One of the nice things about meditation is that when we sit with these moments as they arise, we start to trust in them and in the dark grace.
After meditating with my first meditation teacher, Arvis, for some time, I decided to do a weeklong silent Zen meditation retreat. Arvis said, “I feel good about a teacher named Jakusho Kwong up at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center. Maybe that would be a good place for you to go.” I was excited to experience an authentic retreat in a Zen Buddhist temple with all the accoutrements — the bells, the robes, the rituals, the whole thing.
I got there in the late afternoon, and the retreat was scheduled to start in the early evening. After we had dinner, we went into the Zendo for the first meditation session. It was a very formal place, and I had no idea what the etiquette was. There was minimal instruction, so I learned what I was supposed to be doing by watching other people, which heightened my awareness right away. I sat down on my cushion with all my gleeful anticipation about this experience as the temple bell was struck three times to begin the period of meditation.
As soon as that bell rang, adrenaline flooded my body. It was not fear, but my whole system went into fight-or-flight mode. All I could think was, How do I get out of here? Let me out of here! which is silly because five seconds earlier I was thrilled about being there.
Fortunately, a small, quiet voice inside me said, You have no idea how important this is. You must stay. So even though I had adrenaline rushes twenty-four hours a day for five days and nights in a row, I did not sleep throughout the entire retreat, and I contemplated leaving many times, I managed to hang in there — barely — and finish. Not an auspicious beginning for a future spiritual teacher, but that is what happened. I never knew exactly why I had that reaction, but I have a hunch. When you undertake a retreat like that, something deep within you knows, Oh, boy, the jig is up now. This is not make-believe. This is the real thing. Something in me knew that this was going to be a complete life reorientation. I did not realize this consciously, but unconsciously my ego reacted as if threatened: This is it. This guy is considering the nature of his own being as far as the egoic impulse running the rest of life.
In some ways, my first retreat was a disaster. The only thing that got me through was a mantra I came up with on the second day. Thousands of times over those five nights and days, I said to myself: I will never, ever, ever do this again. That was my big spiritual mantra!
One of the things that impressed me during that retreat was that Kwong — the roshi, or teacher — gave a talk each day, and that talk was my respite because I got to sit and listen and be entertained. It was a relief from the bone-jarring meditation, the never-ending silence, and the pain in my knees and back. Kwong had recently returned from a trip to India that had a huge impact on him. I could tell because as he was recounting stories about his trip, tears streamed down his cheeks and dripped off the bottom of his chin.
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One story especially touched me. Kwong was walking on a dirt road through an impoverished area. There were some kids playing a game with a ball and a stick out in the middle of the road. One kid stood apart from the group, as if ostracized. This boy was watching the kids play and had a sad look on his face. He had a cleft palate, so his upper lip was severely deformed. Kwong walked up to the boy, but they did not speak the same language, so he did not know what to say. There was a moment of indecision, and then Kwong took the boy’s hand in his and with his other hand reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. He pointed to a little shop that sold ice cream and gave the money to the boy. I thought it was a sweet way of giving a little comfort and acknowledging this poor kid’s existence, his loneliness.
As Kwong did this, he gestured to the group of children that seemed to have rejected the boy as if to say, “Go get them and buy them ice cream.” He had given the child enough money to buy treats for all the kids. The boy waved to them and pointed toward the ice cream shop, and all the children joined this one kid who had been lonely and sad. Suddenly he was the hero! He had money and was buying ice cream for everybody. The kids were laughing and talking with him. He was included in their group.
Kwong sat in full lotus position on his cushion in his beautiful brown teacher’s robes and told this story in a resonant, soft voice, deeply touched by the poverty that he saw and by the loneliness of that child. He never hid his tears, and he never seemed embarrassed by his emotion. Watching another man embody this juxtaposition of great strength and tenderness taught me more about true masculinity than anything else in my life. Hearing him speak with such fearlessness was extraordinary. For a young, aspiring Zen student, to have this be my first encounter with a Zen master was a tremendous stroke of good luck and grace, especially since during this whole retreat, except for the talks, I was hanging on by a thread. I continued to study with Kwong, did some retreats with him over the years, and appreciated his great wisdom, but I never again saw him in the state he was in on that first retreat. His openness and dignity were a powerful teaching — it was like being bathed in grace.
