If you’ve ever wanted to dabble with meditation, but didn’t quite know where to start, then you’ve come to the right place. Meditation is a practice that can be used to achieve a clear and calm mental state, so whether you’re completely new to the idea, or it’s not your first time at the rodeo (but still can’t figure out if you’re doing this right or not), one thing is certain: The end goal should veer towards stability more than stress. Sure, it can be tricky to master, but once you’ve familiarized yourself with the concept, the idea of enlightenment suddenly becomes a lot closer within reach.
Here, we’ve outlined four easy ways for you to create your best meditation experience.
1. Find Your Optimal Time
Maybe you’re one of those people who thrives in the morning, or perhaps a mid-day break will take the edge off your busy schedule. Whatever the case, determining the best time for you to meditate will ensure each session is as productive as it is enlightening. Many experts agree that meditating in the morning before even glancing at your to-do list can help carry a calm, connected feeling throughout your day.
If you aren’t a morning person, finding a quiet moment after work (provided your Slack notifications behave) is an effective way to form a clear boundary between your work life and your personal life — a must when the WFH grind becomes all too real — while helping to relieve any stress and tension that built up during the day. Before bed is also a good time, as it helps you to reflect on the day, decompress, and unwind to ensure a restful night’s sleep. With all of your tasks behind you, the nagging voice in the back of your mind telling you to check your to-do list will likely be a lot quieter.
2. Set an Intention
Real talk: Finding the motivation to meditate is difficult in the same way that finding the motivation to stick with our New Year’s resolutions is difficult. In both cases, setting an intention rather than a possibly unattainable goal tends to pan out with a more successful result. Intentions are powerful internal agreements you make with yourself, then express through your actions. They foster focus, determination, and perseverance, while acting as a road map for where you want your meditation session to go.
Set your intention by focusing on what you want using positive statements. For example: Instead of saying “I don’t want another trainwreck relationship,” reframe the thought as “I am worthy of love,” or “I want a kind, compassionate partner.” Once you determine your intention, read it and make sure you’re writing in the present tense. Using future tense may make your goal seem distant and unreachable, but when you speak in the present tense, it teaches your mind to believe the goal has already been achieved on a subconscious level. Repeat your intention while you meditate, picturing yourself in the situation once it comes to fruition. Focusing on your intention via meditation helps with setting a clear path that will lead towards your eventual goal, not to mention, gets you in the headspace to receive all the good things headed your way.
3. Focus on Your Breathing
When your mind won’t stop running as you’re trying to meditate, practicing breathwork may help you retain your focus. Breathwork is an active form of meditation that helps us quiet down our mind by concentrating on our breathing. There are lots of different breathwork techniques, but one technique called box breathing (or 4-4-4 breathing) is particularly helpful in slowing down your heart rate, improving concentration, and providing instant stress relief.
Start by exhaling all of your air, then with empty lungs, hold your breath for four more seconds. Inhale through your nose for four more seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, then exhale for four more seconds. Lather, rinse, repeat. Make sure to count slowly and breathe deeply to really allow the technique to work its magic.
4. Allow Mental Pop-Ups to Happen
Ever feel like you’re getting into a good headspace for meditation, only for that Fall Out Boy song you heard on shuffle to play over and over in your head? Been there. When you find yourself preoccupied with a thought or a feeling, the initial instinct would be to fight it and try to get your focus back on track, but in the case of mindful meditation, the move is to let yourself recognize the thought in question. As these distractions pop up, acknowledge them, but try to bring your focus back to your breathwork or intention. If you don’t recognize the thoughts or feelings, they will only continue to distract you until you give them attention, so face them head-on, examine why Pete Wentz’s stellar vocals seem to be trapped in your brain, gently guide yourself back to your intention, and finally, write it all down after you’ve finished your meditation. When the thought is captured on paper or digital device, it’s like the physical act of unloading these thoughts and feelings from your body in an unfiltered way. Think of it as a trash can. You can dig through it later in the day, month or year, and it will always give you some interesting insight into your state of mind.
The key takeaway? Meditation is for everyone, and there really isn’t a right or wrong way to practice it. You don’t need a special soundproof room, a zen garden, or a guru to guide you. You just need to relax, close your eyes, set an intention, and monitor your breathing. We can wax lyrical about mindfulness all day long, but in the end, all the wisdom of mindfulness can be squeezed in three simple words: Be here, now!