The benefits of meditation are indisputable, with a multitude of studies linking the practice to stress reduction, lower blood pressure, the reduction or complete cessation of anxiety, as well as an increase in focus, memory retention, and overall contentment. The health benefits are many, but for many individuals, it can take time to find the most fitting technique, setting, and time of day to meditate to your fullest advantage.
What is your goal?
Perhaps beginning with a very simple question can lead to the answers of where and when meditation is most beneficial for you. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you meditating to achieve a state of calm so as to better handle stress, sharpen your focus, or manage important things like a frenetic schedule? Are you attempting to gain more of the physical benefits of meditation, such as low blood pressure, more emotional balance, greater cognitive function, or improved sleep? Do you simply need a purposeful excuse to have a break in the middle of your day?
The early bird gets the worm
For many, a morning meditation routine helps to prepare for the coming day. In the early hours, you’ve not yet been faced with making decisions, and your mind is rested from the sleep of the night before. Centering yourself within your mind and body first thing can provide clarity for the day’s challenges, an energy boost with which to face your tasks head on, and the focus to be your best self throughout the day.
Meditating at any time can also be influenced by external factors. First thing in the morning, the world around you may be more peaceful with fewer distractions to invade your meditation time. Here are some things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your morning meditation routine:
- Do not check your electronic devices before meditating. The outside world can wait for you to center yourself before you’re ready to tackle your day. Checking your email or messages first thing lets the world intrude before you’ve concentrated on yourself.
- Consider your state of hunger. Making breakfast first thing can give your brain time to let thoughts of your upcoming day take hold, but an empty stomach can also be a distraction from the calm you’re seeking. Eat a quick cereal bar or banana to calm your physical discomforts, and your distractions will be minimized.
- Find a comfortable, quiet place. It doesn’t have to be a separate or private room away from everyone in your household if that’s not possible, but try to make it as distraction free as possible. Some experts even suggest meditating to gentle music. Not only does it keep you from hearing anything you don’t choose to hear, but you can establish an association of peace and focus to a particular song. Then, if the stress of your day begins to get to you, listening to the song again can help restore calm focus and give you a boost.
- Natural light is scientifically proven to be the best light to which our bodies respond. Finding space in your home where outdoor light enters, or even a quiet place outside, might be the best place to begin. Many meditation enthusiasts practice outdoors, facing east. The dawning sun washes warmth and light over your body in a most gentle manner, and the whisper of wind or leaves can help deepen your sense of calm and connection to yourself and nature, and remind you of the beauty around you.
A relaxing evening
If your goal is to find your center after the chaos of the day, perhaps evening meditation is more your speed. Using meditation for a short break between your workday and your evening routine can provide a clear boundary between your two separate places of existence. Give yourself permission to relax, breathe deeply, and recharge your batteries so you can put a bow on the workday’s events and shift to spending your down time without thoughts of the office intruding. Steering your thoughts away from your workday helps center you in the moment during family time, helping your children with their homework, sharing a home cooked meal with your loved ones, or curling up on the couch with your spouse for a favorite movie or TV show. This way, you’re fully present and your downtime actually helps you jump back into the fray for your next workday.
Evening meditation, however, has different distractions from morning meditation. You’ve had an active mind for hours, so it can take some doing to find your center. Here are some ways to achieve a successful evening meditation:
- Put your smartphone on silent. The chimes and buzzes of the outside world can keep you connected when it’s necessary to disconnect and concentrate on yourself. Unplugging for just five minutes can lift the burden of expectation and bring you some much needed space to focus.
- Limit exposure to television before meditating. There’s nothing wrong with zoning out in front of your favorite show, but it’s the very act of zoning out that detaches you from the mindfulness you’re looking for through meditation. Turning off the background noise helps keep the focus on your breathing.
- Aim for earlier evening meditation time. While improved sleep is a definite benefit, the technique itself isn’t meant to make you fall asleep. The brain is stimulated by meditation, but too close to bedtime, and drowsiness will interfere with the centering process, and interrupted meditation will leave the exercise unfulfilled.
- Try using a mantra, a soothing, repeated sound to minimize distractions. Concentrating on the sound helps slow an active thought pattern so you block out intruding thoughts that may prevent you from reaching your center.
- Set an alarm. If you’re having trouble focusing inward, perhaps it’s because you have things to accomplish in the evening, and taking time for yourself feels like procrastinating. With an audible sound signaling a set end, you’ll be aware your meditation time is limited, so distractions are not allowed. It’s freeing to give yourself permission to have these moments of reflection. The alarm is reassurance that any tasks on your to-do list still have plenty of time for completion, so it’s okay to let go for those five to twenty minutes of deep breathing and mindfulness.
The last tip is not to give up.
If you’re new to meditation, allow yourself the space to form the habit. It’s said habits are formed in three weeks, and as with any new undertaking, you improve with practice. Most of the benefits of meditation are actually realized during your active life, through improved focus and memory as well as handling of stressful situations. Meditation is, by its very definition, a quiet practice, so the improvements may begin quietly, too, but they are no less powerful in their impact.