Since then I have attended and led hundreds of retreats, but I still look back on that first one with Kwong as both the absolute worst and absolute best in my life. I did not know how powerfully it had affected me until months later. Staying with whatever arose for me despite being flooded with adrenaline, sitting with it in a raw way through all those hours of meditation instead of running away, was profound. When you are having that experience, when you are being pushed to your limit, you do not think of it as grace, but the real grace was that I was in that environment. I was in a place where I could not go anywhere, where I could not turn on the TV or listen to the radio or grab a book or enter a discussion. I had to face the entirety of my experience. Afterward, when I tried to describe the retreat to people, I would end up in tears — not tears of sadness or even of joy, but of depth. I had touched upon something that was so meaningful, vital, and important that it opened my heart.
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Meditation Helps You Feel Your Feelings
As we go through life, we eventually have enough experience to see that sometimes profound difficulty can also be profoundly heart opening. When you are in a tough position, when you are facing something hard, when you feel challenged, when you feel like you are at your edge, it is a gift to have the willingness to stop, to sit with those moments, and not to look for the quick, easy resolution for that feeling. It is a kind of grace to be able and willing to open yourself entirely to the experience of challenge, of difficulty, and of insecurity.
There is light grace, and there is dark grace. Light grace is when you have a revelation — when you have insights. Awakening is a light grace; it is like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. The heart opens, and old identities fall away. Then there is dark grace, like what I had on that retreat. I do not mean “dark” in the sense of sinister or evil, but “dark” in the sense of traveling through the darkness looking for light. You cannot see the way through whatever you are experiencing and whatever the challenge is. One of the most amazing things that daily meditation has taught me over many years is to have the wisdom and grace to quietly and silently be with whatever presents itself, whatever is there, without looking for a solution or an explanation.
To see yourself is the heart of what a spiritual discipline like meditation is all about. When people come on retreat with me, we meditate for five or six periods a day. The idea of meditation is not necessarily to get good at it — whatever your definition may be of being “good” at meditation — but the most important thing, the useful thing, the reason we are meditating is so that we encounter ourselves. If you are not using your meditation to hide from your experience or to transcend it or to concentrate your way out of it, if you are being quietly present, meditation forces honesty. It is an extraordinarily truthful way to experience yourself in that moment. This willingness to encounter yourself is vitally important. It is a key to spiritual life and to awakening: being present for whatever is. Sometimes “whatever is” is mundane; sometimes it is full of light, grace, and insight; and sometimes it begins as a dark grace, where we do not know where we are going or how to get through it, and then suddenly there is light.
One of the nice things about meditation is that when we sit with these moments as they arise, we start to trust in them and in the dark grace. We realize that it is in feeling lost that our true nature finds itself. In meditation we encounter ourselves, and it elicits a real honesty if we are ready for it. You can read about things forever, you can listen to talks forever, and you can assume that you understand or that you have got it, but if you can be with yourself in a quiet way without running away, that is the necessary honesty. When we can do nothing and be extraordinarily happy and at peace with that, we have found tranquility within ourselves.
Through experience, we find we can trust the moments when we do not know which way to go, when we feel like we will never have the answers. We know we can stop there and listen. This is the heart of meditation: it is the act of listening in a deep way. You could boil all of spirituality down to the art and practice of listening to nothing and trusting in the difficulty. That is what I learned on that first retreat. It taught me that a direct encounter with challenge is a doorway to accessing our depth, coming face-to-face with our most important thing, and being able to trust in the unfolding of our life.
As a teacher, one of the things I see is the failure of people to trust their lives — their problems and sometimes even their successes. It is a failure to trust that their life is its own teacher, that within the exact way their human life is expressing itself lies the highest wisdom, and that they can access it if they can sit still and listen. If they can sink into themselves, their own nobody-ness, and allow difficulty to strip them of their somebody-ness, then they can do away with the masks of their persona. Spiritually speaking, this is exactly what we want: to remove the masks. Sometimes we take them off willingly, sometimes they fall away, and sometimes they are torn off.
