Episode 9: Starting a Meditation Practice

Episode Summary

Thinking about starting a meditation practice? Or have started, but would like more clarity? In this Episode I cover all the basics needed to get your practice going in the right direction.


Welcome to episode nine. This episode is all about how to start a meditation practice. So if you would like to start a meditation practice at any stage, or you’d like to advise another person on how to do it, then you find this episode really helpful. I’ll go through the main points. And we’ll also pause in the middle for a short two minute practice. Hope you enjoy.

Hey there. So today, I’m excited to go through what you need to know to be able to start a mindfulness practice. So mainly when I was planning this episode, I’m thinking about someone who has an interest in mindfulness has an interest in meditation, but hasn’t yet got a really regular practice going. Like you may have started a few times and done some meditations. But when you kind of check in with yourself to say, Do I have a regular meditation practice your answer, at least to yourself is no, not really!

If you do have a regular meditation practice already, hopefully, this episode will help kind of clarify things for you. Maybe you’ll learn something, and maybe it’ll help you in being able to guide another person and how to start a practice. And also, if you have other suggestions, too, please get in touch with me, you can find me on on Instagram @Keithmindfulness. And you’ll also find me on Facebook and LinkedIn.

So here’s the main things, I’m looking at the time of day to practice the place a little bit about pasture, how to get set up for your meditation, like what to do beforehand, what’s helpful to do just at the end of your practice, we’ll look at what type of practice might be helpful to start with. And just for fun, I’ll add a few suggestions at the end that can really supercharge your practice. Before I jump into those topics, though, there’s two ideas that I think are really important, that help inform how I think about meditation. And I think these are both essential for someone to be able to maintain a long term practice.

The first principle is you need to do enough meditation to see the benefits. This goes for learning every skill, whether it’s you know, taking up running or any new type of exercise or learning a musical instrument, or there’s a certain amount of effort needs to go in, to start to move the needle for you to start to see some changes happen. Meditation is like everything else, like you do get this immediate little benefit from doing a practice. But actually, the impact is cumulative. It’s all the practices over time they add up, and they start to sort of trickle out into your day in surprising ways. But enough practice is needed for this to happen. I’ll talk later about like the length of time of practice and that but just that principle, you need to do enough practice to see the benefits. And I think this is the simple reason why most people don’t make progress in meditation, it’s just that they haven’t done enough to see the benefits. Because once you start to see the benefits, you start to like the practice a lot more, it starts to seem worthwhile, but that really won’t come with a few sessions. Okay, so Principle number one, just put the time in.

And then Principle number two, learn to love the practice, the more you can turn it into something that you really enjoy, the better chance you have of sustaining it. Like you never want your practice to be a chore to be like another thing on your to do list. It’s really nice if it’s something you’re naturally drawn towards. So I’ll talk about ways that you can make your practice really attractive. But that’s the second principle. Learn to love your practice.


So let’s jump into the nuts and bolts of practice, then, the first thing is the time of day, the most important thing with the time of day is choose a time of day. I’ve never met anyone with a steady practice, who does it at random times. Like that’s a nice idea. It’s nice to imagine that we could just meditate when we feel like it would actually I find that people who have a regular time to practice are way more likely to actually do this. So consider your life and what would work for you and test out different times and see. And it’s not that it has to be the exact time every day would that would help. And then the most obvious times are first thing in the morning and nighttime, I would say about 70% of people who have really strong meditation practices do it first thing in the morning. And there’s lots of reasons for that. By doing the practice first thing in the morning, it’s kind of putting it down there as a priority. We’re more likely to be able to control our time to make sure it happens like just by getting up 20 minutes early or whatever the time is. For me personally, that’s the time of day when my mind is kind of a little more still, like I haven’t yet gotten into all the details and logistics of the day and all the tasks. So there can be this kind of window where it can be a little easier to meditate. So I’ll get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, try and avoid my phone, ideally, not even talk to people and just head to the meditation room. That’s the best setup for me. And that way, I’m kind of just waking. And before I know what I’m meditating, and then the sessions done.

But of course, we’re all unique. And for some people, that’s not a time of day that’s available. Like there’s just too much happening already with getting kids to ready for school or whatever is going on. And and there was phases in my life where I couldn’t get to the morning practice, another nice option to explore then is nighttime. And it’s finding that window of time where you feel that you’ve got everything done that you need to do for the day. So your mind is kind of becoming more restful. And yeah, that can be a really nice time to practice. I struggle a little bit with tiredness when I meditate at that time of day. But I know lots of people with a great practice, who who find they can meditate really well at nighttime. And maybe there’s some adjusting of what practice did you want to mention that later. But I would really suggest if it’s possible at all, test out the times and find a time that works for you. Like for me, it’s 730 in the morning. And that’s just, that’s just my routine.


