My Top 5 Tips for Building a Spirit-Nourishing Meditation Practice

Continuing my series of “Top 5” posts, I share here my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. If you want to catch up on past posts, you can read my energy tips here,  my mindset tips here, my well-being tips here and my plant-based nourishment tips here.

I want to be clear that I do not consider myself a meditation expert. However, I am proud to have practiced meditation on a consistent, daily basis for the past year and a half. I realize that is nothing compared to many practitioners, who have meditated for decades, but it feels like an achievement to me because I believed for many years that I was incapable of meditating. I realize now that part of the reason for this was my narrow view of what constitutes meditation. Mostly, I have referred to what I am doing as a mindfulness practice, as opposed to a meditation practice. Lately, though, I have come to view mindfulness as a broader state of being, of which my daily meditation practice is a part. I feel like I have developed my own, evolving practice that serves my needs and feeds my spirit. My goal in this post is to share the most helpful strategies I have used for cultivating this practice.

  1. Approach your practice with self-compassion. The single most helpful idea I have come across regarding meditation is contained in these words by Sharon Salzberg: “Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real meditation.’” That idea is so freeing and makes so much sense. Much like what I have learned about living in the present moment, rather than waiting for my “real life” to begin at some future point, when everything is in place, Sharon Salzberg’s words encourage me to recognize the value of compassionately beginning again, when my thoughts distract me. The discipline of doing so is the practice. It validates that, as long as I continually release the thoughts when I recognize that they have highjacked my mindfulness and return to my breath, I am meditating exactly as I “should.” There is nothing to correct, and I am experiencing all the benefits of a meditation practice built on commitment and resilience.
  2. Develop a ritual. Make your meditation practice a non-negotiable part of your day. It has become as crucial to my well-being as exercise. I find that it works best for me to practice in the morning, either immediately upon waking or directly following my morning workout, if it is in my downstairs gym. My mindfulness extends to my time on the bike and, to a lesser extent, walking, but this does not replace my daily dedicated practice time. It is bonus time that is often extremely fruitful, yet my day would be incomplete without my meditation ritual. Look at your schedule, decide what works best for you and implement a ritual for getting into the right mental space. Part of my ritual involves solitude, at least mentally. I am pleased to report that I successfully maintained my daily practice while Biking Across Kansas by meditating in my sleeping bag immediately upon waking each morning. Although I was in a room full of people, I found solitude in the darkness. By establishing a clear ritual that includes a time and place, as well as a beginning routine, you will set yourself up to practice consistently.
  3. Open your mind to what meditation can look like, and allow your practice to evolve.  For a long time, I thought meditation was only sitting cross-legged on the floor and releasing all thought. I can’t remember what changed my mind and allowed me to consider a more expansive definition. My health coach training? Maybe. Whatever it was that opened my mind to crafting my own practice, I am grateful. I believe in finding what resonates with you and allowing it to evolve when your instinct leads you in a different or additional direction. My current practice looks like this: I begin with square breathing. Then, I mentally recite my Sankalpa (which I updated after reflection on my 50th birthday). I express gratitude for guidance, wisdom, direction and protection and release what no longer serves me. Affirmations and visualizations help deepen the meaning of m practice. I include a couple Kundalini yoga poses that I find calming. Depending on what I feel I need, I may include Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). I also always choose a quote for reflection before I begin and spend time simply focusing on my breath. This assortment of components really works for me. Experiment and trust your instincts to develop a practice that is uniquely yours. Be open to allowing it to evolve. This has made all the difference for me.
  4. Use a meditation app. I use Insight Timer (free version) and love it. There are others out there, as well as a premium version of Insight Timer. Find what works best for you. The functions I find most useful are the timer, ambient sound and the tracker. I set the time My life is full, and, at this point, I generally set the timer for five to 15 minutes, although I sometimes choose to continue meditating after I hear my ending tone. I like the variety of ambient sounds offered by Insight Timer and vary them day by day. Finally, I feel motivated by the “streak” I have built up on the tracking log (318 days consistently using Insight Timer). Although it is not the reason I meditate, I want to keep my streak going!
  5. Feel and express gratitude for your practice. Recognizing the benefits meditation has bestowed on me, I am deeply grateful for the freedom and dedication to meditate. I feel like a whole world has opened to me. Part of my practice reflects this gratitude. I truly look forward to my daily meditation and feel a burst of excitement in my body when I prepare to practice. I am so thankful that meditation has become part of my life. Remembering this adds depth and richness to, and enhances the benefits of, my practice.

