Just as we always have tended to the physical body through food and movement in its various forms, in recent decades increased consideration has also been given to our mental health and the ways in which we nurture it.
One such way is meditation.
In a modern context with an overexposure to stress, a propensity for stimulation and an inability to still the mind, it is no wonder that uptake of meditation and mindfulness practice has grown.
Clinical studies show that meditation minimises the effects of stress on the human body; it may slow or mitigate cognitive decline, improve immune response and markers of inflammation, and lower blood pressure.
Dr Craig Hassed, Senior Lecturer at Monash University, summarises the effects of meditation on our physical and psychological wellbeing as:
- “Improves how effectively we function
- Has direct benefits by changing the body physiologically and metabolically
- Has indirect benefits by improving our lifestyle
- Enhances relationships and compassion
- Improves the way we cope with life challenges
- Enriches our enjoyment of life”.
With its secularity and commoditisation, Meditation in the twenty-first century is divergent from its purist origins in ancient religious traditions such as Raj Yoga and Buddhist Zazen. Nonetheless, with such profound physical and psychological effects the practice of meditation - even in its modern incarnation - is perhaps more relevant than ever.
Of course it’s likely you already know a lot of this. Today meditation, much like regular exercise or eating well, is widely considered a core constituent of a healthy, whole existence.
Yet much like exercise or eating well it’s easy to forgo meditation when life is busy or a more appealing offer arises.
At risk of sounding holier-than-thou let me be upfront about my own experience with meditation - it’s up and down and inconsistent! Over the years I have had weeks or months where I have meditated daily and felt good for it (usually mindfulness meditation, often guided) followed by long stretches in between.
So for all of its virtue and positive effects, why is committing to consistent meditation so exceedingly difficult?
If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve had some experience in meditation so rather than exploring how to meditate I’d like to look at how to make meditation habitual.
For this I turn to the work of James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits and expert in habit forming to apply behavioural theory to this transformative practice.
Proceed slowly, build incrementally
In his work James shares the concept of marginal gains. In a society absorbed by large, defining goals and outcomes we often underestimate the value in small and consistent changes.
He writes, “we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about.” Instead it is a humble but unwavering commitment that will form longstanding habits.
James suggests making a 1 percent improvement each day, “improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding.”
By starting small, say 2 - 5 minutes, and building up your practice over time it is both more obtainable and sustainable.
Make meditation accessible
In his article How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick, James poses four questions to stimulate behaviour change:
- How can I make it obvious?
- How can I make it attractive?
- How can I make it easy?
- How can I make it satisfying?
When exploring these four questions in the context of a meditation practice, possible answers could include:
- Placing your meditation cushion, yoga mat or chair conspicuously in the space to serve as a cue each day.
- Start small and commit to 5 or 10 minutes a day instead of an intimidating amount of time. Build up from there.
- Try a guided meditation using Insight Timer, Headspace or another app to guide you through your first few meditations.
- Light a candle or incense, dim the lights, wear cosy clothing or play soft music - anything you enjoy which will create a more satisfying, sensory experience.
Use visual cues
In How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the “Paper Clip Strategy”, James details the power of a visual cue as a motivator when he shares the anecdote of a young stockbroker who each day moved 120 paper clips from one jar to another, one for each time he made a sales call.
The stockbroker said, ‘Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar’.
Though meditation and sales calls are not one and the same, the methodology holds up: a visual cue that indicates progress can provide powerful motivation and gratification in building habits.
Introducing the Daily Ritual incense holder
With this in mind we designed our Daily Ritual incense holder from pure brass with seven holes — one for every day of the week. By placing incense into each hole at the start of a week, you are gently reminded with each new day and incense burned to meditate again. It is a reminder of your progress, source of motivation and also makes for a beautiful daily ritual.
With every day and week that passes by, your action becomes ever more habitual until it is an intrinsic part of your daily life.
For some, meditation is a deeply sacred practice. For others it provides a sense of physical and mental wellbeing in a chaotic world.
Whatever your approach, meditation should not feel burdensome or obligatory. Though it will take some time and commitment before it becomes a smooth part of daily life (I speak from experience), be sure to enjoy the process and the practice for it can be impactful and enlightening in ways we cannot even begin to understand.
I will keep you posted on this journey and likewise I hope you can share your own experiences either in a comment below, connecting with us via email or on social media.
With love x