Then moving on to place, it’s just like the time, it’s helpful to have a consistent time, it’s also really helpful to meditate in the same place, it starts to get a kind of a feeling, you start to associate the place with meditation, it becomes easier to do. So this can be a corner of a bedroom or corner of a room, a favourite chair. And it’s really nice to kind of mark that this place is special to you. And you can be creative in how you do that, whether that’s candles or a scent, or incense, or I think a nice blanket like a favourite blanket can be a really nice thing, if you sit on the floor having a cushion you really like and that helps you to be comfortable. Or if you’re in a chair, something that allows you to be upright and maybe to have your feet on the floor or again, like have a blanket under your feet. So you have that kind of contact with the ground, it’s easier to meditate in a place that’s quiet. So if that’s possible, then go for us.

Having said that, I first learned to meditate on a rooftop in India, in 1999, where there was mosquitoes and traffic and I still go on fine. So you just find the best place that you can and set it up as nicely as he can.


Then in terms of posture, I won’t mention much here. But there’s two basic principles, you want to have a feeling of of solidness of connection to the ground. So like feeling that you’re sort of connected to the chair or the cushion. If you’re on a chair, it really helps to have your feet on the floor. And then the second feeling is the opposite, where you have a feeling of a lift up through the back all the way up to the top of the head. But you always want to be comfortable as well. So this is again, something you figure out yourself over time, figure out what posture allows you to be comfortable, but also alert if sitting isn’t comfortable. Or if you’re doing a practice where lying down would be better than lying down is also fine. And again, making sure you have something nice to lie on. Maybe you’ve got a blanket and so making the practice enjoyable all the time, actually, meditation can be hard work. So you want to make your posture comfortable, you want to make things as nice as they can be.

Before and After

Then about what to do before and after the practice beforehand. If it’s morning time, I think as little as possible. If it’s nighttime and your mind is kind of buzzy, sometimes it’s hard to go straight from a very active mind and into trying to meditate. So I think like a transition activities really good meaning you know, something as simple as going for a walk. Or maybe if you’re just washing dishes, you just really notice them move a little bit of quiet time, or maybe just listening to one piece of music or something to kind of help you shift gears, it can be too hard to go if your mind is really racing. It’s not really realistic or pleasant. Just sit and notice your breathing, for example. So yeah, something in between really helps. I’ve become a fan of ritual over the years, meaning like doing a physical thing in a sort of intentional way. So for me, I always have my meditation cushion in the same place as sort of straightness. I’ll do a little bit of tidying I light some candles. So I find taking that minute or so just helps me to it helps me to know that I’m I’m going to meditate tells my body this is what’s happening, depending on how I’m feeling as well. Some days I feel like I need a few stretches to like opening up my back or shoulders. And I just kind of tune in myself to see what do I need to feel relaxed and alert.

And then let’s say you do your meditation practice, how about what to do at the end. So a couple of things, I think it’s really important to kind of close your meditation, when you’re meditating, you can become a little more aware, a little more sensitive, you’re tuning into your own experience more. And if you jump straight off the cushion, or the chair and into everyday life, and maybe you know, a conflict with the kids or rushing around, it can be a little jarring. So I think it’s really nice to just take like one or two minutes at the end of your practice or towards the end, where you just kind of relax, you don’t make any effort, you just rest. And you can identify your key practices done. Like in my case, then I have this ritual where I’ll kind of rub my hands together and clap them. And to me, that means Okay, it’s done. And now I’m moving on to the next thing. Along the same lines, when I get up from the meditation cushion, I’m like, really careful to, you know, mindfully, blow out the candles, fold the blanket in a certain way, and organise everything. And again, it’s my way of moving from a meditation mode and into getting ready for the more kind of rough and tumble of life so that I’m not too open, it’s nice to become open in the practice. But then equally for after the practice, we need to be ready for whatever’s next.

Okay, so two more things to look at. And that’s what type of practice is good to start with, and some ways of supercharging your practice. But before we do that, let’s pause for a minute or two, and do a mindfulness practice.

(Two Minute Practice)

So super simple practice today, just dropping in and noticing the breathing at your stomach for a moment.

The stomach can be a nice place to notice the breathing, because there’s a lot of movement here, like the expansion of the stomach on the in breath, and the natural fall of the stomach on the out breath.

So just noticing that, but not changing anything about your breathing.

Just however your breathing is, is fine.

And if it’s difficult to notice the breathing, it can help to place a hand at the stomach. And it becomes more physical, like you really become aware that there is movement as you breathe in and out.

And your mind gets distracted. And that’s fine. And then just coming back to this in breath, and this out breath.

And then just letting go of the practice.

What Practice?

