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How to Build Your Meditation Muscle

Rice Paper Butterfly on purple flower

Note: This writing was originally posted on menu4living.com, a blog about “savoring life’s experiences and learning from the journey.” Check it out!

When you hear the word “meditation” who or what do you picture? A monk? A person sitting like a perfect pretzel, touching each thumb to their forefinger creating small circles of peace radiating all around them? What are they doing, anyway?

They are simply building their meditation muscle.

If you can look beyond the intimidating posture of a traditional meditation, and are willing to take time to tune out, from your electronics, in order to tune-in, you are ready to start. However, I am sure that you have many questions. 

“Where do I begin?”, you may be wondering. With any new habit that you build, it is salient to start small. When I teach my university students the very basics of meditation, I assign them to take a 5 minute “Just Be” Break each day. Giving this special time a new name can lead you to create your own image of what a meditation practice can look like–you don’t have to look like a trendy Buddha statue either! 

If you are also wondering about the physical space, sitting in a chair or lying down both work. When sitting, I recommend an upright, comfortable posture to allow easy breathing and feet on the floor, to feel connected and supported. This simple awareness of your feet can provide some calm during emotional events. You can try the lotus pose, that iconic cross legged position, but that one may take some easing in…and stretching. Why do you think that pose is the poster of meditation? In any other position, the person may simply look as though they are sleeping.

Speaking of which, laying down is perfectly fine too, as long as you know you won’t fall asleep–because then you’re not actually meditating. However, you can find tons of guided meditations to help you fall asleep, if needed 😉 See? No cushions, candles or fancy postures necessary, only a willingness to try. And no actual gym membership needed either.

“When do I find the time to just sit or lay there, when I have so much to do?” you may ponder. Allow me to remind you that we are called human beings, not human doers. If sitting still feels impossible for you right now, try a walking meditation to start. While it is important to eventually train yourself to slow down or be able to take a few moments, a walking meditation will help you begin to build your singular focus muscle. I know that you are well-versed in “multi-tasking”, but now it’s time for “mono-tasking” which means focusing on one thing at a time. Before you know it, you will feel more mindful.

Jon Kabat-Zinn explains mindfulness as simply “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. Sure, we can practice mindfulness in our daily lives through eating, listening, playing, creating etc…, but the act of meditation transcends relaxation. It allows you to know and love yourself…but I am getting way ahead. Let’s get back to the basics of beginning. 

“Why should I meditate?” you may ask yourself. Just like exercising and eating, the desire to do better has to come from within. The word “should” comes from external messages; only you can take action on what is beneficial for you. Staying aware of “why” you wish to meditate will serve as your motivation to make the time, even when you tell yourself that you don’t have time. 

“How do I clear my mind?” you may think. Actually, there is no need to clear your mind. Thoughts naturally flow in. Meditation allows you to choose what to focus your attention on, that’s why it is common to use the breath. Think about it–your breath is automatic, rhythmic and always with you. Plus, your breath offers an abundance of aspects of focus, such as the way it expands your lungs on the inhale. And then there’s that pause before you exhale. Noticing that pause for a few minutes can be a mini meditation! Voila! As you become fully focused on your breath, your thoughts flow on out.

Thus, your practice begins. The act of meditation is often called a “practice”, because like reps for beautiful biceps, it takes repetition to build your comfort with being with yourself.  I am talking about your whole, perfectly imperfect self, which includes all of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. A great way to begin practicing is to notice sensations in the body with a Body Scan. I wrote a blog post which includes a video that models how to breathe deeply before guiding you through a Body Scan and meditation called “Imagine”. It is a great way to begin working out your focus muscle.

Circling back to your “why?”– Why do you want to try or resume meditation? Most of my students believe that the reason to meditate is purely for relaxation. What I love about this starting point is that they discover so much more when they commit to taking the time out to tune in. Try it, and feel free to let me know what treasures you find as you build your meditation muscle: bloom@amyappell.com.

“Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.”– Ajahn Brahm