Demystifying Meditation

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I am far from an organic-cotton-wearing, vegan zen master. My days are filled with stress (work-imposed and self-imposed) and a general feeling that I haven't stopped running—in heels, on cobblestones—from one thing to the next. And, like most, I am in a serious monogamous relationship with my iPhone. If you met me, you probably wouldn't guess that about two years ago I started practicing mindful meditation. Since that time, I’ve meditated almost every single day without fail—and have noticed a huge difference in my general well-being.

My practice has completely changed my relationship with...myself, my friends and family, and my smartphone. I knew that meditation was doing good things for stress levels, my overall mood, and efforts to quiet that voice that runs incessant bitchy commentary of what people (including myself) are wearing. But it wasn't until more than one person said I was "glowing" that I realized meditating also had some pretty amazing beauty benefits. My furrowed brow has relaxed, and the anxiety that once kept me up late and gave me dark circles has diminished. I'm here to say 'The Glow' is possible—without retinol or a raw-food diet. Let me clear up some of the misconceptions I’m constantly hearing about meditation…

-You need tons of extra time. Not so, it only takes 20 minutes or less a day. That’s shorter than an episode of Girls. There are people who say even just a few minutes will do.

-No, seriously, I don't have 20 minutes. You can meditate during your commute. If you take the train, bus, or car pool, just pop your earbuds in, cue some mediation music (search it on iTunes and choose your favorite), and close your eyes.

-You have to give up all of your favorite vices. You don't have to give up any part of your life once you start mediating. You can still come home and have your glass of wine before settling into lotus pose. Might make it easier at first.

-It'll turn me into a crunchy hippie. You don't have to start wearing hemp fibers or going to yoga if you don't want to.

-I can never clear my mind enough to meditate. It's totally normal—and expected—to have thoughts come up. This is actually good! It means you're working through something that’s on your mind.

-Still, "I meditate" sounds really...try hard. If you think it makes you sound kooky to say that you meditate, you simply don't have to tell anyone.

-I tried it a couple of times and didn't feel anything. Every meditation is a good meditation, even if it doesn't feel like it. You probably won't see or feel instant results—this isn't a haircut. You're getting your mind in shape, so the first few times, it might feel like a struggle. Slowly but surely it will become easier to focus and relax. You are essentially rewiring your brain, so it will take a little time and patience. One of the fundamental points of the spiritual journey is to persevere along the path.

-I don't know any Tibetan monks. Meditation: there’s an app for that. I use the app 'Meditator' to announce, via a pretty realistic gong sound, when time is up. Guided meditations are a great way to start—this is basically when an instructor tells you what to think about during your practice, either in person or via recording. They generally involve an introduction and centering thought. Then your guide will help you visualize a beautiful place and will talk you through, with nice spa-like music playing in the background. Guided sessions are also a good way to mix up your meditation practice from time to time. I'm partial to Deepak Chopra and Oprah's themed, month-long guided meditations that they do every season—you can download them here.

Personally I use a mantra, a repeated phrase that helps you focus on your breath. ("Om" is considered the universal mantra.) But if you don't have a mantra, just concentrate on breathing. This is a very simple process: when you are breathing out, know that you are breathing out; when you breath in, know that you are breathing in. Be aware of this without supplying any extra commentary or internalized mental gossip; just identify with the breath. You don't have to be an anxious person, a spiritual person, a religious person, an addict, or a hippie, to meditate. I think of it like working out—it’s just something you do to make yourself healthier.

—Helane Crowell

Helane Crowell works in digital marketing and communications and writes the blog Downtown Romantic. You can follow her on Instagram @laneycrowell.

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  • marie

    What's wrong with the crunchy hippies ? Quite the opposite since they might be right :)
    I think it's a little bit sad and pointless to do things (yoga, healthy food, prayer, meditation) without the meaning they are suppose to have and bring. yes doing meditation is a kind of "hippie thing" to try to feel better with your true self and to be more conscious of your impact in the world and in yourself. And it should stay that way.