So the practice we just did is an example of doing an informal mindfulness practice, like something you can just do in a minute or two minutes during the day. But what about the formal practice sessions, then the kind of 10 1520, even 30 minute practices that you might do in the morning or at night? What are the best practices to start with the most common practices to just expand on what we just did. So practising on the breathing, and it becomes this way of noticing the breath and the out breath, and then getting used to this thing that the mind will wander, and you just bring it back. And it’s that kind of repeated coming back, that really helps to develop our concentration and our steadiness, there becomes different ways of noticing the breathing, sometimes we can stand back and observe it, sometimes we’re closer we’re really feeling we’re resting in the breathing with the breath can be a lovely place to start.

One exception to this, though, is that if you find at any stage that when you go to your breathing, you feel a little bit, it brings up anxiety or restlessness. If that’s becoming uncomfortable, then it’s always possible to choose a different place to focus your attention. And you might find you come back to the breathing another time, and it’s okay. So while the breathing is a great place to start for lots of people, for some people it isn’t. So it’s a matter of tuning into that.

There’s a traditional type of meditation where you focus on the breathing, and then on the whole body, and then on sounds, and then on your thoughts. And there might even be a stage after that where it’s called Open awareness where you just kind of open to whatever experiences and if you’re doing a longer meditation practice, you can actually do all those in sequence or for example, you could just focus on unsay sounds, usually it’s good to start with the breath or the body, they’re more tangible and they help you to be anchored. Sound is a little more subtle, thoughts are much more subtle. So it helps to have a kind of steady start to the practice if you’re moving towards thoughts. So a lot of the meditations I teach will focus in those four areas.

But beyond that, I think it’s really good to have a bunch of other tools in your toolbox, like a compassion meditation, a self compassion meditation, I think gratitude practices are grace, and equally movement practices. Some days, it’s just difficult to sit and notice your breathing. And doing say, for example, a walking meditation is more skillful, or when you’re tired, doing lying down practice, like a body scan meditation. So I’m a fan of people learning a number of practices, and then tuning into their own experience to see which one becomes your main practice.

And as your meditation develops, you might find that in some phases, some months you’re drawn to a certain type of practice, and another time you need something else, you don’t need to have a guided meditation practice, it’s entirely possible to learn how to guide your own meditation. And overtime, I think it’s good to be able to do that. But most people find it easier, at least in the early phases to have a guided practice. And some people will always prefer a guided practice.

And then in terms of the length of the practice, I think it’s much better to practice for 10 or 15 minutes, ideally every day than it is to do like a really long session occasionally. So I think a nice routine is that your regular practice is that 1015 minute length. And then over time, maybe occasionally learning and becoming comfortable with the longer practice, a longer practice does allow more stability to develop, your concentration can get stronger and and it’s also interesting to explore what happens if I sit for longer.

Supercharge your Practice

Finally, some thoughts on how to really supercharge your practice. So let’s say it’s up and running, what might be interesting to add to your practice?

So one thing can be trying to commit to a number of days practice in a row, like a very realistic one is a five day challenge. And that’s something in the mindfulness community that we that we run regularly, and people get a real boost from. So committing to something as simple as I’m going to meditate for five days in a row. And by making that commitment, it’s more likely that it will happen.

Another way to really deepen your practice is to do a retreat. So retreat could mean anything from a half day, or a full day, or maybe moving on to a weekend or a week or who knows. The nice thing about a retreat day is that it allows you to do a number of practices where you really have no other responsibilities, you’re usually in a really nice place. It’s a really simple day, you get to spend time outside, some time having nice food and moving in and out of practices. And it starts to feel that you’re never really fully out of the practice, like your meditation kind of carries into your cup of tea outside, which carries into the next practice. And it can be really enjoyable and really interesting for your practice to do that.

And then I think the ultimate way to supercharge your practices to connect with a teacher, this goes with everything. I think if you’re serious about learning something complex, you need a guide, you need someone to make suggestions to interact with you to help you if you’re stuck, or if you’ve reached a plateau, or just someone to inspire and encourage you.

So it’s worth saying at this stage that this is why I built the mindfulness community, to the mindfulness community is this wonderful online community where there’s guidance and support and guided practices and challenges and the opportunity for a treat and, and the support of me as the guide and also of fellow peers who are trying to really bring practice into their lives. So if you’re at a place where you feel that you really want to develop your mindfulness practice, you’re attracted to the benefits of it, then I’d really recommend you have a look at the mindfulness community and if you head to my website, Keithhoran.com. You can find out more about that and see if it’s right for you. You’d be really welcome.

Okay, so thanks for listening. I hope this was helpful and take care. You can find today’s show notes and more great resources at Keith Horan calm, and I’d be delighted if you do a quick reading wherever you listen to your podcasts. This helps us in reaching people growing the show. Thanks so much for listening.

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