2021 Meditation Practice Challenge
Here I am, officially challenging you to join me in daily meditation to create lasting positive effects in our lives this year! Start with just 1-5 minutes per day, then increase by only one minute per day each month to experience transformation. My goal is to get from my current 12 minutes of meditation to about 20-25 minutes/day by the end of the year.
Or, feel free to take on daily yoga or another challenge of your choosing, by deciding on a minimal daily practice starting point (again, I recommend 3-5 minutes to start with), then gradually increasing your practice duration.
What benefits will I see from meditation, and how much do I need to practice to receive them?
According to the Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s November 30, 2020 article by Dr. Paul Greene, “How Long Should You Meditate For? And How Often?,” “research found that in a sample of U.S. Marines preparing for deployment, meditation sessions as brief as 12 minutes produced cognitive improvements. A 2018 study found that 12 minutes a day of Kirtan Kriya meditation was sufficient to produce significant positive changes in predictors of dementia found in the blood. A third study found that 10 minutes of daily meditation improved GRE test performance in undergraduate students.”
I could certainly appreciate improved cognition, and suspect we all could these days! But, don’t be discouraged if at first you can only fit in a minute or two daily, as Dr. Greene adds that “Making meditation a regular part of your day is more important than how long you meditate. For that reason, the length of time you meditate should be sustainable for you. It won’t do you much good to meditate for 90 minutes one day when you happen to have the time, and then feel guilty the rest of the week when you can’t replicate that.”
It was heartening to read that “Meditation appears to be similar to physical exercise in this way. There is no optimal length of time you should exercise, and there is no perfect number of minutes to meditate, either. With either physical exercise or meditation, it’s important that the amount of time you do it be sufficient to challenge you a bit, but not so much as to leave you feeling demoralized or exhausted.”
Meditation is good for people, good for dancers, and a natural part of yoga, too!
How did I establish a daily habit?
As I described in my Healthy Habit Building blog, establishing daily practices in yoga and meditation has been a personal breakthrough in recent years. Beginning prior to 2007, I strove to meditate “regularly,” aiming for several times a week for 30 minutes, but this turned out to be too long of a duration at first, and not regular enough to make the habit stick. I made an inconsistent effort and tried different meditation approaches, from shamanic journeying with my dad, to self-hypnosis at NCSA, and various techniques presented during yoga classes.
Based on my Unitarian Universalist faith, I tried out the structured practice in Simply Pray: Modern Spiritual Practice to Deepen Your Life**, of Centering, Entering In, Naming, Knowing, Listening, Loving, and Returning. I resonate with it, but found it too complex to practice regularly at that time. In 2017, I read Benjamin P. Hardy’s article, “50 Ways Happier, Healthier, And More Successful People Live On Their Own Terms,” and tried out his more simple approach to the intervals and focus of meditation and prayer. Hardy explains, “I’ve gotten the best results as:
- My morning prayer and meditation are motivational
- My afternoon prayer and meditation are evaluative and strategic
- My evening prayer and meditation are evaluative and reflective.”
But that too proved too extensive for me to fully adopt as my regular practice.
In getting my daily yoga practice started, what I noticed is that I am most successful at practicing consistently at least 5-15 minutes a day, focusing on specific areas of the body or themes that are relevant to me that particular day (quick wins, reinforcing the practice with how great it could make me feel in minimal time), and that once I was doing so regularly, it became easier to add in more. Yoga is ideally followed by meditation, and sometimes meditation practice is even included in a yoga session.
So, after I had established my minimal daily yoga practice habit in 2018, the Calm App’s “Daily Calm” short daily guided meditations and lovely background sounds really helped me start practicing on a regular basis back. I did an introduction to meditation challenge with them and it motivated me to keep my practice going.
The Headspace App is also great, and there are also nice free guided meditations available on YouTube, such as this one from Dandapani: “The Meditation You Need Every Morning For A Better Day,” which I used a lot in 2019. In that meditation, Dandapani says, “Meditation is about doing the same thing over, and over, and over again.”
