Meditation for People Who Hate to Meditate: A Beginner’s Guide

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This is not me. I meditate in pajamas, not on cliffs. (via Jakub Hlavaty on Flickr)
This is not me. I meditate in pajamas, not on cliffs. (via Jakub Hlavaty on Flickr)

When it comes to meditation, I know it’s supposed to be amazing for you. But to be honest, I don’t have a brain that likes shutting off. I’m not good at it. And since I run and ride pretty much daily, I always figured that covered my meditative thinking. However, after a slightly annoying but informative doctor appointment where I was told my cortisol levels might be a little whacky, among some terrible advice, the doctor suggested something simple: she said I should start meditating. And since I wasn’t touching her medicate-the-problem-that-we-haven’t-even-tested-for advice, I figured it wouldn’t kill me to meditate instead.

Conveniently, I had just watched this episode of Parks and Rec:

Yep, that’s about how I felt, minus Ron Swanson’s uncanny ability to think about nothing. (“I’ll stand.”)

But I sucked it up and downloaded the oft-mentioned Headspace app onto my phone and added Meditate Daily to my ToDoist app so I’d get an annoying reminder if I skipped it. (This is also how I made myself start spending time working on my French.)

It’s been eight days, and while I don’t have any definitive numbers to share—though I’m hoping to start monitoring my HRV soon, and we’re working on a podcast on that exact topic—I do have a few thoughts, largely positive. In general, taking 10 minutes a day to meditate has calmed me down, and it’s made my morning routine more pleasant. And I’ve found that even after a few sessions, during the day when I found myself getting stressed, I’ve been reminding myself to breathe, taking a few extra seconds, and recalling the morning session. And it’s worked! I’m a pretty high-stress person most of the time, but meditating has certainly helped to chill me out in those particularly anxious-for-no-real-reason moments.

I wanted to put together a few of my tips for getting started on meditation when you hate the idea of meditation:

Find a Time that Makes Sense
I’m not great at getting out of bed in the morning. I really, really like staying cozy. So for me, meditating first thing in the morning makes sense—it’s a really gentle wakeup, but it really does wake you up. So I do mine sitting in bed, and by the time it’s done, I’m much more alert and ready to get out of bed, versus my typically whiny self. I also like the idea of adding it to the end of a workout, when you’re a little beat and need to calm your system down, or maybe mid-day when you’re at the office and need a mental break… and I know some people love it before bed. Try a few times of day and see what works best for you.

Game the System
I’ve used Headspace for a few days, and I really enjoy the notifications and the reminders, plus the way it tells me how much I’ve meditated. The whole idea of ‘leveling up’ makes me not want to skip a day. There’s that great Jerry Seinfeld productivity hack too, if you want a simpler way to game it: on your calendar, give yourself a check mark—you won’t want to break the chain once you have a bunch of days in a row, so you’ll be more inclined to keep doing it.

Alternate Nostril Breathing
I’ve tried—and enjoyed—some advice that The Urban Monk taught me (in his book and in an interview we did for Bicycling): do alternate nose breathing for 5 minutes of your meditation. This is fantastic for someone who needs something to do in order to think about nothing, or if you’re like me and don’t really like doing the loud mouth exhalations that most guided meditations dig on. (I’ve gotten better about this, and I think it’s an important skill to learn, but I think starting with alternate nostril breathing is a great idea.)

Find a Guided Meditation
It doesn’t have to be Headspace—actually, I love the one The Urban Monk Pedram Shojai did for Bicycling Mag after our interview. Great for cyclists! (The audio file is embedded in the article.) I also remember my mom having a meditation cassette tape in the nineties. I can still recite the opening line: “You’re on a tropical island, surrounded by the Pacific.” Hilarious, yes. But I honestly repeat that to myself before the meditation time starts so I have that image in my head.

It’s Only 10 Minutes
I know 10 minutes can be really hard to find in your day. But it is only 10 minutes. It’s not going to kill you. And honestly—there is no downside to trying it for a few weeks, and if it still feels useless to you, then you can cut it out. But just try.

Look for the Upsides
Like I said: even after a few days, I was seeing some benefits from meditation. It might be minor things, like you didn’t shout at your dog, or you fell asleep a little easier, or you were a little happier in the morning. I definitely think it’s easier to keep up a habit when you see benefits, so be on the lookout for the perks!

Like this? Check out our Consummate Athlete Podcast with Ryan Leech for more on meditation!

Let me know in the comments: do you meditate? If so, what’s your best advice for newbies?

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5 comments on “Meditation for People Who Hate to Meditate: A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. Dan Harris (“10% Happier”) puts it this way: getting lost and finding your way back is the whole game (he’s talking about meditation, not cycling). Bringing your focus back after each distraction is what trains the mind, so don’t get discouraged.

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