For years, my therapist has suggested that I meditate to help me manage my anxiety. I tried (barely) and failed. I figured I would need to meditate for a long time and at the perfect moment in my day to get any benefits. My attempts to meditate made me more anxious, because I just couldn’t get in the right mindset and actually relax. I was interrupted by kids, by an e-mail, by a chore, or — most often — by my own thoughts.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my commitment to meditate was reignited. I had to figure out ways to reduce my stress level. During my six months of treatment, I couldn’t rely on just therapy (which is only occasionally) or exercise (I was too tired) to get me from anxious to zen. When I finally figured out how to meditate, I got into a groove that was so magical, I have managed to meditate for sixty days straight — and counting.
I have yet to talk to a person who isn’t stressed out to the max right now. The pandemic only compounded our already existing issues. Many of us ended up schooling our kids at home. I had friends lose jobs or face major job changes — including being forced to work from home while helping their kids with remote learning. A few also ended up with COVID, two of them later diagnosed with long-haul syndrome.
Through my own journey to committing to meditation, I learned that the practice can have so many benefits that can help people in a myriad of life situations. The beauty is that meditation is free, you can do it almost anywhere, and it has immediate and longer-term effects on your overall health. But don’t take my word for it. I asked Dr. Rachel Goldman, a licensed psychologist, consultant, speaker, and clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine to help me understand more about how meditation can be so magical.
There Are Many Benefits
She recommends meditation to her clients as one tool in their “mental health toolbox,” one they can “pull from when they need them, during times of stress, or just as part of their self-care, or daily routine.” I found that if I wait to feel stressed, then meditation felt more stressful to me. I decided to make meditation part of my daily routine, a self-care practice, as Dr. Goldman suggests.
She shared with me that meditation has many benefits. It helps “increase focus and awareness, improves mood,” it can recharge and reenergize, and, of course, helps us manage stress. When practiced regularly, meditation helps us not just mentally, but also physically. Meditation brings us to the present moment, when we so often focus on our past regrets or our future worries. We also gain clarity when choosing to meditate.
Dora Kamau, a meditation and mindfulness teacher and registered psychiatric nurse, shares that meditation benefits are endless. She’s found through her own practice that meditation helps her be “less reactive and more responsive.” Additionally, she finds herself “going slower and being more intentional, being able to relate to my anxious thoughts in a more spacious and grounded way.” She’s also seen “an increase in bodily awareness and more compassion for myself and all beings.”
How To Practice Meditation
Alright, so we understand that meditating can make us better humans, both toward ourselves and others, but how do we actually practice meditation? It’s not as easy as one, two, three, I discovered. After all, I tried and failed many times before finally seeing some success. Dr. Goldman empathizes. She understands that people can feel overwhelmed by meditation and may have false beliefs, such as that you “have to sit in silence for an hour every day.” There’s hope. Even just a few minutes of meditation can benefit our health.
She encourages us to “set a small, manageable, realistic goal for yourself and to start where you are now.” Meditation can simply be a self check-in and taking time to “become more aware of your surroundings, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.” She adds that we should be kind to ourselves, which she knows isn’t always easy. But, she said, when a feeling arises, “don’t try to change it.”
Dora Kamau suggests that we “start small and stay consistent.” It’s perfectly fine if you are only meditating for a few minutes. She also wants us to have fun. If we treat meditation like a chore, we’re setting ourselves up to quit. Trying “mindful activities like mindful walking and mindful eating” can help.
The big thing, as with anything, is commitment. We have to prioritize meditation — daily. Kamau likes to meditate “first thing in the morning” as it’s the only time she’s guaranteed to have alone. I do the same. I was trying to meditate later in the day, but it never worked. Looking back, I realize how ridiculous it was to meditate when I had little energy or motivation. When I first wake up, I’m at my peak and crave to start my day off right.
Meditation is free or inexpensive. I use a meditation app that offers a free version or a paid membership for more premium content. The app allows me to set preferences such as the type of meditation I wish to use, the ending chime sound, and goals. I prefer a guided meditation, where a teacher leads me, and I never meditate for more than five minutes a day. Even with these few minutes, I have found myself to be calmer, and I’ve learned techniques and mantras that I wasn’t aware of before. I can meditate anywhere, including lying on a radiation table or while sitting in a chemo chair.
If you want to add a soothing practice to your day, one that reduces stress and increases awareness of the right things, meditation is something you should try. It doesn’t require much of you at all, except to show up as yourself and see what happens. To be cliché, what have you got to lose?