It’s been a long and crazy year, and maybe the stress of current events or daily life are piling up on you. Finding relief from these everyday anxieties can be hard to come by when you’re stuck at home. Luckily, there’s a tool you can keep in your back pocket to help you cope with stress, decompress, and reconnect with your mind and body: meditation.
You may picture someone sitting quietly with their eyes closed when you think of meditation. And you’re not wrong—that is a form of meditating. But if sitting still doesn’t compel you, don’t worry. There are many different ways to try the practice and soak up all the healing benefits that meditation has to offer. So how do you do it? Byrdie talked to two meditation pros to get the lowdown so you can start your practice ASAP.
Meet the Expert
- Halle Miroglotta is a Chicago-based yoga and meditation teacher and the founder of the podcast Home Practice with Halle: Yoga Tools for Every Body.
- Kayla White is a certified yoga instructor and director of operations at The Collective Yoga Co-Op in Chicago.
What Is Meditation?
Very broadly, meditation is a practice to train your attention and awareness, and is often used to create a calm inner state. “To me, meditation is a set of tools and techniques designed to harness and direct the potential of the often-scattered mind,” says Halle Miroglotta, a certified yoga instructor and meditation teacher in Chicago. “It’s traditionally a structured, disciplined, seated practice. But a lot of what is called meditation today encompasses mindfulness techniques like full-body scans, walking meditation, sound baths, yoga nidra, breathwork, moving meditation, and visualization.”
Meditation is believed to have originated in India, and the first written record of meditation dates back to around 1500 BCE from a body of ancient Indian religious texts called the Vedas, according to Kayla White, a certified yoga instructor based in Chicago. “While it has a long tradition as a spiritual practice in Hinduism, a lot of neighboring religions and countries picked it up and wove it into the fabric of their own religion,” she says. And so began the spread of meditation around the world.
These days, ittakes many forms. From mindfulness exercises like rhythmic breathing to visualizing your happy place to movement practices like yoga, meditations come in all shapes and sizes. And you can likewise turn to meditation for a variety of reasons, says White. People use it to feel peaceful or stable, some try it to connect with the present moment, and still others meditate to get better sleep. “It's not just sitting still, eyes closed—although that is one way—but rather it can be done anytime, anywhere,” says White. “You can turn washing the dishes into a meditation or practice mindfulness when having a conversation with a loved one.”
Benefits of Meditation
- Trains mindfulness: Meditation trains you to focus on the present moment instead of worrying about the past or anticipating the future. This awareness of the present is mindfulness. Though easier said than done, research has shown that mindfulness can improve your well-being, regulate your mood, and decrease negative thoughts.
- Relieves stress: “The benefits of meditation are different for everyone, but in general people notice a reduction in stress, which can mean lower blood pressure and better sleep,” says White. Taking time away to unwind and focus on the moment can also soothe feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Reduces pain: Releasing stress by meditating and building mindfulness can help alleviate pain, like headaches, stomach pain, or chronic pain, says White.
- Teaches self-awareness: Taking time to slow down and turn inwards can encourage self-awareness and reflection, says White. And feeling more in tune with yourself can help you tap into how you’re feeling, develop patience, and even improve your ability to communicate with others.
- Boosts creativity: Clearing your mind and focusing inwardly can enhance creativity, according to White. And there’s science to back it up: Research in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity found that the mindfulness you develop from meditation encourages open-mindedness and the ability to concentrate while decreasing self-conscious thoughts and fear of being judged.
What to Expect From Meditation
Whether it’s in class or at home, be prepared to wonder if you’re doing things right when you try your first meditation, says White. There’s a reason it’s called a practice, she says, and that’s because no one ever achieves the perfect meditation—there’s no such thing. “As long as you’re trying, you’re doing it right,” she says. “It's okay to lose track of where you are and have to come back to the meditation technique repeatedly. That's normal and valid.”
It’s understandable that meditation is difficult, says Miroglotta. You’re used to constant stimulation from work, socialization, news, the internet, and background noise. And thanks to those constant distractions, you might find yourself resisting meditating in the first place by wondering if you have the time to do it, wanting to put it off until tomorrow, or convincing yourself that other activities are more important. “We’re used to operating at a baseline of highly distracted,” she explains. “That’s why meditation classes can sometimes be jarring—but for that reason, they are so important.”
If you’re trying your first meditation at a class, Miroglotta says to expect to be physically stationary, like sitting in a comfortable posture or lying down (though there’s some exceptions, like walking meditations). Your teacher will likely kick off class by bringing awareness to your breath, or thoughts to settle your mind and ease you into the practice. After that, you’ll start a more concrete meditation technique that can range based on your instructor and what type of class you’re taking. You might regulate your breath to a specific count, visualize certain colors or scenes, or sit in silence, according to Mirogoltta. Meditations tend to end with a slow return to your surroundings and external awareness.
If you’d rather try your first mediation at home, there’s plenty of options to pick from, says Miroglotta. If you’re looking for guidance, try a guided meditation online or a meditative podcast. If you’d like to fly solo, take a few minutes to sit quietly and observe the sights, sounds, or sensations around you, she suggests.
And if sitting still isn’t your jam, never fear—there’s a meditation for that, too. Try an at-home tapping meditation, shaking meditation, or a mind-body practice like yoga. Though these activities may not fit the stereotypical mold, they’re still legit. You’re connecting to your sensations in the present moment and building mindfulness through movement, all of which constitutes meditation.
Set yourself up for a successful meditation by dressing the part, says White—which is to say, dress comfy. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and make sure to drink some water or have a snack beforehand so you don’t get distracted by unpleasant sensations, she advises. White also recommends starting small. Settling in for an hour-long meditation isn’t easy for most, so begin by meditating for just three to five minutes at a time. “Remember that it's normal to be frustrated, confused, or unsure about the process,” says White. “Trust that you are doing it right and keep coming back!”
Miroglotta recommends setting the right atmosphere for a peaceful meditation session. Light a candle or incense, dim the lights, and set up shop in an area of your home that feels relaxing and distraction-free. “Establishing a clean, regular location for meditation helps remove the obstacles of indecision and preparation,” she says. “Over days, months, and years, you’ll be able to establish a routine that sets the stage for your meditation and mindfulness practices.”
A Meditation Exercise for Beginners
If you’re just getting started, try this simple eight-minute breathwork meditation from Miroglotta’s podcast, Home Practice with Halle: Yoga Tools for Every Body. Turning your focus to your breath can help you find intention, connection, and presence in your body, she says. Here’s some basic steps to try it solo, or listen to Miroglotta’s voice as your guide.
- Set the scene: Adjust the lights to your preferred brightness or darkness, put your phone on silent, power down any other gadgets, and perhaps light a candle.
- Find a tall, comfortable seat on a bolster, a pillow, a folded blanket, or a chair.
- Take a few moments to observe your natural breath.
- Make a loose fist with your right hand. Extend your pinky finger, ring finger, and thumb. Face your palm toward your face and place your thumb on the outside of your right nostril. Place your pinky and ring finger on your left nostril. Relax the rest of your arm.
- Plug your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril for four counts.
- Unplug your right nostril. Plug your left nostril and exhale for eight counts.
- Switch sides. Inhale through your right nostril for four counts. Unplug your left nostril. Plug your right nostril and exhale for eight counts.
- Repeat for three minutes, or longer if you like.
- Take out the counts. Plug your right nostril. Inhale deeply. Unplug your right nostril. Plug your left nostril. Exhale.
- Switch sides and repeat for 10 breaths, or longer if you like.
- Remove your hand from your nostrils and take a few deep breaths. Observe how these breaths feel after alternate-nostril breathing.
If the stress of your job or the frenzy of everyday life are weighing on you, meditation can be a simple and effective way to tap into the present moment and let anxieties and distractions take a backseat, if only for a few minutes. Take a meditation class if you’d prefer an in-person experience, or try a solo or guided meditation from the comfort of home.
Meditating can help relieve stress and pain, boost creativity, and strengthen your connection to your thoughts, emotions, and experience. Though it may be hard to feel in-the-moment, a regular meditation practice can help you reap all those benefits over time. “Ultimately, your meditation practice isn’t about achieving or resisting, but about building the mental discipline of steadiness and equanimity in the face of great change,” says Miroglotta. “Meditation is a cumulative, iterative practice that takes time to establish and build. Stick with it.”