Finding Om: A Newbies' Guide to Meditation
In case you haven't heard: Meditation has gone mainstream. The ancient spiritual practice you may know as the last five minutes of your yoga class is now a full-on health craze with meditation studios popping up in cities all over the country. (Think boutique fitness spots—but for sitting quietly instead of perfecting your wall sit.) Video tutorials, podcasts, and apps are helping millions of subscribers tune out the world. (It's estimated that the app Headspace has been downloaded more than 30 million times, and Calm was Apple's 2017 App of the Year.) Users may be drawn in by the practice's many health benefits: Beyond easing stress and anxiety, meditation may lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia. Plus, there's plenty more ongoing research about the other possible benefits.
How, in these manic times, do you quiet your hyperstimulated mind? Newbies can find a class or an app that will walk you through the steps—or you can DIY it. "Meditation is all about doing, not about reading or thinking about it," says Dina Kaplan, founder of the Path, a meditation studio in New York City. Just try this, she says: "Sit comfortably with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor or cross-legged. Close your eyes and focus on the sensations of your breath as it comes in and out of your nostrils. What do you feel? What do you notice about the breath?" The goal here is not to turn off your thoughts. "That's akin to asking your heart to stop beating," says Lodro Rinzler, cofounder and chief spiritual officer at MNDFL, another New York City–based studio. Don't beat yourself up if your mind wanders. Instead, simply notice that you had a thought, then choose to return your focus to your breath. Do this exercise every day and, congrats, you're meditating! From there, you can work on lengthening the time you spend meditating and try different styles.
No matter how you're practicing, consistency and patience are key. "Some people think they'll be able to sit down in meditation and immediately feel peace, and they get discouraged when that doesn't happen," says Rinzler. "You wouldn't go to the gym once and expect to lose 10 pounds. You can't meditate once and expect to feel forever peaceful. The more you do it, the more you see the results."
"Meditation gives you a pause between what happened during the day and how you choose to respond," says meditation teacher Dina Kap.