The thought of sitting cross-legged, focused on your breath probably evokes two things: 1. Kindergarten, the last time you sat in the pretzel-like position 2. What the sweaty, shirtless dude in yoga class does in his downtime. But there’s so much more to meditation than the trite labels we so often assign to it (granola and hippie come to mind). Studies have shown that it can improve stress, anxiety and depression—and it can even help you sleep. It’s no surprise, then, that it has caught on with the fashion set—and beyond—from Gisele to Beyoncé to Kourtney Kardashian to Katy Perry (even Hugh Jackman is a fan).
Meditation is becoming such a buzzword; it was plastered acrossTime’s February 2014 cover, which declared the trend “The Mindful Revolution.” Mindfulness and meditation go hand-in-hand, but there’s a key difference in that the former is more related to being present anytime throughout the day (noticing the birds chirping, tasting each sip of coffee), whereas meditation is more related to the practice itself (say, 10 minutes you dedicate to sitting still sans phone). The innate challenge with meditation, though, is that those who generally want to calm their minds have active minds. And to calm an active mind, you should meditate—but wait, there are so many thoughts passing through my head how am I supposed to meditate? Ahhh! I mean, Ommmm?
While I’ve been trying to meditate for years now, I’ve really struggled with it. Worries are the first thing to pop into my mind once I start. I notice the tightness in my lower back and want to scratch every itch. Even when I start with a simple five-minute timer, I find myself checking in every minute. As it turns out, those things are OK. “In our minds, especially when it comes to meditation, our minds make it up into this big thing,” says Rachel Brathen, a.k.a. Yoga Girl ofInstagram fame, who recently published her first book, Yoga Girl(available for pre-order on amazon.com). “I usually think of it as though you’re practicing a downward-facing dog. You have to practice it over and over again. It’s the same thing with meditation. It’s about sitting down, closing your eyes and doing that.”
Here’s how you can start meditating, simply:
1. Think of meditating as taking a five-minute-ish break for yourself—no chimes, waterfall sounds or oms required (not gonna lie, I like a good nature soundscape). Find a cozy, quiet place to sit with your back straight and set the timer on your phone for anywhere from one to 10 minutes in the beginning (whatever time period you can handle). Take a slow, deep breathe, then exhale. Repeat. In a YouTube tutorial, Spirit Junkie author Gabrielle Bernstein says that when people tell her they don’t have time to meditate, she responds with “Do you have time to feel like crap?” Touché.
2. If you need a bit of extra motivation, or if you prefer having someone else’s voice to focus on, you can try guided meditations. I find Headspace incredibly relaxing and easy to tune into—it helps that narrator Andy Puddicombe has an adorable British accent. (Side note: Puddicombe became a Tibetan Buddhist monk in the Himalayas before spreading his easily accessible wisdom via books, lectures and Headspace).
3. When you close your eyes, do you find your mind racing and wandering? You’ll likely notice that the harder you try to stop that from happening, the more difficult it becomes. In Puddicombe’s wildly popular TED Talks, he clears up the misconception that meditation is about eliminating thoughts from popping into our minds. Not so, my friends. He explains that it’s more about witnessing the thought come and go, all while staying relaxed.
4. You reward yourself for getting in a good workout, but what about thanking yourself for taking the step toward better mental health?This might be a fitting treat.
5. And repeat. Don’t give up—practice won’t make perfect, but practicing is enough.