I am by no means an expert in this area but I do meditate daily and I am always looking for ways to improve my practice. Here are some things that I have learned or discovered along the way so far.
1. Meditate on an empty stomach. If you must eat beforehand, eat lightly. It’s hard to focus your energy when your body is busy digesting.
2. This may come as a shock to you, but I like to incorporate crystals into my meditation. Sit in front of one, hold one in each hand, build a grid around you, tie a headband around your head and place one at your third eye, the possibilities are endless! I recommend using them in moderation so as not to create a dependency. Some crystals that are especially helpful for quieting the mind: amethyst, smoky quartz, kyanite, selenite, flourite, ocean jasper.
3. Practice “noting”. If you catch yourself thinking about work, or replaying a memory, note to yourself “thinking” and return to focusing on the breath. If you feel pain in your leg and you really want to stretch it out, note to yourself, “that’s aversion”. If you feel really blissful, note, “that’s bliss”. Note everything. Be an observer for the happenings in your body-mind.
4. Chanting. This is one of the most helpful tools I have found. Find a mantra you like and spend the first ten minutes of your meditation chanting. Then after, sit in silence. You will be surprised how much easier it is to focus your awareness. Aham Prema (pronounced ah-hum pray-mah) means “I am divine love.” The gayatri mantra is a great one too. There are so many beautiful mantras out there and you can make one up too. It doesn’t have to be sanskrit. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done is a powerful one from the bible.
5. Experiment with different times of the day. Find out what time of the day best serves your practice. For me, the earlier in the day the better. I try to have my meditation done before 9 am but there are many schools of thought about what time is best. I have heard that the time between 4 am and 7 am are really good. Try meditating as the sun sets.
6. Designate a specific place to meditate each day. As your practice evolves, this space will be purified and will become ideal, energetically, for meditation.
7. Meditate with other people. This is a really great way to push yourself, and to show yourself that you are capable of sitting longer than you think. Meditating in groups improved my self-discipline substantially. Guided meditations are helpful too, because the guider can usually open you up to new concepts and techniques.
8. Be kind to yourself. This is important. If you sat down to meditate and your mind was completely out of control the entire time, don’t get frustrated, just love yourself. You probably grew more during that meditation than you did the day before when you finished your meditation feeling like the Buddha. So accept yourself for where you are, know that you are always a work in progress, and love yourself. Just be present for it, whatever it is.
9. Use aromatherapy. Experiment with different essential oils. You can infuse the room by placing a drop on a lightbulb and then turning the lamp on. Lavendar and cedarwood is my favorite combination for this. Nag champa, sandalwood, sage and pine are all ones I have used.
10. Use a timer. Don’t just say, “I think I’ll meditate for a while.” As a beginner, this never worked for me. A few minutes in I would discover something drastically important to do, like look up the definition of a word and leave my meditation. Commit to a time (it can even be five minutes) and set your timer. As your practice evolves, extend this time a little bit.
I hope you find this helpful. The word is that in the West it’s hard to have a real spiritual practice. But it’s really just a matter of doing. You will find the time if it’s important enough to you. And you don’t have to be a monk to live a spiritual life. You just need to do your best. Peace be with you.