It takes time to develop a meditation habit that works for you. When I was working on my first yoga teacher training program, I learned about the benefits of meditation and I took a meditation class at the studio each week. At that point in time, I was living a life where I was either sleeping, working, or taking yoga classes for my teacher training. Meditation was something I wanted to do, but I wasn't sure where it would fit in my life. To be completely honest, if I sat down too long to meditate (even if it was just 10-15 minutes), I would begin nodding off to sleep. I felt like a failure when I tried, so to appease the perfectionist inside me I didn't often meditate. (In hindsight, I think that part of this failure was that I thought meditation meant that I had to turn my thoughts off. No one can do that. I've since learned that there is nothing wrong with thinking thoughts while meditating.)
On the first day of my 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training program, we were told that we would have to turn in diaries each class of all of the yoga and meditation practice we did each week. During that class, one of the fellow students said that she had recently celebrated one year of meditating every single day. Wow! Then I felt like a failure for not having meditated all the time. Her story did inspire me, but I was still so busy that I would work all day and just not remember to meditate sometimes. Having to restart my own one year of meditating time and time again eventually led me to giving up entirely.
Through the years, as I've tried to start this habit over and over, I've begun to learn that there isn't one right way to meditate. Some people find it very helpful to repeat a mantra over and over again, often times using their mala necklace to count 108 repetitions (a very significant number in the tradition of yoga). Others will meditate on loving kindness and compassion for all beings, also known as Metta meditation. I've experimented with Theta Meditation, which is one of the most powerful techniques that I've used (and is the style I tend to teach in the weekly meditation class at Yoga Art Space). Needless to say, I've tried many types and I've learned that it doesn't relaly help me to have too much structure when I meditate. At first I wasn't sure whether or not to feel guilty about this. But when I would have certain unstructured meditations I realized I ended just feeling so much better. This encouraged me to continue on this path.
I've come to learn that the "feel good" change that happens with meditation is very common. In Dr. Joe Dispenza's powerful book Becoming Supernatural: How Common People are Doing the Uncommon, an interesting graphic is shown, of which I created a similar representation here:
What he is trying to teach is that the real power of meditation lies in helping raise the frequency of the thoughts from survival emotions to elevated emotions such as Love, Freedom, and Bliss. When you experience survival thoughts such as victimization and shame, you just feel bad. When you experience the higher frequency thoughts, you just feel good. It is as simple as that. And to sum it up, this is why I now make sure to set aside time to meditate daily.
What has made my practice come alive? Literally, the figure above explains it all. What I tend to do nowadays before I meditate is to journal. I journal about the joys and the frustrations that are going on. If I have things that are upsetting me, journaling helps me to focus in on what exactly is bothering me. From there, I usually read a few pages from a book that inspires me to change my point of view. That book could be different for many people, but I'm currently working my way through A Course In Miracles. Somehow the pages I read each day immediately help me see the fallacy in my thinking and help switch me from a survival mindset to an elevated mindset. I'll pick one idea that I'd love to think about more that day and as I meditate, I seek for additional inspiration on this idea of the day. Because of this, my meditations are becoming very organic and very different from one day to the next.
Do I still occasionally experience an occasional head jerk as I realize I'm starting to fall asleep? Yes. Do I have an inspirational story to tell every single time I meditate? No. But do I feel good when I meditate? Every single time. In a very real way, meditation has become my chance to increase the energy of my thoughts to a higher level where I just feel good myself and I feel kinder toward others. (On days when I don't meditate, I start to notice the crazy and frustrated versions of me coming out). Do I think meditation could bring world peace? Maybe not if we forced it. I know when I tried to force my own meditations, they weren't helpful to me. But if everyday people helped to elevate the emotions and thoughts in the mind, then love, freedom, and bliss become unavoidable. Sure there is still suffering in life, but meditation gives you skills to make it through the times when we all have to come face to face with stress or anxiety.