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Why Meditation Practice Isn’t Really Comparable to Physical Exercise

meditation_time_mindfulnessMany people start off with goals for meditating that just aren’t realistic. While a meditation practice might be similar to a physical exercise practice, the analogy is limited.

The reality for a lot of us is that getting out on a bicycle or making our way in to a gym is the hard part, but once we start, we can usually last for 30, 40 minutes or more. That’s especially true when happy chemicals get released into our brain triggered by our physical efforts.

Not so for the practice of meditation. For many people there is no immediate “runner’s high” type of payoff. The benefits of mindful breathing, for example, accumulate gradually and aren’t always felt in the moment, but rather hours or days later.

What’s required to get started with meditation is first: The suspension of disbelief. That doesn’t mean permanently turning off your faculties of discernment and scepticism. It’s OK and sometimes quite useful when you approach life with an analytical mind-set. This can prevent all manner of mistakes, getting trapped by trickery and wasting your time.

However, for a meditation practice to start yielding dividends, you have to turn down the doubt that says “this feels like a waste of time.” It can start to be effective when you say instead “I don’t know what’s going to happen here. Many people say it helps them. Who knows? I’m willing to give it a try.”

The second requirement to get started with a sustainable meditation practice is creating realistic goals. While it might be impressive to your friends and acquaintances if you could tell them that you meditate for 30 minutes twice a day, it’s just not possible for most people, certainly not on an on-going basis. Thirty minutes of meditation – for a newcomer – isn’t the equivalent of 30 minutes of jogging or pedalling a bike.

It’s fanciful and perhaps inaccurate to make quantitative comparisons, but forced to do so, I would say 1 minute of meditation equals about 5 minutes of physical exercise. Meaning that if you commit to 4 or 5 minutes of meditation once a day for the first few weeks, you are doing work that is the equivalent of 25 minutes of running – a pretty respectable start.