There’s a certain bitter irony in noticing that the times when life is most full and chaotic are probably the times when keeping up with a daily meditation practice would be most beneficial. I spent much of last Winter hibernating: the first two hours of each day I’d spend on a long routine which included movement, touch, seated meditation, and breathwork. I’d go to bed early in the evenings, after another meditation if I felt like it (I often did), and rinse and repeat the next day.
The problem is that this wasn’t very conducive to doing, well, anything much else with my life. It was wonderful while it lasted; at times it felt like I was on my own solitary retreat, save for the hours I spent in the office. But the days began to get longer and warmer, and new projects started, and I missed having a social life.
The challenge in recent months has been finding balance. I don’t have the luxury of many hours each day to meditate any more (as, I suspect, very few of us do). It’s been easy to fall into thinking that not having all this time means that I can’t do anything at all. My daily meditation practice was so structured for that period that anything less, or different, can easily feel like a waste.
This, I remind myself, is a little daft, because all the wisdom I have read and heard so far agrees that a small effort every day is far more beneficial than occasional longer sessions. A familiar lesson I first learned in the gym: consistency always wins (all the best advice is really very dull, as it turns out).
Of course, as with the gym, or any other positive habit you want to include into an already full life, discipline is key. The habit or practice you’re wanting to build is only half of the equation; the other half is the practice of practicing.
I have gone from having almost all the time in the world to meditate, to planning a move to a different city and preparing for temporary couchsurfing, figuring out which days I can sleep where, organising to send as many of my belongings into storage as possible, and all while holding down the last few weeks of a full-time job (and maintaining a social life). It’s as good a time to practice as any.
Here are some things that help me:
1. Give Yourself Options for Daily Meditation Practices
Days when I feel less motivation are characterised by a sense of either, “I just don’t feel like it” or “I don’t have time.” Usually when I feel this way I’m imagining a 20 minute sit and noticing how little my body wants to be that still for that long.
Over the years I’ve explored a few different practices. What my favourites all have in common is that they all allow me to bring my focus back to my body, help me to learn to feel more, and give me the space to slow down. Many of them don’t involve sitting on a cushion, which means I have options. If I feel I need some movement, I can spend some time with a movement or pleasure practice. If sitting feels tiring, I can do some breathwork lying down. And if I am up for a seated meditation then I have a few of those to choose from, too, depending on where I feel I need to focus.
I find it challenging to not get hung up on what I should be doing (because it’s been my routine in the past, or because I feel one practice is “better” than another), but the truth is that any of these practices serve my intentions and being able to choose from a few options means that I’m far more likely to practice every day, whatever my circumstance or mood.
My top three different, five-minutes-no-excuses practices when time is short and energy is low:
- Five minutes of moving my body however it wants to move. No music, just listening to what I feel.
- Five minutes of box breathing, either lying down or sitting.
- Five minutes of seated somatic meditation, focusing on where I feel the breath in my body and what sensations I notice there.
2. Focus on What You Enjoy
I have the advantage now of having seen the benefits of a regular practice, and that often serves as a motivation for me when I need it. It’s trickier if you’re just starting out, though. It can be helpful to remember why you want this habit in your life in the first place, or what it is about meditating that you do enjoy. Perhaps your body feels grateful for the attention, or perhaps you love the alone time.
Find your reason for doing what you want to do, and use that as a motivation.
3. Make Daily Meditation Work With Your Existing Routine
Are there moments during your day where you could already practice some breathwork, or focusing your attention inwards? A daily commute, while you’re doing the washing up, while you’re walking the dog… Meditation doesn’t have to happen while you’re sitting on the cushion, and turning the mundane stuff into a conscious daily practice is valuable too.
Even using some breathwork or meditation as a short routine right before sleep can be a wonderful way help wind down and relax.
4. Just Phone It In
This is a very useful and valid strategy. Make a commitment to do something every day, even if it’s as simple as watching your breath for five minutes. Some days you’ll feel more motivated than others, and that’s fine; the point is that you’re building the habit by making that small effort every day, no matter how half-arsed.
Practice compassion for yourself, and avoid judging your efforts, no matter how small they are. Doing a little bit every day is still enormously worthwhile.