What I know for sure is: starting a home practice only works if you actually do it. After 15 years of dedicated practice (and 10 years before that of “dabbling”) I’ve found some things that work for me. Perhaps they’ll work for you too.
1. Creating a sacred space can make a huge difference in your willingness to practice. Generally, any corner of your home will do but it should be quiet and calm. If you have a separate room, obviously this is the best option but sometimes this isn’t possible. Be creative in arranging your space and make it pleasant and comfortable for yourself. I like candles, incense, and chimes, and I prefer a meditation cushion to a chair. I don’t have a lot of clutter, but I do have a couple of photos of people and places that are important to me. The idea is to feel as though you are entering a different space from your everyday life, but also this space must be a place to which you enjoy coming.
2. Stretch and Move: If you practice yoga, this is the perfect time to do a few gentle poses. A few stretches will do – you want your body to be able to be comfortable for a while without complaining. Try inhaling your arms up from the sides over your head, then exhaling back down again. Keep your arms strong and straight as you inhale up, and soften your elbows and turn your palms down as you exhale down. Do this 3 to 5 times, then hold your arms up over your head on your next inhale, interlocking your fingers, and pressing your interlocked palms away from your head. You can hold this pose (but not your breath!) for a count of 10. Rather than simply count, I usually count my breaths and stay in this pose for at least 5 long slow breaths.
3. Find Your Comfortable Seat: Whether this is a chair, a cushion, or kneeling with a blanket under your knees, make sure you are as comfortable as you can be. Remember, you are not going to continue if this isn’t pleasant. Try resting your hands on your thighs with your torso upright but relaxed. Feel a gentle pressing down of your “sitting bones” at the bottom of your buttocks, and a lovely elongation through your side waist and torso. Press gently upwards with the crown of your head which will tend to dip the chin slightly downward, Notice the back of the neck feeling long and relaxed when you do this. Your sitting posture should feel uplifted but not stiff. Feel a sense of settling down and reducing your sphere of activity.
4.Meditation: If you are new to meditation, I suggest you find a teacher to help you get started. It is very easy to get discouraged and give up – probably because it seems so easy to “clear one’s mind” until you actually begin the practice. It is the nature of our minds to think. All people have thoughts during meditation….yes, even the Masters who’ve been doing it for ages. The difference between a novice and a Master is that the Master will not get involved with the “story” behind the thoughts, or become attached to the thought.
The best way to practice this is to give your busy mind a job to do. It wants a job; then it will be happier. Begin to focus on your breathing. Have a light touch with this, not too intense or you’ll lose motivation. Just a nice relaxed focus on the breath going in and out of the body. Sometimes it helps to say to yourself upon inhaling, “I’m breathing in”, or simply “In”, and as you exhale say to yourself “I’m breathing out” or “Out”. Once you notice your awareness has shifted elsewhere (and it will…remember this is normal and is not a failure) simply bring your awareness back to your breathing as often as you need to. When you notice you are thinking about something, just say to yourself, “thinking” and bring your awareness back to your breath. You are not repressing your thoughts or being carried away by them. They are all just thoughts; label them “thinking” and come on back home to yourself and your breathing.
4. Gratitude: Take a few minutes to acknowledge within yourself at least three things your are thankful for. You can even turn “negatives” into positives by being grateful your bladder/kidneys works so well, instead of being annoyed that you had to get up twice in the night to go to the bathroom. Or, being grateful that you have a wonderful mind that can think so effortlessly instead of being annoyed at yourself during meditation. You can find so many things to be grateful for, and guess what? It gets easier and easier the more we practice. Involve as much as your feeling self in your gratitude practice as possible, and smile if you can.
5. Forgiveness: Let’s just start with ourselves here. You probably cannot forgive anyone else if you can’t forgive yourself anyway. Forgive yourself for all your mistakes, omissions, insults, perceived lacks, and assorted shortcomings. If you can, look yourself in the eye in the mirror when you do this. Don’t look at your expression or anything on your face except the shine in your own eyes. Forgive yourself and love yourself. As you continue with this, you can segue into forgiving others, but start with yourself first and stay with yourself as long as you need to – 6 months is not too long.
If you make this sort of practice a ritual, it will change your life in all kinds of positive ways. Why? Because it has an almost miraculous way of loosening up the knots in our physical and emotional bodies, creating new pathways in our brain for more positive thought patterns.