Establishing a Regular Meditation Practice

Is a regular meditation practice one of your new year’s resolutions? We invite you to consider some suggestions we have given to many Integrated Amrita Meditation (IAM®) students throughout the years.

Amma says, "We should meditate regularly and sincerely without stopping, until we attain one-pointedness of mind. Once the seeds are sown, we should water them every day until the seedlings grow and reach a certain level. It may take some time for the sprouts of spirituality to emerge. Sprinkle the waters of spiritual practice regularly without fail and wait patiently.”

Establishing a regular meditation practice is very similar to establishing any good or constructive habit. Much like developing a consistent approach to physical or mental exercise, there are tried and true methods for establishing and maintaining a regular meditation practice.

One of the objectives of establishing a habit is to keep your mind from getting in the way. The mind can come up with many reasons for not doing something that your smarter self knows is good for you. If we can establish that new habit, it becomes ingrained in us so that the mind doesn’t need to do anything, so it will not get in the way of the desired activity—there is no need for the decision-making part of your brain! To achieve this, we look to the core elements of any of consistent habit, which have been used successfully by many IAM students:

The Cue—the cue tells your brain to go into automatic mode and sets the stage for the behavior to happen. The cue is something you decide and agree with yourself will be the trigger to the new behavior. For example, in establishing the habit of brushing your teeth in the morning, you might agree with yourself to do so once you get out of bed. Getting out of bed is the cue.

The Practice—this is the behavior itself, and is often included in a set of familiar steps that reinforce the behavior. In the tooth brushing example, once out of bed, you need to get to the bathroom, maybe turn on the light, get your toothbrush and apply the toothpaste, then using the faucet, brush your teeth.

The Reward—something that your brain or body likes that will reinforce the habit loop. The rewards for brushing the teeth might be the feeling of a fresh healthy mouth, or the appearance of clean, bright teeth. The rewards are your choice and will vary from person to person.

So, how do we apply this to a new meditation practice? Below are some suggested elements from which you can build your own “meditation habit loop”:

• Possible cues for a morning practice: bathing, brushing teeth, preparing your usual tea or coffee, a familiar yoga practice or getting out in nature, such as taking a walk. In the evening, maybe once you’ve finished work, first getting out in nature, even if it’s your own yard, or changing into your comfortable meditation clothes.

• Practices: changing into comfortable clothes, putting your cell phone on silent and placing it somewhere distant from your meditation area, preparing your meditation space, such as placing your chair or cushion in the right place, lighting a candle or even incense, or tapping a gong. Note, the cues and routines may overlap, or interconnect. And then, the core element of the routine--the meditation itself.

• Rewards: that tea or coffee you had ready to go before the meditation, or your favorite breakfast (or dinner if it’s in the evening). Rewards don’t have to be food—if you have a favorite activity or exercise, just decide that you will meditate first before you allow yourself the favorite activity.

Other supportive cues or practices may be included as well, such as establishing a consistent place for your meditation practice (highly recommended), that is separate from other family or roommate activities, using the same cushion or comfortable chair each time, or even including something like a familiar and comfortable meditation shawl or scarf. Also, many practitioners have found support by pairing up with someone to practice meditation. With the widespread use of video conferencing tools, such as Zoom, your meditation buddy could be in another location and still meditate with you.

Like any successful new year’s resolution, commitment is essential. So, it is suggested that you commit to yourself that you will you follow these steps, even if you don’t think you have the time. Decide to just begin your IAM practice, even if you won’t be able to complete it that day. This is helpful because it reinforces the act of starting the new habit. We also suggest you commit to doing IAM for at least 21 days, as this amount of time has been shown to ingrain a new habit. In past classes, we have referred to this as the “21-day test drive” –a way to really check out the technique!

Furthermore, Amma says: "In the beginning, you need to develop a feeling of love for your daily meditation routine. It should become an essential part of your life. If you cannot do your spiritual practice at the set time, you should feel the pain of having missed it and the longing to do it.”

To provide you with additional support we have many online meditation offerings: if you are new to IAM, we encourage you to participate in our IAM Meditation Courses. Or, if it has been a while since you have been practicing regularly, you may retake the course to review the meditation, or attend an IAM Refresher Class. Once you have attended a full IAM Meditation Course, you have the opportunity to join any of the regular Guided IAM Meditation Sessions and benefit from the group practice. To view our latest offerings click here.