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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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