Unmasking is the spiritual path. It is not about creating new masks — not even spiritual masks. It is not about going from being a worldly person to a spiritual person or trading a spiritual ego for a materialistic ego. It is a matter of authenticity and of the capacity to trust life, even if life has been tremendously tough. It is stopping right where you are and entering profound listening, availability, and openness. If you feel wonderful, you feel wonderful; if you feel lost, you feel lost, but you can trust in being lost. You can do this without talking to yourself about it and without creating a story around it. We must find that capacity to trust ourselves and to trust our life — all of it, whatever it is — because that is what allows the light to shine and revelation to arise.
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We see it when we stop and listen, not with our ears and not with our mind, but with our heart, with a tender and intimate quality of awareness that opens us beyond our conditioned ways of experiencing any moment. My first retreat, as difficult as it was, taught me that the most amazing things can come out of the most difficult experiences if we dedicate ourselves to showing up for the situation. That is the heart of meditation and the heart of what it takes to discover who and what we are as we turn away from external things and toward the source of love, the source of wisdom, the source of freedom and happiness within. That is where you will find your most important thing.
Excerpted from The Most Important Thing: Discovering Truth at the Heart of Life by Adyashanti. Copyright ©2018 by Adyashanti. Published by Sounds True in January 2019.
How a Daily Chakra Meditation Unlocked More Time and Space in My Life
One yogi never had enough hours in the day to tend to it all, much less herself. Here’s how this regular Tantric practice inspired a change.
As a yogi, I’ve grasped the concept of abundance—intellectually. But as someone easily whacked out of balance by overbearing personalities or overwhelming workloads, I’ve never been entirely convinced that the universe could accommodate both my needs and virtually anything else at hand. Things get crowded quickly. My chest tightens and hip flexors grip; I ditch plans to practice yoga, stop making nourishing meals, and skip dates to connect with dear friends—or, most importantly, myself.
It may all go back to growing up in a Greek household, which involved what I’ll generously call a spirited communication style. Somehow, stillness and peace were elusive in a two-story home with big bedrooms and a finished basement. And this perceived lack of space spilled into an underlying, unchecked zero-sum mentality that has shaped my perspective ever since.
In early college, roommates and I lamented the supposed dearth of eligible partners in the dating scene. When peers sustained relationships, I’d shake my head and say, “they’re stealing from the sex pot,” as though, like a soup special on a cold day, our campus could just run out of love.
Last year, a yoga teacher and I showed up for a filming project and both felt under the weather. By mid-afternoon, I’d recovered; “I used up all the good vibes when you needed it most!” I joked. She (kindly) reminded me that there is an infinite source of healing for all.
This isn’t exactly what I thought I’d confront as I embarked on YJ’s month-long challenge to practice a chakra meditation every day. Finding calm? Sure. Less stress? Looked forward to that. Spiritual ecstasy? If I’m lucky, great—but not a must. Instead, it was time to take a look at my internal space-time continuum.
See also YJ’s March Meditation Challenge Will Help You Stick to a Steady Practice
Balancing the Chakras
The 31-day challenge began without ceremony on New Year’s Day in Brussels, where my partner and I were visiting family. I sat in the unmade guest bed, welcomed a purring Chartreux voluntarily curled up in my lap, and fired up a 20-minute guided chakra meditation from legendary Tantra teacher Sally Kempton.
New to chakras? Here’s a quick primer: Chakras are whirling forces of subtle energy associated with different aspects of the physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. There are 7 (of many more) chakras primarily taught in yoga, and this is what they stand for:
- Muladhara (Root): Earth, security, home, finances
- Svadhisthana (Sacral): Water, creativity, sexuality
- Manipura (Solar Plexus): Fire, sense of self
- Anahata (Heart): Air, love
- Visuddha (Throat): Space, communication from the heart’s truth
- Ajna (Third Eye): Light, intuition
- Sahasrara (Crown): Bliss, divine connection
(You can get sucked into learning more about the chakras here.)
They are strung along the sushumna nadi, a central channel of life force that runs from the base of the spine through the crown of the head. The idea is that balancing the chakras—by focusing breath, mantras (sounds), yantras (shapes), imagery, and colors in their respective locations along this totem—allows you to access this sacred streak of energy.
