The habit of meditation is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever learned. Amazingly, it’s also one of the most simple habits to do — you can do it anywhere, any time, and it will always have immediate benefits.
How many habits can you say that about?
While many people think of meditation as something you might do with a teacher, in a Zen Center, it can be as simple as paying attention to your breath while sitting in your car or on the train, or while sitting at the coffee shop or in your office, or while walking or showering.
It can take just one or two minutes if you’re busy. There’s no excuse for not doing it, when you simplify the meditation habit.
Why create a small daily meditation practice? There are countless reasons, but here are some of my favorite:
- It relieves stress and helps you to relax.
- When you practice mindfulness, you can carry it out to everyday life.
- Mindfulness helps you to savor life, change habits, live simply and slowly, be present in everything you do.
- Meditation has been shown to have mental benefits, such as improved focus, happiness, memory, self-control, academic performance and more.
- Some research on meditation has indicated that it may have other health benefits, including improved metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and more.
Actually, some of the best benefits of meditation are hard to define — you begin to understand yourself better, for example, and form a self-awareness level you’ve never had before.
Most simply, sitting for just a few minutes of meditation is an oasis of calm and relaxation that we rarely find in our lives these days. And that, in itself, is enough.
How to Do It Daily
There are lots and lots of ways to meditate. But our concern is not to find a perfect form of meditation — it’s to form the daily habit of meditation. And so our method will be as simple as possible.
1. Commit to just 2 minutes a day. Start simply if you want the habit to stick. You can do it for 5 minutes if you feel good about it, but all you’re committing to is 2 minutes each day.
2. Pick a time and trigger. Not an exact time of day, but a general time, like morning when you wake up, or during your lunch hour. The trigger should be something you already do regularly, like drink your first cup of coffee, brush your teeth, have lunch, or arrive home from work.
3. Find a quiet spot. Sometimes early morning is best, before others in your house might be awake and making lots of noise. Others might find a spot in a park or on the beach or some other soothing setting. It really doesn’t matter where — as long as you can sit without being bothered for a few minutes. A few people walking by your park bench is fine.
4. Sit comfortably. Don’t fuss too much about how you sit, what you wear, what you sit on, etc. I personally like to sit on a pillow on the floor, with my back leaning against a wall, because I’m very inflexible. Others who can sit cross-legged comfortably might do that instead. Still others can sit on a chair or couch if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable. Zen practitioners often use a zafu, a round cushion filled with kapok or buckwheat. Don’t go out and buy one if you don’t already have one. Any cushion or pillow will do, and some people can sit on a bare floor comfortably.
5. Start with just 2 minutes. This is really important. Most people will think they can meditate for 15-30 minutes, and they can. But this is not a test of how strong you are at staying in meditation — we are trying to form a longer-lasting habit. And to do that, we want to start with just a two minutes. You’ll find it much easier to start this way, and forming a habit with a small start like this is a method much more likely to succeed. You can expand to 5-7 minutes if you can do it for 7 straight days, then 10 minutes if you can do it for 14 straight days, then 15 minutes if you can stick to it for 21 straight days, and 20 if you can do a full month.
6. Focus on your breath. As you breathe in, follow your breath in through your nostrils, then into your throat, then into your lungs and belly. Sit straight, keep your eyes open but looking at the ground and with a soft focus. If you want to close your eyes, that’s fine. As you breathe out, follow your breath out back into the world. If it helps, count … one breath in, two breath out, three breath in, four breath out … when you get to 10, start over. If you lose track, start over. If you find your mind wandering (and you will), just pay attention to your mind wandering, then bring it gently back to your breath. Repeat this process for the few minutes you meditate. You won’t be very good at it at first, most likely, but you’ll get better with practice.
And that’s it. It’s a very simple practice, but you want to do it for 2 minutes, every day, after the same trigger each day. Do this for a month and you’ll have a daily meditation habit.
Expanding Your Practice
Sitting and paying attention to your breath is really mindfulness practice. It’s a way to train yourself to focus your attention. Once you’ve practiced a bit while sitting in a quiet space, you can expand your mindfulness practice:
- When you feel stress, take a minute to pay attention to your breath, and return your mind to the present moment.
- Try taking a walk, and instead of thinking about things you need to do later, pay attention to your breath, your body’s sensations, the things around you.
- When you eat, just eat, and focus your attention on the food, on your feelings as you eat, on the sensations.
- Try a mindful tea ritual, where you focus your attention on your movements as you prepare the tea, on the tea as you smell and taste it, on your breath as you go through the ritual.
- Wash your dishes and sweep your floor mindfully.
This, of course, is just a start. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, including with other people, while you work, and so on.