5 Tips To Keep Your Meditation Practice Going After MBSR
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By Karyn Sandelman, guest contributor
This really IS the question… whether you recently completed an MBSR course or other mindfulness program, how do you keep up the momentum of a steady practice without the structure and support of the program and the people who were in it with you? And, you might wonder, do you really have to?
Research tells us the answer to the latter question is yes! Consistency of practice is key to reaping and growing the benefits of mindfulness. You may have already discovered this firsthand along the way, from your own mindfulness exploration. Maybe you or someone close to you noticed more patience, kindness, compassion, focus, balance, or resilience in how you relate to yourself, others, or life in general. Or maybe, like me, you also noticed the opposite during times when your practice faltered and you didn’t relate to a situation the way you intended to. Maybe you had a shorter fuse or you felt a sense of contraction (in your body, heart, and/or mind), or some old, conditioned habitual reaction manifested uninvited!
While we may know conceptually and experientially that having a daily meditation practice is beneficial, we also know that life is busy and can be complicated. That reality can create challenges for us as we try to sustain a steady practice. Given the countless demands for our time and attention, our practice can disintegrate quickly if we haven’t deliberately laid out a path that includes meditation as a priority.
How might you create such a path for yourself? Below are some strategies I’ve learned from my teachers and from personal exploration that have helped me refresh and sustain my own practice over time. I hope they will be useful to you, too. As with practice itself, it’s helpful to approach these with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and kindness, rather than one of self-criticism or judgment.
1. Connect with Your Motivation
Your motivation provides a spark that can rekindle your energy and determination to practice, so it’s helpful to stay in touch with it. You can do this by taking a few minutes to ask yourself questions like these: Why do I want to practice mindfulness? What am I hoping for? What inspires me to practice?
2. Identify Potential Obstacles and Supports for Your Practice
In practicing mindfulness (or anything else, for that matter), there are potential obstacles that can get in the way of our best intentions. There are also sources of support that can help propel us forward. Knowing what you know about yourself and your circumstances, take some time to reflect on the following:
What might get in the way of my ongoing practice (pause here to see what comes up, and then continue…); how might I work with these challenges? You might discover new ways to navigate or relate to other commitments, responsibilities, schedule challenges, health concerns, attitudes, conditioned habits, etc.
What would support my daily practice? Possibilities include joining or starting a practice group (like Meditate Together), having an accountability partner (a fellow meditator who you check-in with regularly), downloading recordings and/or using a meditation app, personalizing your practice space (which might be as simple as a chair or cushion in a corner with a few objects that offer inspiration and comfort), and keeping a meditation journal.
What other resources could I explore to deepen my understanding and commitment? Options include attending meditation retreats (for a few days, a week, or even longer), taking another course on some aspect of mindfulness (many people benefit from taking MBSR again), and supplementing your practice with relevant books, podcasts, blogs, magazines, etc.
3. Commit, Revisit, and Recommit
Committing to practice is where the rubber meets the road. As described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR:
“It (practice) needs to become part of your life, in the same way that eating is or working is. We keep the practice alive by making time for being, for non-doing, no matter how much rearranging it takes. Making a time for formal practice every day is like feeding yourself every day. It is that important.”
(Full Catastrophe Living, e-book location 9603 of 10362)
To actualize this, most people find it helpful to commit to a meditation schedule, including the following basic components:
Time of Day: What time of day is best for you to practice on a regular basis, given your natural tendencies (are you a morning or a night person?) and the reality of your daily schedule?
Frequency & Length of Time: How many days a week will you practice and for how long each time?
Location: Where will you practice and do you need to ask for support from anyone in your household to minimize disruptions?
Instead of making an open-ended, all or nothing commitment like ‘I’ll practice every day for at least an hour for the rest of my life,’ which can set us up for a quick sense of failure, it’s important to build in flexibility. One way to do this is to keep the time frame of the commitment short – try it out for a week or so and then purposely pause to reflect on how it’s going. Take care not to judge yourself, but to revisit the parameters you set and make any adjustments you need to support your continuity of practice. You can repeat this process as often as you like—committing, revisiting, and recommitting—until you find a rhythm that works for you.
4. Infuse Ordinary Moments with Awareness
Ultimately, regularity of practice helps us be more awake and more able to make mindful choices in all of our moments. While this capacity for wakefulness develops naturally from formal practice, we can further encourage it through informal practice by intentionally bringing awareness to regular, routine aspects of daily life, as we do throughout the MBSR course. In this way, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Every aspect of your day and your life has the potential to be part of your informal practice.” (Full Catastrophe Living, e-book location 9800 of 10362)
As you integrate mindfulness more fully into your life, you can choose specific activities to serve as “bells of mindfulness” (reminders to pay attention more fully), or simply tune in periodically during the day to notice if you are fully awake—aware of sensations, thoughts, and emotions that are happening right now vs. lost in thinking about the past or future.
5. Begin Again
No matter how diligent and sincere we are about practicing, chances are that at some point our practice will lose momentum. This is not a problem; it’s natural. It can and does happen for any number of reasons. When you realize your practice has waned, that’s a perfect opportunity to practice being kind to yourself. Then, without judgment, you can simply begin again.
Remember, there’s no limit to how many times we can begin again.