Think of your Yoga meditation as a tree that you must water every day — not too much and not too little. Trust that one day your nurturing will bring the tree to bear beautiful blossoms and delicious fruit.

Here are several vital tips to help you set the stage for a meditation routine:

  • Practice regularly. Try to meditate every day. If that isn’t possible, meditate at least several times a week.

  • Cultivate the correct motivation. People meditate for all kinds of reasons: health, wholeness, peace of mind, clarity, spiritual growth, and so on. Be clear in your own mind why you’re sitting down to meditate. The best motivation for meditation (and Yoga practice in general) is to live to your full potential and to benefit others by your personal achievements.

    In Buddhism, this motivation is known as the bodhisattva ideal. The bodhisattva (“enlightenment being”) seeks to realize enlightenment (the ultimate spiritual state) for the benefit of all other beings. As an enlightened being, you can be far more efficient in helping others in their own struggle for wholeness and happiness.

  • Meditate at a regular time. Take advantage of the fact that your body-mind is a creature of habit. After a few weeks of meditating at the same time during the day or night, you may find yourself looking forward to your next meditation session. Traditionally, Yoga practitioners prefer the hour of sunrise, but this time isn’t always practical.

  • Meditate in the same place. Choose the same place for the same reason you use the same time: Your body-mind enjoys what is familiar. Use this fact to your advantage by setting aside a room or a corner of a room that your mind can associate with meditation.

  • Select an appropriate posture for meditation and do it correctly. Sit up straight, with your chest open, and your neck free. To avoid falling asleep, don’t recline while meditating and don’t meditate on your bed. If you’re not used to sitting on the floor, try sitting on a straight-backed chair. If you can comfortably sit on the floor, you have a variety of yogic postures to choose from.

  • Select a meditation technique and stick with it. In the beginning, you may want to try out various techniques to see which appeals to you the most. But after you find a good technique for your particular needs, don’t abandon it until it bears fruit, a meditation teacher advises you to change to a different technique, or you feel really drawn to a different technique.

When you have your routine sorted out, keep the following suggestions in mind as you grow your meditation tree:

  • Begin with short sessions. Meditate only 10 to 20 minutes at a time at first. If your meditation naturally lasts longer, simply rejoice in the fact. But never force yourself if the timing creates conflict or unhappiness in you.

    Also, beware of overmeditating. Often, what beginners regard as a nice long meditation is just self-indulgent daydreaming. Make sure that your meditation contains an element of alertness. When you start drifting off into a comfortable space, you can be sure that you’re no longer meditating.

  • Be alert, yet relaxed. Inner alertness, or mindfulness, isn’t the same as tension or stress. Cats are good examples of this alertness. Even when a cat is completely relaxed, its ears move around like radar dishes catching every little sound in the environment. The more relaxed you are, the more alert your mind can be, so make sure that your body is relaxed by regularly practicing relaxation exercises.

  • Don’t burden yourself with expectations. Entering meditation with a desire to grow spiritually and to benefit from the experience is certainly acceptable. However, don’t expect every meditation to be wonderful and pleasant.

  • Prepare properly for meditation. As a beginner, don’t expect to be able to jump from the fray of your daily activities straight into meditation. Allow your mind a little time to unwind before you sit for meditation. Have a relaxing bath or shower or at least wash your face and hands.

  • At the end of your meditation, integrate the experience with the rest of your life. Just as going straight from overdrive into a meditative gear isn’t prudent, you need to refrain from jumping up from meditation to return your other activities. Instead, make a conscious transition in and out of meditation.

    At the end of the session, briefly recall your reasons for meditating and your overall motivation. Be grateful for any energies and/or insights your meditation generates. Equally importantly, don’t feel negative about a difficult meditation experience. Rather, be grateful for any experience. Sometimes important insights surface during meditation, and then your challenge is to translate these messages into daily life.

  • Be prepared to practice meditation for a lifetime. On the yogic path, no effort is ever wasted. Therefore, don’t give up if your meditation isn’t what you think it should be after a month or two. Don’t conclude too hastily that meditation isn’t working or that the technique you’re using isn’t effective. Instead, correct your understanding about the nature of meditation and carry on.

    Be wary of weekend workshops that promise immediate success, if not enlightenment itself. Meditation and enlightenment are lifelong processes.

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