I have been amazed at the benefits I can attribute to my consistent practice. I feel healthier than I have ever been. There are other factors contributing to my well-being, but I believe that my meditation practice has put me over the top, apparently enhancing my immunity and certainly improving my stress-management ability. I am happier and more peaceful. My gratitude for the many blessings in my life is deeper. I still have plenty of room for growth, but I have become a true believer in the power of meditation. I would love to assist you in your journey toward living with no regrets. Connect with me at sheri@justwindcoach.com. You can also click this link to schedule a complimentary coaching call. To connect with others who are interested in living as well as possible, become part of our JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958072857557272/.

Sankalpa

When I awoke around 3 a.m. a couple weeks ago and couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to use Insight Timer for a guided meditation to try to quiet my mind. I chose a yoga nidra meditation for rest & sleep, by Diana Warlick.  In the meditation, Warlick introduced the concept of “sankalpa.” I was intrigued by what she said about it—probably too intrigued, given that I was trying to go back to sleep. While the meditation was relaxing, hearing about sankalpa for the first time was energizing, rather than sleep-inducing. I wanted to know more. So, immediately upon rising, after my alarm sounded at 5 a.m., I looked up the concept of sankalpa and found an excellent article by Kelly McGonigal, in Yoga International.

In my first reading, I learned enough to understand that sankalpa is somewhere between a life purpose and an intention. This reminded me of an idea from Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi’s  Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being—that of an overarching umbrella goal, or theme, that each of us needs in our lives as a guiding aspiration that informs every choice. After reading McGonigal’s article and several other sources, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I feel like I have a better understanding of sankalpa and how it differs from a theme, purpose, mission or goal.

I benefit from having discerned how all these concepts, as well as my deepest values, inform my life. Over the past week, sankalpa has become a meaningful addition to my regular reflections.

I haven’t been able to identify the primary source, but I found Richard Miller quoted in several articles (including McGongial’s) as saying, “A sankalpa isn’t a petition or a prayer. It is a statement of deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the present moment.”

According to McGonigal, Miller also teaches that sankalpa involves three types of listening: 1) having the courage to hear the message behind our deep desires, 2) welcoming and honestly reflecting on the message and 3) being willing to act in accordance with the message we receive. All these stages of listening are best accomplished from a place of mindfulness, such as can be achieved in meditation. Personally, I also find the bike to be an outstanding place to hear the true callings of my heart and spirit.

As I have learned to do with intentions over the years, it is important to state the sankalpa in the present tense. Just like intentions, when we use the present tense, we operate from a place of abundance and trust that we already have all that we need. This is far more empowering than operating from a place of lack and need.

One of my favorite concepts in the reading I did about sankalpa is Rod Stryker’s teaching that we are all both being and becoming, universal and unique. He explains that there are two parts to our soul or spirit, called atman in the Vedic tradition. Atman means “essence.” The two parts are para atman—“supreme, highest or culmination”—and jiva atman—“individual or personal.” So, the para atman is the part of our spirit that is being—who we already are. It is universal. The jiva atman is who we are becoming—our unique destiny. I love Stryker’s exhortation to “Live as contentedly as possible in between the goal and realizing the goal.”

I think this is a wonderful aspiration—to live contentedly in the knowledge that we already have all that we need to fully live our deepest calling, while we take the actions and put in the work that will allow us to live that calling. It is a very comforting and encouraging idea to me.

So, my reading of the teachings about sankalpa lead me to aspire to a sankalpa that takes into consideration both states—the being and the becoming, the universal and the unique. Because there is an element of becoming, I must remember that my sankalpa will likely be a dynamic, evolving truth.

As I pondered my sankalpa on the bike last weekend, I felt called to this truth: “I am a unique expression of the Divine Mystery, contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world with every thought, word and action I choose.” I will sit with this in my mindfulness practice and on the bike regularly to discern if and/or when my sankalpa needs to evolve.

I am excited and energized by new ideas that cause me to think. Sankalpa is one of those ideas, and I am grateful for my nocturnal introduction to it. Despite the sleep disruption to which it contributed by igniting my mind, learning about sankalpa is a gift because it is a new instrument to assist my aspiration to live my Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life.

Sankalpa will be an additional centering tool for me. My core values—compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness—underlie everything I do. Sankalpa helps to remind me where those values initiate—from my para atman, the universal part of me that is being—and to what action those values call me—my jiva atman, the part of me that is becoming, living my unique destiny.

In addition to my core values and theme, my purpose, mission and priorities guide my decisions and my actions. Sankalpa is related to all these, providing a deep, solid foundation, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to employ it to enhance my growth and guide my evolution.