#YOLO. You only live once. There’s no time like the present. They’re rallying cries this time of year, but it would be nice to really focus on living for the moment for more than a week or two each January. Bonus points if there are no screens in sight. Believe it or not, and Long Islanders may want to be sitting down for this one, it is possible. This year, resolve to give meditation a try.
“We’re used to stimulus all the time, electronics and multi-tasking,” said Holly McGregor of Meditation on Long Island. “The whole idea of stillness and quiet is something that we long for but that we’re quite unfamiliar with. Gradually, through the process of meditation, we learn to enjoy the stillness in our lives.”
By committing to the practice of meditation, you can set yourself up to reap neurological and emotional benefits, like feeling happier and less stressed, two goals nearly every Long Islander probably has for 2016.
“Through meditation, we can come into a new relationship with our thoughts, bodies and emotions and mainly with the stresses in our daily lives. Meditation is a tool to really live from a place of responsiveness to reaction to all the things that happen,” said Lisa Langer, PhD, a Roslyn-based clinical psychologist who helped to found the wellness center PRACTICE Body Mind.
If you’re hoping for a New Year full of health, happiness and peace, let your journey start with these seven meditation tips for beginners
Learn the Principles
Before starting a meditation practice, it’s important for you to understand what you’re doing. Buddhists define meditation as familiarizing your mind with positive, peaceful states of mind. “If you’re doing that, you’re meditating,” McGregor said.
“The largest principle is bringing the awareness into the present moment,” added Langer. “Just being able to be with our thoughts, our physical sensations or emotions and then letting them go as we breathe. There are many principles of meditation but those are the foundation.”
Pick Your Practice
There are several different types of meditation to choose from, breathing, transcendental, yoga and even informal forms of meditation like walking or riding a bike. Langer typically has people start out with simple breathing meditation, where they sit straight with eyes partially closed and focus on their breathing.
“You always have your breath available to you,” she said. “It’s completely low-cost and you can do it anywhere. It’s very simple to just watch and sense each inhale and each exhale in the body and that’s really a wonderful way to begin meditation.”
Others may prefer a guided meditation, especially if they are beginners.
“We can turn off the driver in our mind, relax and follow instructions,” said McGregor, who has noticed that some people come to a guided group meditation once a week and then practice during the week on their own.
Music may help as well.
“It has an immediate effect and goes right into our hearts,” McGregor said. “People find that calming and uplifting.”
Make a Space
McGregor recommends setting up a special spot for meditation. For some, it’s a whole room, but a chair in a part of a room works well too.
“It makes a difference, having a space to go to and that space takes on a special quality, a special energy that helps you go there [in your meditation],” she said. “You might want to set up some inspiring images, whatever you find beautiful, inspiring and peaceful.”
As far as how to sit, “Some people can sit cross legged if that’s comfortable but you don’t have to, you just need a chair where you can keep your back straight and relax the body.”
Langer and McGregor like to have people start in small intervals.
“Even starting for five minutes a day and building from there is great,” Langer said.
She likes to have people stretch a bit before you start. “Moving is a great way to settle the body.”
Let Go of the All-or-Nothing Attitude
You’re a perfectionist when it comes to work, cooking, picking out an outfit…the list goes on. When you’re meditating, you have the experts’ permission to take a break from having to be “on” at all times. You just need to be.
“It’s important to set realistic expectations,” Langer said. “At the beginning, you have to expect that your mind is going to wander. Sometimes people think of meditation as a blissed-out state or their thoughts are going to go away. That’s not actually the case.”
Both Langer and McGregor suggest going into the practice with a nonjudgmental attitude towards yourself.
“There’s no way to do it perfectly and you don’t have to do it perfectly. It’s just whatever happens,” Langer said.
“Everybody feels like their concentration isn’t good, their focus isn’t good and they think that will prevent them from meditating but meditation is a remedy for that,” McGregor said. “It’s like saying, ‘I’m too out of shape so I’m never going to walk around the park.'”
Remember, it’s always a practice that’s about bettering your world, not a huge presentation or to-do list item that requires you to be flawless.
“Make it an act of love instead of something that I should do and something that I have to do. If we’re going to meditate, make it about enjoying your meditation…we do what we enjoy,” McGregor said.
Deal With Your Wandering Mind
A wandering mind is normal, but to get the most out of your practice you’ll want to re-focus yourself.
“The process is staying with a point of focus and when we’re distracted, not if we’re distracted, we just gently notice, let go of the distraction and come back,” McGregor said.
You may find that your meditation preferences change over time.
“A sitting meditation might work now but then you might want to do yoga or walk or not meditate but go spin instead,” Langer said.
Keep an open mind and try out new forms of meditation.