual a long time ago and have continued with some version of it for well over two decades. Instead of rushing out the door or upstairs to my home office, I gift myself time to sip my coffee while having a meaningful conversation with my husband. I spend time thinking about my goals for the day and their potential obstacles and simply center myself for what might be in store. An important part of my morning ritual is my jog. It has become my meditation with the consistent steady sounds of my footsteps and my breath. By the time I’m home from jogging, I have set my intentions and feel mentally prepared for my day.
5 Steps to Forming a Morning Ritual
There are many ways to go about forming a meaningful ritual. These 5 steps are just one way I help clients find their ideal way to start the day centered and intentional.
Commit a few extra minutes. You may want to get up a little earlier or save time by setting out your clothes and breakfast dishes the night before. Acknowledge that this is an important time. There’s no reason to feel guilty for giving yourself the gift of not rushing to start your daily chores. By letting family members know that you’ve set aside time for yourself, they can help you protect that time.
Chose a morning ritual to try out. Scan your past activities to identify ones you’ve enjoyed and found meaningful. Or consider something brand new that’s intrigued you. Would you like to meditate, read poetry, walk in nature, journal about your thoughts or goals? Pick any one thing to start. Be creative and open to new things. If something interests you, go for it. It’s okay if it’s not someone else’s idea of a morning ritual.
Determine the time. Consider your schedule to pick an appropriate time. Some people will prefer to engage in their activity shortly after waking up. Others will want to wait until kids have gone to school or a spouse is out for a run.
Experiment for at least a few days. Like with most health and wellness habits, it takes time to work your way through your new ritual to find what you like and what works. Stick with something for a few days and tweak as necessary. It’s okay to experiment with a few rituals until you find something doable and meaningful.
Be consistent. Keep at it and guard your ritual. If you’re short on time one day, that’s okay. Just do what you can. If you wish for 30 minutes but have only 10 – or even less – modify your ritual for the time you have. That consistency will help you maintain your ritual long term.
These tips work equally well to help you start an exercise routine. If that interests you, just try it. Months down the road, you may find that it’s become part of your morning ritual too. Cheers to a beautiful start to your day!