Before I started practicing meditation, I was skeptical of it. The word “meditation” in itself sounded overly mystical and mysterious to me, and it seemed like such a remote idea that I could never get myself on board with. I figured I had better things to do than sit pretzel-style (elementary school provided me with enough of that), close my eyes and just sit there, wondering what I’m supposed to be doing and when it will be over. I even reasoned that only a specific type of person would jump on the meditation train and actually enjoy it. Meditation aficionados probably gazed often into the distance to ponder the mysteries of the universe, said “namaste” to strangers, lived off of acai bowls, drank activated charcoal drinks and did a heck of a lot of yoga.
But my curiosity got the best of me, and I gave it a try.
… And now I can’t envision going back to a life without it.
With practice, meditation has this ability to scoop out annoyances that stem up inside of us, like stress, anxiety, pressure, self-doubt and criticism, and dim them until they’re gone. Meditation is like a reset button—it gets rid of the yucky stuff in our minds and hearts and replaces it with calmness, gratitude, mindfulness and self-love.
Meditation shows us that our perceived problems and anxious thoughts aren’t permanent, and therefore, our happiness shouldn’t depend on them. Sure, these thoughts and feelings make visits, but we often convince ourselves that the thoughts set up permanent shop, and they will remain there for us to ruminate on, to our own detriment. For example, we might hear our inner voices say things like, “I’m so stressed. I’ll never get all of this work done and I’m going to fail,” or “I can’t be myself around boys. Maybe that’s why they don’t like me. I’ll never meet someone,” or “I can’t apply to that internship. I’m too scared. My life is going to be full of missed opportunities, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
But ladies, these thoughts have no reason to be permanent, and they ain’t got nothin’ on our inner strength! Meditation gives us power in realizing that we don’t need to get wrapped up in inner voices that don’t serve us in living our best lives. Rather than clutching negativity close and believing it, we can turn ourselves into observers of it, as opposed to mindless servants. We can watch the thoughts come and go, but we don’t need to allow ourselves to become them if we don’t want to. We can free ourselves from the stories in our minds.
The benefits of meditation
Meditation does more than soothing the soul and easing our minds; it has scientifically-proven benefits. “Meditation has been proven to relieve stress, lower blood pressure and your heart rate, and improve your mood,” says Dr. Janet Taylor, a New York community psychiatrist. “Studies have shown actual changes in the brain of long-time meditators in the structure and function of the brain improving concentration and preserving the aging brain.”
A study that took people who had never meditated before through an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress reduction course even found that mindfulness practices result in improvements to the hippocampus, which contributes to regulation of emotion and memory, and the TPJ, which helps us to feel empathy, understand desires and goals of other people and feel compassion.
Here’s how to dive in:
1. Find a quiet, calm space where you feel at ease, such as your room or a quiet place outside where there’s no one around.
2. Turn off alerts on your phone for notifications, messages and calls, but set a timer for however long you plan to meditate, whether it’s as short as five minutes or as long as fifteen. Feel free to also put on some relaxing music—we recommend the “Relax and Focus” playlist on Spotify, but it’s equally beneficial to be surrounded by natural sounds, too.
3. Get into a position that’s most comfortable for you, whether that be sitting in a chair, sitting in a pretzel-position or laying down. If you’re sitting down, rest your hands (facing up or down, whichever feels most natural) on your thighs, and if you’re lying down, rest your arms next to you.
4. Slowly let your eyes fall shut, and turn your focus towards your breathing. Notice how your chest and belly fill with air upon each inhale and then fall with each exhale.
5. Notice if you’re scrunching up your face, shoulders, hands, feet or eyes and gently release any tension. Let your tongue fall away from the roof of your mouth.
6. Keep focusing on your breath while being aware of the ambient sounds of your environment.
7. When you notice thoughts rising up, acknowledge that they showed up, and then let them dissolve away.
8. Continue reveling in your inner oasis until time runs out, or go on even further if you’re really feelin’ it.
Don’t expect yourself to master it on your first try
The first time you meditate, you might find yourself wrestling with your inner thoughts as they relentlessly keep popping up. You might become frustrated with how difficult it is to just shut your mind off, but that’s totally normal. We’re naturally made to think—we’re only human! You can still push through as long as you’re patient with yourself; it will be worth it. University of Florida graduate student Rachel Reiss says, “By carving out time in the day to reflect and be still, I feel more in control of my emotions and better equipped to manage stress.” So trust the process, and you’ll be able to find inner bliss!
You can tailor your meditation practice to fit you
To spice up your meditation practice even more, you can incorporate more senses into the mix. “I like to spray lavender around me right before I meditate. It instantly puts me in a peaceful mood,” says Emily*, a senior at the University of Florida. And there are apps out to further customize the experience. “I use Calm. If you’re not into meditating, the relaxing sounds are very helpful,” says Ashley Drayton, a Georgia State University graduate.
Keep in mind that each meditation session can vary depending on what you want to get out of it, and you can set different intentions for why you’re meditating before you begin. An intention is a goal for your mind or heart that you want to be aware of throughout the day. For example, you might decide that you want to be mindful and present, more kind to others, open to experiencing new things, or that you want to let stress of an exam melt away. And the cool thing about meditating is that it allows these goals to ruminate in your brain, and they end up becoming true! The key to these intentions is to not beg for them but simply to put them out there into the world. By doing that, you’ve done your part by planting the seed. It’s exciting to see what happens next!
In exploring your inner self and its richness, you can discover a home you didn’t know was there. Embrace the stillness you find, and remember that it’s always there for you to return to.
*Name has been changed