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Make meditation a habit: Kopping-Pavars

To get the most out of mindfulness meditation, beginners need to build it into their daily routine, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

When people first take an interest in meditation, Kopping Pavars, principal of NKP Law, says it can be hard for them to make the leap from learning about the practice to actually doing it.

“You can watch as many YouTube videos on mindfulness and meditation as you want, but it’s not going to do much for you or your brain. If you were interested in bodybuilding videos, you wouldn’t expect to look like the experts by just watching their YouTube videos. You would need to go out there and body build,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “It's the same thing with mindfulness: you need to put that knowledge into practice.”

While it can seem intimidating at first, she says newbies, or anyone else for that matter, should not hold themselves to a standard of perfection.

“I meditate every day, and sometimes the sessions are fantastic. Other times, the sessions go horribly and I have a gazillion thoughts flooding through my head, but I don’t give up,” Kopping-Pavars says. “Some people may get to a point where their meditation is about a completely clear brain, approaching a sense of Nirvana, but that’s not the experience for most of us normal folk."

“The point of meditation is not to stop thinking but to be aware that you are thinking. Instead of inviting those thoughts in for tea, you let them go, and go back to your meditation object: your breath,” she adds.

For those who do jump in, even a small time commitment can make a huge difference to the way they take control of their emotional responses in everyday life, according to Kopping-Pavars.

“If you do 10 minutes at the same time every day, that can help you build a solid meditation practice. If you want to add in some extra time or try some other strategies throughout the day, that’s fine too,” she says. “Personally, I don’t like doing more than 20 minutes in one go.”

In fact, Kopping-Pavars says consistency is more important than quantity, especially for those new to the practice.

“It’s about building a habit,” she adds.

"By cultivating a process of awareness, we can learn to recognize the virtually automatic 'fight or flight' response activated by the amygdala in the brain when we get upset," Kopping-Pavars says.

Practitioners of meditation learn to recognize the triggers and notice them being triggered thereby avoiding the amygdala “hijack” response, she adds. 

“Studies have shown that meditation actually changes your brain. It develops your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for things like impulse control,” Kopping-Pavars says. “But if you want to have control over your life and not have your amygdala going off all the time, it takes a solid, regular meditation practice to make the difference.”

Having built her own meditation practice and cultivated this habit over a number of years, she says she can feel her temper shortening with friends and family if she’s thrown off her routine of a daily practice.

Adapting a Louis Armstrong quote about his trumpet, she says: “If I don’t meditate for one day, then I know it. But if I don’t meditate for two days, everybody else knows it too.”

Kopping-Pavars has developed mindfulness programs and meditation clinics for law firms and lawyers. Anyone who is interested in learning more can contact her at nicolle@nkplaw.ca.

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