How do I meditate regularly?
October 3, 2008 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I establish a regular meditation routine?

Back when I was in college, I had a lot more time and energy on my hands. I was able to get deep into meditation and see tremendous benefits in terms of mood, concentration, confidence, etc. At some point I lapsed and fell out of practice, though.

Now, several years later, I'm working full time, and I can't get into a regular routine. I've tried:

* In the morning, shortly after waking, but I'm too groggy to have the alertness necessary.
* At night before I go to bed, but then I'm too tired to focus.
* During my lunch break. I've had the most success with this time period. But it can be difficult on a work day to find a quiet spot and to have enough time. I'm lucky enough to work close to home, but I only get about 10 minutes if I go home to meditate after lunch.

Anybody else struggle with this problem? What did you do to fix it?

I should note that I have no interest in going to a religious group to meditate. I want to do it on my own.

posted by wastelands to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
In the past I've gone to Catholic churches during lunch at work. They're generally open in the daytime, they're quiet, and it's not weird to just sit there with your eyes closed. And they're safe. If you call around beforehand they'll tell you whether they're open for 'reflection' or whatnot.

And I'd say meditate for ten minutes on days when you have ten minutes and longer when you have time.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:49 PM on October 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've struggled with a couple of the hindrances you are encountering so I'll share my experience.

Initially, I took a step back and looked at my everyday choices and asked myself why do I want to meditate? What qualities am I trying to invite in my life? My answer is deep peace, joy, compassion and love.

Then I looked at the conflicts. Sleep deprivation. Habitual distraction (had I been a kid, I'd be getting the ritalin treatment). Intense and uncontrollable thought processes, stories, emotions. Anxiety about future, success, outcomes of all kinds of projects. Internet addiction and general state of being overwhelmed. Caffeine and sugar induced ups and downs.

Then I started giving myself time to chill. Not necessarily meditate, but just chill. Not do anything. 5 minutes here and there, throughout the day.

Stopped coffee. Stopped television.

Added a little bit of awareness practices throughout the day. How am I feeling? What am I thinking? Am I my thoughts? Am I agitated? Who am I?

Then, from time to time, I go outside, sit on a bench or at the edge of a food court area bordering a park and just watch my breath. It's the simplest thing: watch your breath, don't change it just watch it. When you become distracted, just come back to watching it. Ten-twenty minutes of this change my day.

Started sleeping more. 6.5 hours are too little, 7 are just right.

Started giving myself longer chill periods, adding the option to take action based on inner guidance.

Started doing mind-dump sessions in Getting Things Done manner, great for getting all shouldas, and musts out.

You can see, I had to change my daily choices. Or, rather, let my intention for peace, joy, compassion and love shift the structure of my behavior and express themselves in my field.

Scheduling meditation and following a discipline while acting in the same old way never worked for me. Opening space for the practices and awareness and let them change me worked.

Good luck. If you truly want it you'll create it for yourself.

posted by andreinla at 3:55 PM on October 3, 2008 [35 favorites]

there is no good time to meditate. I would start small and work your way up. This works and doesn't work based on your interest. I struggle with this all of the time. I benefit immensely every time I meditate and yet I don't make time to meditate.
If you can't do it read about it. Listen to books on tape.
Make an easy goal you can accomplish and go from there. 10 minutes this week. Tuesday at??? will be the time to sit.
Now is always the best time.
Good Luck you are not alone
posted by ChrisB48 at 4:06 PM on October 3, 2008

Seconding everything above. Just like with physical exercise, starting with small time periods and working your way up is essential for getting back into it. One minute of mediation is infinitely better than none at all, which most meditation guides stress.

Also, what ChrisB48 said about reading and books on tape is great advice. Putting yourself in the right headspace with the help of a "teacher" always makes it easier for me to sit on those days when I'm feeling resistant. Here's a couple of websites where you can download free audio files of meditation talks:

Dharma Seed

Audio Dharma

These sites are associated with Buddhist insight meditation, popular in the U.S., and carry a fairly secular message. You're definitely not alone. And if it helps, remember that the more resistant you are to meditating on a particular day, the more fruitful your meditation session is likely to be.
posted by lumosh at 4:33 PM on October 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

