Find the right guide, and enjoy yourself
Many people have an interest in beginning or renewing a meditation practice because they’ve heard that meditation can help with stress. Like all practices, it can be challenging to be consistent. Until COVID, I’d been an inconsistent meditator since I was 18 years old. Each time I started again, my practice got a little better and a little stronger. Now it’s something I look forward to each morning. For me, I’ve found that the keys are to find a guide, and to make sure that meditation is enjoyable.
Over the years, I’ve used books, in person classes, and now smartphone apps. They’ve all been helpful.
Learn from a teacher in the Fox Cities
Joy Jordan is a local mindfulness teacher. She offers two 5-week classes through Appleton Parks & Rec: Mindfulness 101 and Mindfulness 201. She teaches them each fall and spring. She also lead 3-hour retreats through the APRD in November, February and May. In addition, Joy offers a free guided meditation class on Friday mornings through Zoom. She also does one on one sessions. You can learn more about Joy at https://www.bornjoy.com/ or email her, email@example.com.
My favorite book on meditation
I love the book “Meditation Made Easy” by Lorin Roche. The author does a great job demystifying meditation, and making it fun. There are many different meditation practices that don’t involve paying attention to your breath—something that can often be challenging for beginners. He even has a list of meditations to do before a party to get yourself in the right frame of mind.
My favorite apps
I personally found apps to be a big help in cementing a meditation practice. My favorite is an app called Plum Village that is designed and maintained by Buddhist monks affiliated with the monk, writer, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s free, and I like this app because it has a beautiful “bell of mindfulness” that I’ve set to go off every quarter of an hour. It helps me remember to stop what I’m doing and take a few deep breaths to reset my body and mind. If you’re interested in Buddhism, this app is a good introduction. If you’re not interested in Buddhism, this app has plenty of stuff you can use whatever your spiritual practices are. This app also has a nice selection of guided body scans, which are particularly good for people experiencing pain or anxiety.
Good apps if you are new to meditation
If you are very new to meditation, two apps you might consider are Headspace or 10% Happier. When I re-started my meditation practice a few years ago, Headspace was very helpful. Both are paid apps, but they have great content. Headspace has cute animated videos and a set of introductory guided meditations to get you started. It also has many sets of meditations around specific topics like forgiveness, anger, stress, transition, etc. You can also meditate with other people around the world at specific times of the day. If you just want to close your eyes and relax, they have beautiful soundscapes you can listen to. I haven’t used 10% Happier myself, but I have several patients who have enjoyed the approach of its founder, journalist Dan Harris. The associated website offers great podcasts. It’s also a great name. Focusing on the fact that you feel happier after you meditate will make it much likelier that you’ll continue.
Meditation for pain relief
I know several people who like the app Curable. This one is focused on helping people who are dealing with chronic pain. Mindfulness and meditation are part of the tool set it teaches users. The app was designed in conjunction with surgeons, neurologists and other medical professionals in the field of pain management.
How do I meditate?
Right now, I meditate for about 20 minutes first thing in the morning. I say a few prayers to start, then repeat meditation poems that synch with my breath. I keep track of things using a set of japa mala beads (similar to praying a rosary). For example, I often do one round of beads with the phrase “Breathing in, I’m aware of breathing in breath. Breathing out, I’m aware of breathing out” which is shortened to “in, out.” I typically do a second round, with a different poem depending on what I need that week. A nice one is “Breathing in, I feel joy. Breathing out, I feel peace” or “joy, peace.” One of the purposes of meditation is to strengthen our insight, and I’ve certainly found that to be a benefit. I often have the answer to a problem come to me while I’m meditating.
Mindfulness throughout the day
One last practice I’ve found very helpful is the use of short meditation poems throughout the day. I started the practice after reading several “gathas” from the Zen practitioner Thich Nhat Hahn, though “gathas” are originally a Zoroastrian practice. You could just as easily call it a prayer. The point is to call my attention to what I’m doing so that I can be more aware and appreciative of the present moment. Sometimes I use verses that others have written, and sometimes I make up my own. It’s a useful way to to stay grounded and positive throughout the day.