Optimizing Your Meditation Practice
Skills don't sharpen themselves. And, as anyone who has ever trained for a race like a 10K, half, or full marathon will tell you, a training plan is vital to get across the finish line feeling good.
Similarly, the mind also needs exercise.
Meditation is one of the best ways to influence mental and emotional strength.
Here are a few ways to optimize your meditation practice for the most benefit.
More, actually is, better.
While taking 2-5 minutes to breath deeply, or connect to a mantra throughout the day is beneficial. A formal seated meditation is important in gleaning the full benefits of the practice. However, for a lot of people the prospect of sitting still in meditation for 20 minutes a day feels fruitless when dealing with many competing priorities.
Take heart. Your effort to carve out dedicated time to meditation is not done in vain.
Increasing the duration of meditation, like tacking on mileage to a run, has real benefits.
20 minutes of daily meditation is known to improve task accuracy, and fewer mistakes at work. Additionally research finds that adhering to longer meditation practices encourages greater more mindful responding.
That's the juice. Mindful responding is the secret sauce of relationships building, conflict management, and leading yourself and others compassionately and confidently through an obstacle.
Yes. Wrestling through the first few days of a 20+ minute meditation practice can be uncomfortable. But, don't give up. Not only does it get easier to do, it becomes more comfortable over time as well.
Consistency, regardless of time, is key.
If you only practice 20 minutes one time a month the benefits won't stick, and you would be better off practicing 2 minutes per day everyday.
Consistency is where most people encounter difficulty. Developing discipline around a habit that has delayed gratification is tricky. Finding ways to enjoy the practice can make habit formation easier. Bundle your meditation with a positive activity can be a great mind trick. Or, try a different style that you enjoy more!
When it comes to meditation there are many different styles to try, and it just takes a little bit of effort to experiment in search of the best option for you. Research shows that adherence to a practice may be more important that the technique that is chosen.
Overtime the ability to stay consistent will become easier. But don't take my word for it. This isn't just positive lip-service. Rather this is because the practice itself is changes the brain.
Long-term meditation practices increase areas of the brain that contribute to emotional regulation and impulse control. Thus, the more consistent a practitioner is, the stronger they are at dealing with discomfort (like refusing the snooze button to ensure you can get your meditation and exercise done for the day) and overriding the desire to quit when things get tough (like giving into a wandering mind and ending the practice early out of frustration.)
Formal + Informal = Magic
But we don't have the ability to simply sit and meditate all day long. And, most of us don't walk through our lives blissed-out all day long. Life happens, and stress is inevitable.
The ability to accurately respond to stress is important.
A formal seated meditation practice is useless if the benefits don't carry forward off the cushion. Studies show that mindfulness techniques can work wonders to combat stress when implemented informally throughout the day. One way to think about informal meditation is to reframe it as 'applied meditation'. This is the aspects of meditation that happen off the cushion.
Consider these scenario of 'applied meditation'. Someone cuts you off in traffic. Rather than speeding up to flip them the bird and jeopardizing your safety and the safety of those in cars around you, you instead take 10 deep breaths. Or perhaps your boss is rude to you during a business meeting. In that moment you decide to unclench your jaw, and wait for the right time to bring up the issue rather than immediately shooting off an angry email or meeting their negative energy with an outburst of your own.
If stress reduction is all you're after then informal techniques may be all you need. The more you practice regulation through mindfulness during our day the better you will be at responding appropriately.
It's great to know how to stay calm.
It is even better to respond accurately, with the right intensity, and also have the ability to return to a neutral state once the stimulus has stopped without long-term worry, self-doubt, or rumination. This is very similar, and in many ways related, to the concept of heart-rate recovery in cardiovascular fitness.
Stress response is physical. We are put into action with an increased heart-rate that enables the body to move quickly. Once the stress has passed by, the body begins the process of recovery. The faster the heart rate can recover after a big effort the better. Quick and efficient heart-rate recovery is a true marker for cardiovascular health because it means the organ is strong enough to respond, and isn't being unnecessarily burdened after the fact. It is helpful to remember that the nervous system is integral in this, and that the body responds to psychological stress much the same way.
Nervous system training is key.
Formal meditation is much like training for the game, and keeping skills sharp so that they are effective and applied in real life scenarios.
Often, after we have begun to apply regulation skills in everyday life, we begin to also seek out a greater capacity for resilience. Bouncing back quickly while also incorporating the lessons learned is like the holy grail of meditation benefits.
This is where maintaining formal meditation practices can really come through.
Uncomfortable, boring, stiff, achy, or restless meditation sessions happen. Those aren't 'bad' formal meditations. In fact they can be very good and helpful. Encountering obstacles inside the meditation practice, and returning to it with compassion and commitment hones skills of discipline, perspective, appropriate response, self-care, and self-confidence. These are the ingredients baked into resilience.
Two important aspects resiliency that influence our ability to bounce back is our assessment of the event after the fact and the perspective we take when considering ourselves within the circumstance. Long-term meditators are known to have an easier time accessing empathy and viewing things in new and novel ways. Seeing things from other points of view is crucial for undoing false narratives that we hold about ourselves, others, and circumstances, and it invites an openness to authoring new stories that are kinder, more generous, and, in general, optimistic. We can create new options for ourselves, through resiliency, in which we identify warmly with ourselves and identify less with the circumstances that happen to us.
This comes with practice, and it is totally worth the time and effort.
Ways to Expand Your Meditation Practice
Finally, let me know! How are you optimizing your meditation practice? How does meditation improve your life? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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Body. Mind. Spirit.
Hi there! You found me. My name is Julia Marie Lopez. For 22 years I have studied meditation and mindful movement as my primary tools for healing. For the past 13 years I have worked as an instructor, a wellness business owner, the Founder of Practice Everywhere, and now I am embarking on a new adventure to expand how we define our Personal and Public Practices.
Since I offer you my experience and perspective, share my writing about life, love and wellness, and offer a bit of unsolicited advice, I think you should also know that I do include affiliate links and promotions in some of blogs. If you make an action (such as sign ups, memberships, or purchases) I might earn a commission. I promise to use this income to support my love of coffee, dogs, yoga, and my family (in no particular order).💜