When I asked Sally about what happens when (and if) you open the central channel, she dangled a taste of nonduality. In Tantra, reality is a universe in which everyone is one with the divine. “You can become aware that your body is a formless, vast undulating center full of light and bliss,” she said. “It’s a fairly dramatic experience.”
It all sounds esoteric, so I wouldn’t expect everyone to embrace it. But I’d microdosed on chakra practices for over 15 years, so I was ready to dive in. When I was 20, I found a random chakra book in my East Village sublet and journaled a root chakra affirmation that resonated: “I am safe, I trust in the natural flow of life, I take my natural place in the world content in the knowledge that all I need will come to me in the right time and place.” Years later, within the context of a vigorous flow, Seane Corn presented the chakras as a psychological roadmap for growth.
Then I met Tantra and Kriya masters Alan and Sarah Finger, who truly brought the chakras to light and offered concrete techniques to harmonize them. They also answered a good question: How do you actually locate a chakra? For me, bija (seed) mantras were the entry point; if I focused enough, repeating the staccato sounds (such as lam for the root chakra) help me trace a pulse in a specific location (pelvic floor).
Even so, beaming awareness and imagery to ambiguous areas in my body required concentration and good faith. As a result, the neurotic part of my brain didn’t focus on the usual storylines: deadlines, challenges, or omg how much time is left in this meditation?! I was lulled by the mantras’ vibrations, and all the visualizations inspired my imagination—a boon for anyone who spends too much time in Type-A territory.
There was a misstep when I first imagined elements—earth, water, fire, space, light, bliss—associated with each chakra. Before Brussels, I’d traveled to Rome, so my mind conjured scenes from the Colosseum: snarled roots in its underbelly; water rising in the amphitheater… I quickly decided not to instill scenes from such an infamous space.
Instead I coaxed meaningful imagery: Strong roots holding up the mermaid-like mahogany trees I’d seen on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula; emerald lakes tucked into rarely trekked valleys of the Sierra Nevada that I’d swam in; the pulse of my apartment stove’s burner enacting a flame in my belly; a tiny flame on a stick of palo santo in my heart center. A Magritte sky in my throat, leading to a golden hour light spilling in from my third eye and crown.
Watch also: What, Exactly, Are the Chakras? Alan Finger Explains
How the Chakras Created Space in My Body, Mind… and Life
Right away things shifted. I was still on holiday when my coworkers began trickling back into the office. Although I still checked my email—it may take a year of meditation to bust that habit—I didn’t feel my heart pound as they came in. I felt freedom as I visited museums, enjoyed the art nouveau architecture, and connected with family.
Instead of seeking the usual alone time when I returned to New York, I invited good friends over for dinner and king cake. Once I resumed the grind, that vacation halo lasted longer than usual. Each meditation felt like it was literally emptying me of clutter and fog, leaving me with clarity.
The real test came later in the month, when my schedule packed up. I prepared for an upcoming filming in another state. I assisted a week-long yoga training that lasted from early morning until evening, and then came home to complete the day’s work. Oh, and a friend from California came to stay with me.
Even for someone who doesn’t easily get overwhelmed, a lot was going on. And it would have been my default to shut out my friend, worry my way through the training, or just operate from the adrenaline.
There’s a pop culture adage that we all have the same amount of time in a day as Beyoncé. Maybe her secret is chakra meditations, because as I found space in my practice, my life opened up. I didn’t have to turn anything down, yet I didn’t feel resentful saying yes. All that inward focus cultivated a strong sense of embodiment. I could be present without losing my wits (or myself) in the process.
When the subway literally broke one morning before training, I didn’t agonize that I’d be late. I calmly walked 20 minutes to the nearest bus route, emailed my teacher, and meditated. (I showed up on time anyway.)
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During the training, I knocked over a tripod and it came crashing down during a calming restorative practice. I froze with horror; attempting to melt into my mat was futile. Shit happens, and I was grateful for a makeshift chakra meditation in that moment to move past embarrassment.
I felt peace in this chaotic schedule and could summon an abundance of presence, making deep connections with students at the training, laughing with my good friend at midnight, being kinder to my partner, and, most importantly, tending to myself.
