What is meditation? Simply put by Jennifer Rose Goldman, founder, and CEO of Essential Rose Life, “meditation is the practice of sitting, being, breathing, and witnessing ourselves.”
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t start including meditation into my weekly routine until I was 27-years-old. I was once someone who thought I couldn’t meditate because clearing my mind felt impossible, and my ego wouldn’t allow me to find 10 to 30 minutes in my day for something I didn’t feel like I was good at doing.
It took awhile for me to discover what the goal of meditation is, and that my habit of drifting off didn’t disqualify me from participating in the practice. It ended up being group meditation classes that helped me ask more questions about how to “get better” at meditation.
When I asked Lodro Rinzler, co-founder of MNDFL, what he wished people knew about meditation-related back to my initial worry when I was starting out. The truth, I learned, is that drifting off in meditation isn’t wrong (it's actually the opposite).
According to Rinzler, “Every time you realize you’ve been distracted and come back to the breath, you are training the mind to not get so lost in discursive thinking but tune into what is going on right now. We call it meditation practice because you are practicing for the rest of your waking life. The more you do that in meditation, the more you will be able to come back to what is going on right here and now in the rest of your life.”
Incorporating new practices and rituals into our lives can sometimes feel daunting, but the benefits of meditation are genuinely worth the feat. If I can’t convince you by the end of this, take it from Ava Johanna, international yoga and meditation facilitator, who puts the “why” beautifully:
“Meditation is a tool for self-compassion, awareness, and presence that is necessary in our fast-moving digital world. Often we can get caught up in mental time travel by replaying the past or worrying about the future in our minds and meditation acts as an anchor to the present moment … which is all we truly have.”
There’s also a lot of science behind the benefits of meditating. I learned from Susan Petang, Certified stress management and transformational life coach, that “MRIs done of the brains of meditating individuals have shown that new neural pathways are being created between the amygdala (the part of the brain where most emotion originates) and the prefrontal cortex (the part of our brains that processes this information into thoughts and behavior). Meditation is a good way to make use of neuroplasticity (the ability of our brains to create new pathways) and is being used to treat PTSD, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.”
Meditation, as a tool, enables a deeper sense of self-awareness that affects every aspect of our lives because, according to Goldman, “It gives us a platform and a practice to witness ourselves, accept ourselves as we are, and recognize the power is in our control.
We spend all this time hustling, getting things done for others, chasing our dreams, and trying to remember to drink enough water without taking enough time for ourselves. Out of all the reasons to meditate, the one I think is most important is that it becomes a moment to give ourselves a break to just stop, sit, and recognize that we exist. I think we all deserve that moment, don’t you?
How to Meditate
Here are five simple meditation steps from clinical psychologist, Dr. Carla Marie Manly:
Choose a timeframe that works for you, whether it’s five minutes, 15 minutes, or 30 minutes.
Find a quiet place to sit.
Close your eyes and focus on your breath, noticing each full inhalation and each deep exhalation.
When thoughts arise, simply detach from them without judgment.
Continue to focus on your breathing.
Manly also acknowledged that sometimes people worry that meditation “will take too much time or that it’s too spiritual or too religious,” but emphasizes that in reality, “the body, mind, and spirit thrive when given the opportunity for stillness.”
As for those of us who are uncomfortable with even the thought of sitting still, Reverend Connie L. Habash offers this tip, “Gently stretch beforehand to release tension, and then you can sit with more ease. A supportive chair is fine. Sit upright and comfortable.”
As a practitioner myself, I also think it’s essential to consider the place you’re going to be meditating. Be intentional and create a space that is comfortable and serene for your practice. Rinzler suggests you “Bring some of your favorite elements to the space, even creating a small area with images of people you admire, a statue, candles or an incense burner.” Think of it as a place you go—a safe haven—to find some stillness in your life and shape it with that in mind.
If you’re like me, though, it’s going to be in-person meditation that really becomes the game-changer. Rinzler recommends that for those just starting out, it’s best to “connect with a certified and trained meditation teacher in-person or online to learn the initial technique(s), and continue to check-in with them in classes on any challenges you face; you are more likely to feel supported in your practice long-term.”
Even more than that, group meditation classes give you a sense of community. Rinzler compared it to running by saying, “If you're on your own, you are more likely to stop or give up, but if you are in a group there is a certain momentum and accountability, and you see your way through it. The biggest benefit though, is having a live teacher in front of you. Apps are wonderful, but they can't take a look at you and say ‘You know, if you drop your knees a little below your hips, your legs are less likely to fall asleep.’”
If you’re still stumped, there are a variety of amazing books about meditating that could help aid at the beginning or in the deepening of your meditation practice.
When and Where to Meditate
It’s no surprise that finding time to meditate is one of the biggest blocks to starting or maintaining a meditation practice. Dr. Jodi Ashbrook gave me awesome advice on how to navigate that concern, “For beginners, I recommend choosing one timeframe (morning, midday, or evening) each day that you'd like to dedicate five to 10 minutes to try a guided meditation that you can tune in to from your car, desk, outdoors, or your bedroom.
Instead of always holding yourself accountable, Ashbrook recommends you, “Identify a time of day when you believe meditation will serve you most. For instance, if you have a long evening commute, perhaps you tune in to your meditation from your car or on the train to help you decompress and unwind, leaving the office stress at the door. Or, if you're eager to become a morning person, meditating just after you wake up can be a huge source of inspiration to begin your day on a more positive note, fueled by confidence and creativity.”
You can even meditate while walking! Try this super simple walking meditation proposed by Ruth Kent, founder of Sunrise Well, “As you walk, bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the soles of your feet.”
Generally, I personally prefer to meditate in the morning to start my day off on the right foot, and to make sure that meditation doesn’t become an item on my to-do list. I especially love to meditate on weekend mornings that are paired with no plans, hot coffee, and fuzzy socks.
If meditating in the morning doesn’t happen (because let’s be serious, sometimes mornings are rough), then I’ll generally practice a short sleep meditation on Headspace before ending my day, so I can entirely shut down my body and release my thoughts before heading into slumber.
Now, Let’s Meditate!
By and large, meditation is a beautiful form of self-care and not as scary as it seems. I love the way Siobhan D. Flowers, a licensed psychotherapist at Balanced Vision puts it by identifying meditation as “One of the best forms of self-care because it can be done at any time of day, at virtually any location, it doesn't cost anything at all, and the benefits are immediate.”
Are you still skeptical about whether you can meditate? Check out this video from Dan Harris, the author of “10% Happier” who sums up meditation and includes a 90-second practice (hint: he used to be skeptic himself):
Now, are you all in and ready to incorporate meditation into your daily life? Amazing! Remember it’s okay to start slow and steady. Here’s an easy five minute guided meditation to get you going: