Let me start by saying this: Meditation doesn’t come naturally to me. I have a hard enough time sitting still, let alone getting my mind to do the same. I’m the one who starts wiggling her fingers and toes in final Savasana just moments after I get there. During those last few minutes of yoga when everyone else is focusing on their practice, I’m thinking about my grocery list, appointments that need scheduling, and the status of various work projects. Quieting my mind has never been one of my strong suits.
But as someone with a considerable amount of stress in her life, a declining memory, and a host of unhealthy habits, I’ve always thought I could use a little “om” time in my schedule. After all, studies show the myriad of meditation benefits—including anxiety reduction, pain relief, and memory improvement. So why not give it a try? I figured that I had nothing to lose.
Getting started is the toughest part—scratch that—even just knowing how to get started is the hardest part. Do you just sit there? Can music be involved? Do you need a mantra to repeat? Is the “om” thing really necessary? Clearly, I was starting from square one. So I consulted a few friends and colleagues, and everyone said the same thing—download a meditation app. And I did. I tried two of the top recommendations: The Mindfulness App (free) and Simply Being ($2). These apps are great for beginners because they offer guided meditations. You just choose how long you want to meditate (five minutes for me—baby steps), and a soothing voice walks you through what you’re supposed to do. Instructions are simple and easy to follow: “Notice the breath moving in and out of your nose,” and “Simply be aware of whatever is happening right now at this moment.” With The Mindfulness App, a bell chimes every minute—which is great for people like me who want to know exactly how much time has passed (looking at the clock during meditation is a big no-no). However, I prefer the Simply Being app because it lets you choose music or nature sounds to accompany your meditation (gentle forest brook was my favorite).
During my first attempt, I found myself peeking at the clock and feeling rather distracted—despite the peaceful voice inviting me to relax and let go of my thoughts. It’s like my expectations got in the way, turning my meditation experience into a self-fulfilling prophecy of frustration. My friends told me to expect this; it’s common for complete beginners like me. Yet I still walked away feeling like it didn’t work. I didn’t meditate for a few days after this first experience.
After waiting a few days and trying a couple more times, I still didn’t feel like meditation was providing me with that harmonious, zen-like peace I wanted it to. But then I got another valuable tip from a friend: Meditate first thing in the morning, before you’ve glanced at your inbox or even started thinking about what you’re going to wear. This tip was the real game-changer. When I meditated right after waking up, the process was insanely easier. In fact, five minutes flew by. I didn’t even realize it was over until I started to miss the soothing voice, which hadn’t spoken for a while. My mind still drifted to thoughts of meetings and tasks to complete later in the day, but I felt like I did a good job of bringing them back to the present moment. That, to me, is the hardest part. When meditating, you’re supposed to let your thoughts happen without trying to change them—you're not supposed to resist them or shut them down, nor are you supposed to follow them. If you’re like me, that doesn’t sound all that easy (or even possible).
You’re supposed to be aware and present (two recurring meditation buzzwords) and simply refocus your thoughts when they start to drift. Which, when you say it out loud, doesn’t make much sense. When the soothing voice first instructed me to do this, I started thinking about what she meant and how I was supposed to accomplish such “presence,” which is probably why my first attempts were so unsuccessful. Once I stopped questioning the process, it started to make sense. When my thoughts drifted to the emails I needed to send and the uncompleted tasks on my to-do list, I tried to bring focus to a specific body part, like my hand or my forehead. With each exhale, I envisioned myself releasing tension from that body part—blowing away the emails, the meetings, and whatever else was interrupting my moment of peace.
I wish I could say that I now meditate every morning for 20 minutes and that I’ve never felt better. Perhaps one day I will, but for now, my meditation practice is limited to three or four mornings a week. It’s a refreshing way to start the day. I’ll admit the days I skip my morning meditation tend to be more hectic, leaving me more frazzled. I’ve even meditated at my desk a time or two. When a particularly stressful moment pops up, I highly recommend popping in your earbuds and spending a few minutes quieting your mind with the sounds of a gentle forest brook.
The next goal I hope to accomplish through meditation? Easy, sound sleep. Many people extol the virtues of meditation in curing their insomnia woes. I myself am not immune to restless nights and groggy days, so wish me luck as I set out on a new journey, meditating my way to dreamland.