Many people talk about the benefits of meditation to encourage people to try it. I agree that the science is compelling, but sometimes the point can get lost when we emphasize meditation’s wholesomeness. It can be like trying to convince a child to eat vegetables by telling them how healthy they are. I mean, making them smell, look, and taste good may achieve the same objective without all the fuss, right?
Meditation can be just like vegetables. We can work so hard to get the benefits that it can be easy to forget that the practice itself can be enjoyable. Indeed, in my own practice, it wasn’t until I learned to let myself relax and have some fun that the most profound benefits started to emerge. Even so, it can be hard for new meditators to let their meditation practice feel good because they may be preoccupied with learning to “do it right”, searching for signs of progress, or waiting on feelings of peace of emerge.
With a few small tweaks and a little bit of intentionality, you can bring a bit more joy, comfort, and fun into your practice. Here are 10 strategies that I have used over the years to make my meditation practice more enjoyable. I think they may help you too.
1. Find Your Time Sweet Spot
Let go of the idea that there is some ideal amount of time that you must strive for in meditation. Instead, it’s better to find the period of time for sitting practice that works for you. At the beginning, just explore by building up a tolerance for sitting for periods of time. Once you do that, explore further by noting when you reach the point of diminishing returns. When you know your sweet spot – the time that feels productive and helpful to you – stick with it and just commit to doing that and feeling good and don’t beat yourself or worry about whether it’s enough. If you later find yourself wanting more, then go for it but there’s no need to push before then.
2. Create a Supportive Space
You don’t have to sit when you meditate, but if you do a good posture is critical. It can help you avoid pain while you sit for extended periods and even help you breath easier. Investing in a cushion or bench with a hearty fill can be an excellent way to ensure that your body has the support it needs when you practice. If you have specific conditions in your body that affect your posture, you can try using extra cushions or a rolled up towel to offer more support and comfort too.
3. Control Your Temperature
I am always cold so one of the best ways to make myself feel safe and comfortable is a cozy sweater. The same idea can work for you when you meditate. Put a soft throw blanket on your cushion to wrap around yourself or place on your legs. If you are the sleepy type, you may need a fan or open window instead, but you could wear your most comfortable clothes to meditate to achieve the same comforting effect.
4. Stretch First
To do a sit of 30 minutes or less, you don’t need a full yoga session to prepare for mediation. Still, a quick stretch can wake up your body and release some of those last-minute jitters before you try to meditate. I find that stretches of the hips, low back, and side body most helpful since that area works hardest sitting on a cushion, but you can play around with different stretches and poses and see what works for you.
5. Follow Your Nose
Smell is one way to bring yourself into your body when you meditate. If you want to get fancy, you could use incense but that is way too much for me. I prefer to light a nice candle, use a soothing scent mist, or just put on some nice-smelling lotion before I start. Focusing on sensory input, including smells, is one way to meditate so it could be a great way to ease into your practice.
6. Add Soothing Sounds
If you use guided meditations for your practice, know that there are all kinds of teachers and styles out there. Notice who and what you like and why and let yourself just enjoy the guiding and where it leads. If, like me, you prefer the spaciousness of meditation without guiding, you can still add in some nice sounds. I use a timer with ambient nature sounds on the Calm app and most meditation apps have a similar feature. You can also play some soothing music to support your practice. I have found that sound helps me focus when my kids are being noisy in the house (even though it rarely competes with their volume or drowns them out entirely).
7. Pair with Your Favorite Activity
If you haven’t picked up on this already, many of these tips are about associations. By putting something you love with meditation, it may be easier to come to love meditation itself. The same idea applies to activities. If you struggle to carve out a specific time, you could also add it on to other activities. Make meditation your cool down after your favorite workout. If you take a bubble bath, try focusing on the breath for a few minutes and I bet you’ll find it easy to relax. Make a nice cup of tea or coffee and just sit with it for a few minutes and notice the warmth and taste of the drink. And, while my babies are now too big for this, I loved—loved—meditating while rocking them in the rocking chair.
8. Find a Friend
Most of us meditate alone to work it into our busy schedules. But, if meditation retreats taught me anything, it is that support from fellow meditators really helps. It is easier to settle when meditating in a group, even when that group is convened on Zoom. It’s also nice to talk about meditation with people who know. Meditation groups abound online or you could check out your local Dharma or Zen center or yoga studio for meditation classes or group sits. So, even if you sit alone most of the time, it might help you mix it up if you find a friend or group to sit with every now and then.
9. Don’t Should on Yourself
Be wary of the term “should” as you talk or think about your meditation practice. Instead, focus on why you want to meditate and what about the practice makes you feel good. At the beginning, it may be small and have nothing to do with being a better person. When I first started, I kept meditating because it helped my stress headaches go away. This was small but it was enough to show me that my practice was helping me so that I didn’t lose motivation. Focusing on feeling good may also help you avoid guilt and self-judgment on the days that you miss or skip meditation, which overall will make your practice not only more enjoyable but also most sustainable.
10. Give Yourself a Pat on the Back
We all know that positive reinforcement is highly effective, but most of us still are sparing with it when it comes to ourselves. Don’t be stingy with praise when it comes to meditation. Close each session if you can with a brief recognition of yourself. Even if you sat for 1 minute, acknowledge that you had the discipline to do the 1 minute. This will not only help engender positive feelings about yourself, but also help you keep front of mind the reasons you started meditating in the first place.
Meditation certainly engenders and includes discipline. It is a training of the mind, the body and the heart. But that training doesn’t have to painful to be effective. Indeed, if you are starting a meditation practice because you want all the benefits that those scientific studies promise (a happier, healthier, less stressful life), then it makes sense to bring things into your meditation practice that make it more enjoyable, comfortable, and even easier. I hope these strategies help you feel good in and about your practice, but more than anything I hope that they remind you that you deserve to feel good in and about your life.
If you want to try out some of these ideas for yourself, check out our Rocking Chair meditation. It incorporates the imagery and movement of a relaxing rocking chair to help you sync up with the rhythm of your breath to find ease and take a break.