Does the word “meditation” conjure up images of chanting in a hushed room, chasing after an elusive Zen while encircled by incense? Don’t let intimidation—or outdated stereotypes—stop you from achieving calmness.
“People mistake some of the ‘traditional’ guidelines for how to meditate, but meditation at its core is a training, a practice,” says Carla Goldstein of the Omega Institute, a nonproﬁt wellness retreat and workshop center in Rhinebeck, New York. “It’s training your mind to focus and to observe yourself and life without going into deep reactivity.” In fact, meditation can have an immense impact on your well-being.
Studies have linked it to better moods and a decrease in blood pressure, among other health beneﬁts. It can even change how your brain is wired.
“We’ve learned a tremendous amount through research about how these meditative states, when cultivated, signiﬁcantly change the brain over time,” says psychotherapist Stephen Cope, scholar-in-residence at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and the author of Soul Friends: The Transforming Power of Deep Human Connection (Hay House, Inc.).
“The brain and the nervous system are much more plastic than we used to think,” Cope says. “With long-term practice, we know that meditators’ brains change in very salutary ways, becoming more ‘organized,’ less easily over-stimulated, less reactive.” The trick is to reframe traditional meditation—which can be a bit overwhelming to a beginner—into something manageable for everyday life. Our experts share ways to recharge and reconnect without psyching yourself out.
Practicing mindfulness is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress and anxiety in your life and increase a sense of balance. But, ironically, people often put a lot of pressure on what they think meditation should be, how long they should do it and how it should look or feel,” says yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco, author of Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life (HarperCollins). Her specialty is helping people incorporate mindfulness into hectic schedules in an approachable way.
“The key turning point for me was removing all those constraints. Meditation is not a performance-based activity, and there’s a great expression in meditation circles that the only way to do meditation wrong is not to do it,” she says.
Spend a few moments in silence and stillness each day, whether it’s pausing for a contemplative moment at your desk between meetings or spending a few minutes lying still before hopping out of bed in the morning.
It’s not a coincidence that mindfulness is growing at a time when our lives and attention spans seem more distracted than ever, Pacheco says. “I always aim to teach yoga and meditation within the context of real life, and right now, our lives are tethered to our smartphones and the internet. It’s essential to spend time each day free from these habits and devices,” she says. Unplugging might not qualify as traditional meditation, but Pacheco says that it’s essential to our ability to be present in our lives as they actually unfold.
“When the mind settles on an object of concentration, it naturally begins to experience a kind of gathering and centering.” Maybe this is activated by digging in a garden, maybe it’s by walking the dog. “As long as we’re [mindful], the mind responds in much the same way as it does in meditation,”
Mantras are a great way to add a dose of meditation to your day. Simply choose a word that speaks to you,” Pacheco says. “Take a moment to sit quietly by taking a few deep breaths. When you feel ready, take a long, slow breath in and silently count ‘one.’ On the exhale, silently say your one-word mantra. Inhale, count ‘two,’ and silently repeat your chosen word. Keep going until you get to 10.” At this point, return to one and begin again or continue to meditate by simply focusing your breath.
You can do this in trafﬁc, while walking the kids to school or anywhere you need a dose of grounding.