It may sound odd that I “allowed” myself these basic needs and simple pleasures, but it’s true: In the past, the weight of a to-do list or a lot of social obligations meant I didn’t have room for myself. I may not have experienced the splendor of the infinite universe (yet!), but this meditation expanded time and space so I could register the divine moments every day.
I started my days with a cup of coffee on the sofa and read instead of clacking away at emails. I prepared an egg and avocado breakfast. I stole moments to enjoy the way the low winter sun lit the pastel buildings in Soho.
See also This is Your Brain on Meditation
How 31 Days of Moving Meditation Helped One Yogi Slow Down
For one always-on-the-go writer, learning to be more mindful while she was on the move helped her find more peace when she was still, too.
I was lingering over a pasta dinner in Rome over the holidays this year, sitting back in my chair with one hand on my full belly and the other holding my glass of red wine when it hit me: I have to do this more often. Not the trips to Rome or even the pasta—although more of both would be nice. What I found myself craving in that moment was more of that kind of slowing down—giving myself space in everyday, non-vacation life to really experience and even savor what I’m doing.
Slowing down is a serious challenge for me. I’m a self-proclaimed productivity fiend: The more I can get done in a day, the better. My job, writing and editing for YogaJournal.com, stokes this natural instinct in me. In digital media, praise comes flying at you when you work quickly. I’m also a born-and-raised New Yorker, which means my go-to pace is almost always a little (OK, a lot) faster than those outside the big Apple.
See also Meditation Has Proven Benefits: So Why Is It Hard to Commit?
So, when I returned home from Italy to Boulder, Colo., and was asked to practice moving meditation every day for 31 days, it seemed like a logical fit. I’d been sporadic with my usual, mantra-based meditation practice, solidly in a new habit of making a beeline for my computer—not my meditation cushion—after brushing my teeth each morning. Would moving meditation help me slow my roll, and infuse my life with more mindfulness? I wanted to find out.
What is Moving Meditation?
Last year, I was lucky enough to attend a day-long retreat in beautiful Red Feather Lakes here in Colorado with yoga and Tibetan Buddhism teacher, Cyndi Lee. The retreat was held at the Shambhala Mountain Center, high in the Colorado Rockies and home to the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. My first experience practicing moving meditation was there, with Lee guiding me and the rest of the 20-some-odd group, on a walk to the Stupa.
See also Yoga Journal’s Meditation Challenge Will Help You Stick to a Steady Practice
Lee explained that just as in a sitting meditation, where your attention might be on your breath or repeating a mantra, in a moving meditation, you place your attention on the sensation of your foot touching the ground with each step. How does your foot feel in your shoe, or on the earth? What does it feel like as your heel strikes the ground before rolling onto the ball mound of your foot and then your toes? You get the drift. When you first start out, it’s recommended that you walk a little slower than usual, so you can really feel your feet with every step.
As we practiced this walking meditation on retreat that day, I felt awkward at first. With every step, a thought popped into my head: There’s my heel; What would an outsider looking in think of us walking in a line so freakin’ slowly?! Oooh, so that’s what my foot’s arch feels like when my weight rolls from the back of my heel toward the front; Ugh, how long is this going to take us?!
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Luckily, Lee normalized this common monkey-mind activity. “The idea is not that you’re going to have absolutely no thoughts,” she says. “What you’re doing is cultivating your ability to recognize that you don’t have to buy into everything that comes up. Part of the experience is recognizing that your mind will stray, so when it does, you bring it very gently with precision back to the feeling of your foot on earth. Step, step, step.”
The Challenge: 5 Minutes of Moving Meditation Every Day
While I can’t say my first experience of moving meditation was profound, I was intrigued enough by its potential to help me slow down and be more mindful in all areas of my life that I committed to at least 5 minutes of moving meditation every day for the month of January. Before I got started, I asked Lee if I should continue my already-established (if sporadic) mantra-based practice.
“Will repeating my mantra while practicing moving meditation help me focus?” I asked Lee.
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“No,” she replied. “When trying a new meditation practice, it’s best to stick to just one rather than dabble in many,” she told me.