At that time I finally realized that in order for me to ever meditate for a longer duration and reap the benefits of that, I would first need to get comfortable with a minimal amount of 5-15 minutes per day like I had with my yoga. So, in 2020 I resolved to do just that and build a regular practice, with just 5+ minutes daily on my “mountain top” of Alps sounds that I set a timer for on the Tide App.
Joining a Yoga Teacher Training strengthened my practice further, as I learned and was reminded of additional techniques such as chanting the Gayatri Mantra (108x). I was inspired to invest in my own mala (amethyst, rose quartz, and clear quartz crystal), and joined other teachers in training in the Deepak Chopra 21-Day Challenge “Energize Your Life: Secrets to a Youthful Spirit” (in German and English!). This was all so inspirational! In particular, Chopra shared that meditation is a common factor in folks who age well, and this struck me as significant, so I shared the finding in a “7 Habits of People Who Age Well” YouTube video, below.
Chopra also wrote a similar article, “Seven Secrets to Grow Younger and Live Longer,” where he shares research that “shows that people who meditate regularly develop less hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, and other stress-related illnesses that speed up aging. Furthermore, new studies are finding that meditation literally restores the brain.”
I will continue to experiment with different approaches and read and learn more, but meanwhile I will continue the daily practice now well-entrenched with my Tide App, which I track using Today, breath using my mala and internally chant a mantra I gleaned from the Bhagavad Gita, “think only … of me [the infinite].”
In 2021, my goal is to ever-so-slowly expand the length of my daily practice, by one minute per day each month. Having meditated 10 minutes in October, 11 minutes daily in November, and 12 in December 2020, I’m confident that I can keep that streak going. But if I experience setbacks, I’ll just start again 🙂
What follows are strategies that have helped me to finally become a meditator to encourage you in taking on the challenge of building your own practice.
I would recommend making the practice of meditation, as with any new habit, as small as possible at first. Using the example of meditation, you could commit to 1-3 minutes of meditation daily, so that it’s downright silly to skip it no matter how busy you are, and you just might get carried away and want to do more!
Historically, I have failed to establish “regular” habits that only occur a couple or a few times on a weekly basis. It gets slippery to track and doesn’t feel truly habitual. So, daily small habits work better for me, and I really like Matt D’Avella’s “The Two Day Rule” of not skipping more than one day of a habit. This way it’s not perfectionistic 100-percent-ism or failure, rather you can take breaks when needed, but it still creates that consistency and results that will keep you going.
Tied to Identity and Goals
It has proven critical in my development of a consistent meditation practice, as is stressed in Atomic Habits**, that habit I’m working on aligns with my bigger goals and sense of personal identity. In that way it becomes a part of who I am, not just something I have to do, and I can see how it progresses toward important objectives. By meditating daily, I am a meditator and move forward on my path towards spiritual enlightenment through mindfulness practice (however slowly!).
When I fail in attempting a new habit, these are good places to look: is it connected to my very identity? Do I understand it’s connection to my major goals? Is it in small enough increments where I can find no good excuse to skip it? What structures of support and accountability do I have in place to make it irresistible?
I have found accountability methods to also be extremely important to my success and it has been a process of trial and error to discover what kind of accountability works best for me. Over time, I have discovered that for me, it is important to give myself “credit,” preferably colorful, playful, celebratory credit, to track the new habit(s) visually and with analytics over time. It is so satisfying to color in squares or check off boxes, or even use stickers, it makes me want to leave no empty boxes in the row!
Now instead of separate sheets, I am moving my tracking to a bullet-journal style notebook and apps like the Today Habit Tracker App which lives in my “Morning” folder of apps on my phone’s home screen along with other habits from my morning routine. I also share in my blog, social media, and with accountability partners to help enforce accountability and of course a coach, class or other community of support can be a great help!
Join the Challenge
Been itching to try meditation or finally make your practice a regular thing? Or have another habit have you been contemplating adding to your daily routine? Consider what structures of support you really need to make it a consistent reality and see results in your life, send me a message, or hop over to the A Blythe Coach Facebook Page and I and the community there would be happy to support you in making it a reality in 2021!
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