Well I personally was not able to establish a practice for longer than a few weeks. But my problem is different, I simply have an inner reluctance and enmity toward meditation. Having said that, some thoughts: If you feel too sleepy in the morning, try some strong indian tea or coffee. Caffeine is not good for meditation but it's still far better than no meditation at all. If you're tired before sleep, try lighter meals, or at least pick 3 days in a week when you have lighter meals and meditate, if not every day. And there's one time period you left out: time after you came from work. That seems a perfect time. Don't bother with time during lunch break, in my opinion, you can't sandwich meditation between two intervals of work because work environment is of different kind of energy and your anticipation of more work coming up will make stop you cold. There is a clear danger that you will think you meditate every day because you assign a number of minutes to it, but you'll just mislead yourself. Unless your work is lighting candles in a church or polishing bells. By the way, in yoga tradition, meditation is something that comes after both physical exercise, i.e. asanas and breath exercises, so that asanas will put your physical mind in right state, only then breath exercises will be effective in putting your emotional mind in right state, and only then, after the two are in place, you can talk about having an effective meditation.
posted by rainy at 4:44 PM on October 3, 2008

It is about priorities. My best time was right after work. But just tell yourself that you are gonna sit 15 minutes a day. Let the schedule make itself. If you are home at 2 A.M. tired but haven't done it, then do it no matter how tired you are, etc.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:42 PM on October 3, 2008

Lunch, dude. If you're tired/close to any time where you were or are going to be sleeping, meditation will only work as a sleep aid. And ten minutes is better than nothing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:48 PM on October 3, 2008

Don't make such a big deal of it. Just sit. Groggy, can't focus, etc. Exactly! If you are groggy, sit groggy. If you can't focus, just sit and be unfocused. Meditation is merely watching the mind do what it does. Just sit and watch the grogginess. Just sit and watch the lack of focus.
posted by hworth at 5:52 PM on October 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

hworth, I should have noted: I have no interest in mindfulness meditation. Concentrative meditation is where it's at for me. I never saw or felt much value in merely observing the mind, but to each their own.
posted by wastelands at 7:15 PM on October 3, 2008

The best time for meditation is with the sunrise. In very low light(night light) get up 1 hour before the sun rise. Toilet and Shower...and then sit for a half hour or so through with the sun rise. Your mind will be the most calm at this time because you will rise before the "dream state" starts, so those thoughts will not have been going on, and you won't have all the thoughts and drama that you will have going on, in your head, that you will have at the end of a busy day. If you feel groggy then just turn the shower to cold for a few seconds and you will be wide awake no matter what time you went to bed. Try to drink a bit of water and not go the route of coffee or tea until after your meditation.
Remember that this is the hour that masters of meditation throughout the ages have risen to meditate. Close your eyes and watch the Sun Rise within.
All the best to you on your quest.
posted by blast at 8:04 PM on October 3, 2008

We do mindfulness meditation so take this for what it is worth to you, but we do it in the morning, after showers/breakfast/gettingdressed/brushingteeth/packinglunch/organizingbackpacks and just before we leave the house. Works much better than first thing in the morning or last thing at night for my groggy teenagers.
posted by headnsouth at 8:11 PM on October 3, 2008

I don't have an answer to your actual question. Last year, after attending a retreat, I stopped meditating for several months. It's still not clear why that happened, but after that, practice was as strong as ever.*

However, your question appears to be founded on a degree of confusion between the purpose, method, effects, and results of meditation. For instance, meditation is not conditional on alertness. Meditation involves watching what is going on, and alertness is often an effect of meditation. Thus grogginess is not an impediment to meditation, in fact, meditation can be an antidote for grogginess. On waking and just prior to retiring are really good times to meditate, and it's a good thing to do during the wee hours if rampant thoughts or pain are preventing sleep.

If sleep seems to be overwhelming the aspiration to watch, just watch that happen. Attend to the physical sensations, the emotional responses, the thoughts. Don't fight the sleepiness, just watch it. If sleep happens, it's not that big a deal. A body sitting in a recommended meditation posture won't sleep for long. On waking again, go back to watching.

Your disinterest in practicing with a religious group is understandable, but it would probably be a good idea to talk to a teacher about what's going on. If the teacher is any good, no commitment to the group will be expected in return. I practice with Tibetans and Zen Buddhists all the time, despite being an atheist for all intents and purposes, and quite vocal in my doubts about the literal truth of the Mahayana cosmology. It's never been an issue.

*I'm going on retreat again with the same guy this Wednesday. Let's see what kind of damage he can inflict on my practice this time...
posted by Coventry at 4:44 AM on October 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Coventry, you probably missed my comment to hworth. I'm not interested in mindfulness. Grogginess/sleepiness *does* affect concentration, which is my main interest.
posted by wastelands at 6:46 AM on October 4, 2008

Sounds interesting. If there's a handy description of your approach and the benefits, could you point me at it?
posted by Coventry at 7:20 AM on October 4, 2008

Coventry, I assume you're asking me? My approach is simple. Concentration on the sensations of breathing.

Thanks everyone for the replies. I've decided upon after breakfast and after dinner as times that will work best, where I'm not too tired or hungry.
posted by wastelands at 10:09 AM on October 9, 2008

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