This is a common question and for good reason: regular practice brings regular benefits. Just like playing an instrument or going to the gym – you get what you put into it.
I’ve experimented with a number of ways of practicing meditation daily and would like to share what works for me. If anything is useful to you, please use it. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment below!
I do a formal sitting meditation for about 30 minutes every morning, after a period of yoga and qigong. Sometimes I do another session lying down in bed at the end of the day.
Time of Day – Several of my teachers have recommended meditating in the morning. I’ve heard this explained as our energy is rises, like the sun, until about noon and then decreases as the sun goes down. I’ve found that a morning practice is useful to me for several reasons:
- It sets the tone for the rest of the day
- It allows me to begin my daily work from a calmer, more stable inner space
- I simply have more energy
Duration – When I first started meditating, I could barely manage 10 minutes. More than that was overwhelming. I’d recommend starting with 10-15 minutes as you build up your habits. You want a meditation period that feels doable, regardless of how it actually turns out, and a consistent part of your day. As a busy high school teacher, I forced myself to get up about 15 minutes earlier each day to meditate. After a few weeks, it wasn’t any hardship. It had become my new normal. (We’re remarkably adaptable if we don’t buy into thoughts on why we can’t do something)
Number of Sessions – As mentioned above, I do about 20-30 minutes of mindful movement through yoga and qigong and then usually 30 minutes of formal sitting. I also bring as much awareness and acceptance to every part of my day as I can – which also counts as meditation sessions. In this way, I’m meditating many many times throughout the day, with a structured, formal start. Morning sitting helps me keep my self-discipline strong and not get lost in “Oh, I’ll just be aware of eating cookies.” Atleast, not too often. It can happen. 🙂 I recommend getting into the habit of doing one formal practice before doing more sessions in a day.
Which Practice to Use – This varies. Often, I’ll start with a concentration meditation (Counting the Breath) to establish focus. If I feel stable and my mind is calm, I might transition into an insight meditation, such as Following the Breath or Fusho. It depends on how I am in the moment and responding to that. I appreciate this responsiveness and flexibility in my tradition.
If you’re setting up a daily practice, I recommend doing concentration meditations to start. Having a stronger focus sets you up for success later on when you practice looking deeply (insight). I speak from experience here – it’s hard to see clearly when your mind is a whirlwind! Instructions for a grounding concentration practice can be found in my Introduction to Mindfulness and Zen Meditation course. I also have a guided concentration on Insight Timer and a body scan meditation offered in my email list.
A daily meditation practice doesn’t have to start with sitting. Traditionally, the four postures of meditation are sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. Any of these work as well as the others. A word of advice: an upright sitting posture is very stable and I have found that this grounding does influence my practice. If your back is hurting or you’re falling asleep, it can be extra difficult to meditate – try different things to see what is most useful for you. There’s no reason to hurt yourself in the name of meditation.
Make Your Practice Your Own
Here are some reflections to set up a practice that works for you. Keep in mind that it takes time to see the patterns of what suits you and your life.
- Which time of day works well for you? Could you adapt your current schedule to accommodate it?
- How does 10-15 minutes feel? Could you do a bit longer?
- How does 1 session a day feel? What about 2?
- Which meditation posture would be most useful to you?