To think of meditation as just “breathing exercises’’ would be the same as calling yoga “stretching’.’ It’s a common misconception, and it’s completely wrong.
While meditation has been around for, literally, millennia, it’s certainly having a moment in today’s wellness landscape. It has the expected spiritually-minded devotees – think Gwyneth Paltrow and your go-to yoga teacher – but meditation also counts business leaders and industry titans as its followers as well. Ray Dalio, one of the all-time most successful investors, practices meditation twice a day, calling it “the single biggest influence’’ on his life. In fact, an estimated eight percent of American adults, or 18 million, used meditation in 2012, according to a study from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
So what actually is meditation?
Think of meditation like a barre class for your brain: it’s series of small controlled actions that, while seemingly innocent, can be excruciatingly difficult. And, just like any other workout, it takes time and practice to master.
The purpose of meditation is train yourself to be in control of your mind, which, as anyone living in the age of social media knows, is easier said than done! The idea is that by focusing your entire mental energy on a single thought, meditation can achieve mental clarity.
It sounds simple enough, but try and think about the last time you truly sat and thought about one task without being distracted by a notification on your phone, an email on your laptop, or even your own internal distractions. It’s a skill.
Like any learned skill, you need to, you know, learn it. Thanks to a surge in popularity, 2018 is great time to begin a meditative journey. While meditation historically has been rooted in religious practices, meditation today is inclusive and accessible to anyone.
Not sure where to start?Here’s some of our favorite meditation styles, based on how you like to learn.
If you perfected your deadlift by reading up on the lower body muscular system, a book on meditation may be the best option for you. There’s no shortage of options, but we particularly like Sakyong Mipham’s Turning the Mind into an Ally. It’s easy for meditation to sound like it belongs to someone else, too difficult for the average Netflix-binging, 9-to-5-ing American to consume. But Mipham’s language in inclusive and forgiving for when you inevitably struggle. It’s a perfect for a beginner dipping their toes in for the first time.
For the reader that’s mildly obsessed with her to-do list, a daily meditation book is another excellent option. In these, authors provide 365 short passages for readers to meditate on, making your inner task-master unlikely to skip a day. A great book for this style is Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul, a top choice among some of our favorite workout instructors.
Meditation doesn’t have to be completely in your head. There are also many guided journaling options, like The Mindfulness Journal, written by Barrie Davenport and S.J. Scott, which offers daily prompts and weekly themes. Writing can help force you to stay focused, making meditation journals a great option for beginners who find themselves easily distracted. It’s also a great way to track progress and have the ability to reflect on your past thought processes.
The Studio Obsessive
It’s a bit more difficult to do a a spin class on your own, right? Meditation is the same. Just like a studio setting can often produce the best workout results, meditation studios can be an incredible tool to enhance your practice. As meditation has shed its “hippie’’ reputation, sleek, modern studios have popped up across the country to help students tap their meditative potential.
In New York, InScape offers a swanky in-person studio with themed classes as well as an app for students to use at home. Although studio visits are the priciest option of all meditation practices (classes at InScape start at $24 for a 30 minutes session) it’s hard to deny the efficacy of being in-person and meditating alongside other students. In Chicago, meditation-seekers can visit Chill Chicago, conveniently located in River North.
We’ve all been in a workout class where someone else’s energy helped keep going. Meditation is no different.
The App Adorer
Like anything else that’s popular in 2018, there’s of course plenty of apps on your phone to teach and guide meditation practices. One of the most popular, Headspace, is great for those who are trying meditation for the very first time and for those on their hundredth practice. The app offers a free introductory program and paid tracks focused on managing five different aspects of life: heath, brave, happiness, work and performance, and a special section just for students.
Headspace also automatically logs each time a user practices and offers encouragement meditating multiple days in a row. It’s also fully customizable based on how much time you have. The shortest session available is just a minute long and free, giving you virtually no excuse not to try.