  • http://www.clevergirlreviews.com/ Clever Girl Reviews

    This is a great article!

  • NatalieM

    Headspace is an amazing guided meditation app for people who want to give it a try in baby steps. The dude's British accent is very soothing.

    • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

      Headspace is awesome.

      • http://www.passportsandvisa.wordpress.com/ passportsandvisa

        Totally agree, I'm on Take 15 of the Headspace program and can already see the benefits of daily meditation. Doesn't hurt to give it a try!

  • M.

    I use an app called Simply Being to do meditation before bed. Seriously helps me get to sleep better and the woman who narrates it has a lovely, soothing voice.

    Another great resource is the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. They have free guided meditations on their website that I've used for awhile now. http://marc.ucla.edu

  • Sarita

    Thank you for these app suggestions. Thanks to an ITG post from last Fall with a short meditation recording from Rolf Sovik, I started meditating. I don't do it all the time, but I do try to meditate before bed. The app suggestions in the post are most welcomed!

  • Maria Lúcia Dário

    I like it very much. Thanks.

  • http://www.benourishd.co.uk BeNourishd

    This is a great article. I started a mindfulness programme 4 weeks ago, and already feel as though it is massively helping to manage stress and keep me focused.

  • Mari Corona

    Great share! I too practice Meditation have for the past two years. It is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. My Mantra on days I feel unfocused is may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be peaceful, may I live wise ease. Happy practice be well :)

  • Renia Carsillo

    I've tried meditation off and on, but never stuck with it. This makes me want to try again. Great post!

  • Tianna

    Thank you

  • http://wehavethisnow.wordpress.com Jade Smith

    Awesome article. So happy to read this.

  • Chiara Vitaloni

    Thanks for writing this post and sharing your experience <3

  • omg_its_maggie

    Yeah! What she said. I am one of those cynical, sarcastic btches, I still am, but due to meditation I don't even pay attention to most things I would comment about or might cause me stress. I highly recommend it. And do it as your body tells you. Be natural about. If you like to lie down, then lie down. If you like to listen to music while meditating, at first, then do that. Just try to find your natural state and let all the things that make your head fill with bad thoughts glide away.

  • Paolo The Look Lover

    Great and interesting post!!!
    Kisses
    Paolo
    http://www.thelooklover.blogspot.it

  • Hailey Dash

    This is great! I'll definitely be downloading a meditation assisting app soon, Thanks! xx

  • Stef

    Thank you so much for this! I have jst recently started practicing it also the last few weeks and am loving it! Love your tips! Love from Australia!

  • Zoe

    Yes! I love this post. I started meditating towards the end of last year, I usually use a track on my iphone that focuses on being still, recognising the things around you but then refocusing on your breathing. Before long 10 minutes has gone by and I realise that i've been resting effortlessly. On a good day ill meditate twice or more, on a busy day maybe once before bed. It's so energising and soothing that I notice how much I miss it if I forget.

  • Alanah Swift

    Headspace is a great app for meditation ya guided and works through a plan to keep you doing it everyday you go through time periods for example "take 10" you take 10 minutes a day for 10 days to mediate its so simple and really helps!

  • http://nomadic-d.blogspot.com/ Nomadic D.

    So glad to read this! I've been extra stressed lately and have been dabbling with meditation, but I'm not at a place where I can sit without guidance (yet), and often wonder what the best app/recordings would be. I've tried some of Glenn Harrold's apps, and while they're crazy cheesy, I've found them pretty helpful, but they are on the long side. So happy to hear not only your suggestions but also the ones in the comments. Thanks everyone! Off to get zen...

    http://www.nomadicd.com

  • The Queen Of Dreaming

    Great post! It may seems crazy but I use to meditate while I'm... running! I use to go out of the city to run, in the middle of nothing and totally forgettin what I'm doing (really!) I meditate!

    http://justsem.wordpress.com/

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