It’s 5:30am and I’ve awoken in my favorite way–just several minutes before my alarm, so the first sound I hear is the movement of my breath. In this moment, even in my early-morning haze, I know I have choices. I can reach for my phone and start scrolling, I can make a mental check-list of today’s to-do list and hit the ground running, or I can slowly rise, make my bed, and head directly to my meditation cushion.
Today, I choose the cushion. To meet myself before I greet the world.
I head to my cushion because I know that life is a series of choices. The decisions we make create the stage for each individual day and, ultimately, become the story of our lives. It’s easy to forget that each moment holds immense power to shape our experiences and that they are linked through time, like pearls on a string. The more intentionally we place each pearl, the more beautiful our necklace becomes. In this analogy, I find my strength to act with intention and to see the opportunity that lives, in even the smallest things, to create the life I desire.
When I choose meditation to begin my day, I’m carefully stringing my next pearl. I’m consciously creating space for something I value, knowing it carries a potential that enables me to relate to my world feeling calm, grounded, and aligned. It’s a way of re-committing to my best self, every day, and prioritizing this higher perspective for my well-being. It’s my inner proclamation that, while I trust in life’s fluidity and chance unfolding, I will journey with a strong mental reference point to navigate my path.
Establishing a healthy morning routine is something many of us desire. Though, oftentimes, when incorporating something new into our routines, there’s a tendency to return to the familiar ways that most feel comfortable. What I’ve learned is that knowing what is best for us is rarely enough to propel most people into action. Our habits are deeply embedded and shifting them requires a significant amount of deliberate intention, discipline, and patience. Here are some tips, to serve as an anchor while exploring a morning meditation practice:
The ultimate push to starting any new routine is understanding exactly why it’s so important to you in the first place. The clearer you can become on its value, the likelier you are to show up relentlessly while you restructure your life. Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, control anxiety, promote emotional health, enhance self-awareness, improve memory, regulate sleep, manage pain, encourage a peaceful state of mind, and more. Getting very specific on your personal desire will be your fuel.
For example, I am committing to my practice because:
“I want to be more patient and present for my children.”
“My anxiety is affecting my relationships.”
“This is a dream opportunity, and I need as much focus as possible.”
“I desire healthier options to manage my chronic pain.”
Getting clear on your new routine will prime you for success. There’s already a system in place that wants to perpetuate itself. As Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Make space for what you want to create.
First, write down, step-by-step, what your typical morning looks like. Then write down what you would like it to look like. My suggestion is small, incremental changes rather than shaking your morning foundation to the core on day one. Habits are formed, maintained, and changed in a “habit loop”: cue → behavior → reward. According to Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, the key to successfully changing our behavior is to keep the cue and reward the same. For instance, maybe your morning, in its most simplistic version, looks like this:
-Phone alarm sounds (cue)
-Check Facebook, Instagram, and email messages (behavior)
At first, keep it simple. Change only the behavior:
-Alarm Clock (cue)
-Meditation for 10 minutes (behavior)
-Now, check media
Spend about 30 days recreating this habit before adding anything new. Over time, you may want to explore more habit change, such as going to bed earlier as meditation time increases. This model will work just as well.
Create a space that will invite you in. While having a designated room for meditation isn’t a possibility for many people, most of us have the space to create a special indoor or outdoor nook where we can get still and reflect, to refocus our inner life. When we put energy into erecting an external sanctuary for deep connection, it serves as a reminder, every time we see it, of our highest intentions–a prompt to pause, within the action of our lives, to self-nourish.
When considering your sacred space, reflect back upon your “why” for committing to your practice. My two greatest intentions for my morning meditation, for instance, are fostering a connection with nature and my family. Therefore, my space has a small altar with plants I nurture, as well as stones, shells, and driftwood I’ve collected on my wanderings. I have several photos of my son and family, and a beautiful organic, natural-fiber meditation cushion where I can settle in and feel completely aligned. Let your space, simple or elaborate, become a reliable home and an expression of you.
One of my favorite yoga teachers, Jillian Pransky, says, “A Little + Often = A LOT”. While she was referring to yoga, regularity and consistency are the bedrock of any wellness practice. The important thing is to show up and reorient yourself with this practice every day.
Many people love the idea of meditation but realize when they get to the actual meditation practice, that they don’t like it all. This is completely normal. It’s easy for our racing thoughts to go unnoticed while we go about our busy lives. This may be the first time, you’re taking notice of what lies beneath the surface and it can be extremely uncomfortable.
“This is boring.”
“Who’s got time for this?”
“What was I thinking?”
“There is so much else I should be doing.”
“I’m SO not good at this!”
“How long have I been here?”
“I have no idea what I’m doing. Time for breakfast.”
These thoughts WILL arise…and, remember, they are precisely why you are here. 1) To notice the antics of the thinking mind (and, yes, be shocked at how it never stops) and 2) To learn to utilize the breath to change our relationship with these thoughts for some mental spaciousness and calm.
Stay seated and start where you are. Begin with 5-10 minutes your first week, and then increase your sit-time as feels appropriate. Simply, get comfortable, close your eyes, and breathe naturally. As thoughts arise, breathe them away on the exhale.
In time, as it has for so many of us, this may become your favorite time of the day, something you run towards rather than away from. Best of luck on your meditation journey.
For more in-depth information on mindfulness meditation techniques for beginners visit: https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/