Ask the Experts: Tara Healey and Jonathan Roberts on beginning mindfulness practice

Ask the Experts: Tara Healey and Jonathan Roberts on beginning mindfulness practice

Tuesday, November 13, 2018
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Tara Healey and Jonathan Roberts

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I'm trying to start a mindfulness practice. When is the best time of day to meditate and how often should I do it?

As with so much related to mindfulness, the answer to this question is simple, yet not easy. The best time of day to practice is the time of day that works best for you. This is especially true when first starting out, when it’s important to make practice—which can seem daunting—as easy and accessible as possible. Determining the time of day that works best for you may require a learning curve, but don’t worry—mindfulness practice is all about realizing we don’t know ourselves as well as we might have thought, even as it provides a method to know ourselves better than we ever thought possible. It is a good idea, then, to experiment with different times of day, and different lengths of time—you’re looking for that “sweet spot” that will support your ability to develop strong concentration , so you are able to notice more clearly your habits and patterns of mind. It’s best to start with a modest length of time, and build up from there as you feel ready. Ten minutes is a good place to start, though there is no magic number, and everyone needs to explore this for themselves. Once found and established, it’s never a bad idea to start experimenting with increasing your chosen length—it is a time-honored rule that the amount of practice and the amount of benefits are proportional.

A word or two about benefits. It is unlikely you would embark on a practice like this if you didn’t have some aspirations for what it might offer. It is best to hold these aspirations lightly, however, and watch what happens. Be prepared to observe how your aspirations are challenged or confirmed with an open and curious mind. As you continue to practice, notice how your way of engaging with the world may shift. This is especially easy to spot in situations when you feel provoked, like when another driver cuts you off, or your boss asks you to meet an unrealistic deadline. In such circumstances, do you find you have a little more space in which to mount a measured response, rather than a reaction—in other words, the response you would hope to make when looking back from a more calm, collected vantage? This is the sort of benefit one can reasonably expect to find over time—and sometimes in a very short amount of time.

Training yourself to consistently avoid the collision course of emotional reactivity, however, may not happen overnight. Therefore, consider the three legs to the stool holding you aloft to be trust, patience and discipline. Trust that there really is something to this—something worth checking out. But prepare yourself to be patient, as the practice of mindfulness involves undoing a lifetime of habits and patterns that may not be (or may no longer be) serving you, or others, well. Discipline proves crucial in keeping up the daily practice routine you committed to on that first day, when you felt so inspired, for this is the only way to build the positive habit of mindfulness. At first this practice can feel like collecting drops from a dripping faucet, but the more your bucket is filled, the stronger the stream from the faucet becomes.


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Tara is the Program Director for Mindfulness Based Learning at Harvard Pilgrim Health, and has created a comprehensive suite of mindfulness workshops and courses that have been conducted at over 200 organizations across the U.S., in a wide variety of industries.