The Skeptical Person’s Guide to Kick-Starting a Meditation Practice

Philly meditation teacher Daphne Lyon weighs in on how to squeeze meditation in on the go and in under five minutes.

We feel you: It can be hard to feel like you have room for meditation in your life — another thing to do?! — when you’re just so busy with life as it is. That’s why we reached out to Daphne Lyon, a meditation teacher and 500-hour registered yoga teacher at Amrita Yoga and Wellness who also surfs and teaches paddleboard yoga with Aqua Vida SUP. In case you couldn’t tell, she’s a busy gal who can relate to the daily grind.

“You have probably meditated before when you were on a run, knitting, painting or anytime you felt in the zone, completely focused, present, and in the moment,” Lyon says. “The practice of meditation is just that, but more controlled and with intention. We set the intention that we want to bring our awareness to in the present moment by watching the breath.”

We caught up with her for a Q&A about how to jumpstart your own meditation practice. (For starters, you can try her 3-minute guided meditation, because you KNOW you have three minutes!).Who knows? It could just be life-changing. As she says, “I feel so grateful for the ability to share this powerful practice with the community because the results are always amazing, no matter how big or small, and the practice truly transforms your life.”

What’s your advice to someone who has never tried meditation before, and is maybe a little nervous about beginning?
I always advise to start small and build up your practice, little by little. Just like going to the gym to get stronger physically, I wouldn’t go and lift 150-pound weight right off the bat, so don’t feel pressured that a meditation practice must be 30 minutes of sitting! Start with three minutes, set a timer and your intention, find a comfortable seat and watch the breath, bring your awareness back to the breath when you wander away with a thought. Add more time as you get more comfortable and the muscle of focus strengthens through intention, awareness, and practice.

How can we meditate on the go in Philly?
I love pairing the practice of meditation to activities I already do habitually, for example sitting and focusing on the breath while my tea steeps in the morning or taking five minutes after a run or workout to sit in stillness. Taking little moments throughout the day to reground and draw our energy back into the present makes a huge impact in allowing us to stay clear, focused, and flow through the day, as is, with ease and grace.

On my commute I like using a mantra and my mala beads. I move from one bead to the next with every inhale and exhale, repeating a mantra with the breath. Parked in my car before I arrive to teach or step into my home I like to take five to 10 deep belly breaths, counting each inhale and exhale.

I started recording meditations for clients to use on the go, since many wanted something to listen to after work, sitting in their car before they headed home or in their daily seated practice. I wanted these meditations to be accessible to all because it adds such ease, peacefulness, and space into our lives. (You can find them here.)

What are some of your favorite zen spots in Philly?
The Wissahickon is my all-time favorite spot in Philly. I place myself on a big ol’ rock by the river to sit and listen to the wind, birds, and flowing water. On runs I head to Penn Treaty Park and sit for a bit under a tree. Amrita Yoga in Fishtown is the most beautiful studio I have ever stepped foot in. The space is so grounding and serene. I offer community meditation there every Sunday night at 8:15 p.m.

What’s your best piece of advice on meditating that someone would never expect to hear?
Be kind to yourself. A meditation practice builds a relationship with yourself and that encompasses all of you — the good, the bad, the light, and the dark. I find many people come with the expectation that they are going to sit down and find peace and clarity right away. Then they sit and are faced with their monkey mind, emotions, past thoughts of worry and future thoughts of angst. They leave saying, “I can’t meditate” or, “It doesn’t work for me!”

So be kind and gentle to yourself. We come with a lot of stuff: baggage, stories, narratives, feelings, and thoughts. The practice is to create this inner sanctuary so that every time you sit in meditation, you feel at home. We don’t practice to escape but, instead, to foster a different quality of awareness to our life no matter what the present experience may bring.

What are three quick things someone who is super-skeptical about meditation could do right now?

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing meditation to 10 on the subway, in the car, at your desk or after a workout. Inhale, breathe into your belly so that it expands like a ballon, expanding the breath into the ribs and chest. Exhale, release from the chest, the ribs, the belly (count 1). Inhale belly, ribs, chest. Exhale chest, ribs, belly (count 2). Do this all the way up to 10 counts of breath. Notice the effects.
  1. A body scan is helpful to practice in yoga during relaxation, at your desk to de-stress and refocus, or before you go to sleep. Tune into each part of the body noticing any sensations with the intention to release. Starting at the toes and working your way up mindfully to the legs, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, eyes, and head. Notice each part of the body and release. If the mind wanders to thoughts or emotions, simply bring it back to the sensations of the body.
  1. “Let go” mantra.

This meditation practice is from my teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life. I find it helps calm the body-mind while releasing tension and thoughts of worry. Set a timer for three to five minutes (I use the meditation app Enso). Wherever you are, draw your awareness to the breath. Every inhale, silently in your head say “let” and every exhale, silently say “go.” Inhale: “let”/exhale: “go.” If the mind wanders, draw it back to the breath: breathe in “let”/ breathe out “go.”

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