Research suggests that it takes as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise just three times a week to gain most of the benefits of a regular exercise program. Research also suggests that as little as 5 minutes of meditation every day is enough to achieve significant benefits for both your body and mind. The New Year is a time of fresh beginnings and new commitments, but when our initial enthusiasm wears off the real challenge quickly becomes sticking with our new plans and aspirations. In our experience, the biggest obstacle to sticking with a brand new meditation practice is trying to do too much too soon. It seems that for most people the best results come from starting out with shorter periods of practice and then slowly increasing the amount time you spend meditating at your own individual pace. The important thing to remember is that is that a small amount of meditation can make a surprisingly big difference.
Part of the reason for starting small is that meditation turns out to be harder than it looks. The instruction to follow your breath or keep your attention firmly focused on a flickering candle sounds remarkable easy. But once you actually give it a try you quickly discover another story! It doesn’t take long to realize that one-pointed attention is much harder to maintain than you realized, and before you know it you are thinking about what’s for dinner or what needs to happen tomorrow. Often you discover that your mind is racing in 1000 directions, and you might even wonder how you didn’t notice there was so much happening in there until now. But the good news is that even if it seems impossible at first, meditation is like anything else - it just takes a little time and a little practice to get the hang of it.
Remember that the goal of meditation in the beginning is not just seeing how long you can remain focused. At first the goal is simply to recognize as soon as possible that your attention has wandered - as it inevitably will. Don't get discouraged!! I remember that when I began meditating I would sometimes spend the entire period daydreaming away without realizing it, only to finally come to when the meditation bell rang indicating the end of the session.
As your skill improves you will begin to discover that some thoughts and experiences do a better job of "pulling you in" and causing you to lose awareness than others. This is a very important realization and sets the stage for more advanced forms of meditation like mindfulness to come. The meditative path is remarkably ordered and progressive and this is why so many different meditation systems from all over the world developed the same basic practices and concepts. The beauty of meditation is that it is available to anyone, and if you stick with your practice you can discover in your own experience everything that the meditation teachers have been talking about through the ages. If you are willing to make meditation a part of your daily routine, it won’t be long before you are discovering all of its benefits for yourself.