I started out simple: From the Yoga Journal office, I took solo walks to the coffee shop around the corner and didn’t ask a co-worker to join, like usual. The typically 5-minute stroll took about 8 minutes at moving-meditation speed, and while my mind did wander—mostly to my long list of to-dos—I didn’t beat myself up about that fact. Instead, I kept coming back to the feeling of each step. I found myself noticing things I hadn’t before: the subtle feeling of my foot on a crack in the sidewalk; the sound of the wooden heel of my favorite pair of booties on a day-old snow-ice mix; the feeling of one part of my foot on pavement and another on grass.
See also YJ Tried It: 30 Days of Guided Sleep Meditation
After each of my walking meditations during my first and second weeks of this challenge, I had to try hard not to brush off the seemingly insignificant sensations I was having. How would it serve me to know exactly what it feels like to simultaneously have my heel on pavement and the ball of my foot on grass? I stuck to the practice on my walks to the coffee shop and abandoned them en route back to my desk.
The Ah-Ha Moment: When I Knew Moving Meditation Was Working
The third week in to my moving meditation experiment, I had a game-changing therapy appointment which, it turns out, would alter the way I thought about my new, mindful walks.
I was talking to Leah, my therapist, about my near-frenetic pace and its impacts on my life. It was making me more gruff and less compassionate. It was inspiring me to race through my writing and editing, which meant I was more careless with my words. It was making me less present with my boyfriend, friends, and worst of all, myself.
See also Pranayama 101: This Moving Breath Practice Will Teach You to Let Go
“So, what’s the antidote?” I pleaded, practically begging her for an assignment I could add to my to-dos. “If I can’t move to Tuscany, how can I finally slow the heck down?”
Leah shot me a knowing smile.
“You don’t need another to-do,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you to meditate for 20 minutes every morning in order to get more present. You can show up more fully, and in better alignment with who you are and how you want to be in the world, by doing what I call ‘one eye in, one eye out.’”
Think of this concept as the epitome of taking your practices off your meditation cushion and yoga mat and into the world, Leah continued. When the practices are working, the world is your mat. One eye in helps you stay in alignment with your central channel—the place from which you move with your heart, not a head full of fear. One eye out helps you interact with others and field all of the things that will inevitably come flying at you, many of which will be completely out of your control.
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“The secret to experience this kind of embodied presence is noticing your physical sensations,” Leah told me. “Try it now. Feel your feet on the ground. Feel your thighs on the couch. Feel your back supported by the cushion behind you. Now, can you do all of that and simultaneously talk to me?”
Of course, I thought to myself, smiling at how messages often show up a few times for them to finally sink in. This is what moving meditation is also about. One eye in to feel the sensation of my feet on the ground; one eye out to help me get where I’m going, only more mindfully.
During my final week of this moving meditation challenge, I started looking forward to my daily walks—which became longer than 8 minutes—and found myself tuning in to how I take up space in my body and in the world. Sometimes, this meant that even my 15-second walk to the office printer became an opportunity to clue in to the physical sensation of my feet on the carpet and my hip flexors and thigh bones initiating the movement of each leg. Other times, it meant simply taking a few seconds to feel my finger pads on my keyboard before I started typing.
See also Yoga Journal’s March Meditation Challenge
Best of all, little hits of my newfound sense of embodiment started happening even when work and this moving meditation challenge were the last things on my mind. One night, I sat down to dinner with my boyfriend, Brian, at home. Before I dug in to the grilled salmon and roasted broccoli I’d raced to Whole Foods to buy and then cook for us after a busy day, I consciously felt my feet on the ground, my thighs and back supported by the dining room chair, and I and connected to my heart space—all of which happened in what felt like milliseconds.
And it felt even more satisfying than that belly full of ravioli and glass of Chianti in Tuscany over the holidays.
Confessions of a Newbie Meditator: What I Learned After 31 Days of Guided Meditation
The best part? It’s filled with secrets that helped one yogi finally stick to her goal of meditating every day.
Meditation has been on my back-burner health to-do list. For months, it’s been right there with removing sugar from my diet, taking a shot of apple cider vinegar every day, and oil pulling each morning. All health goals with good intentions—and ones I haven’t been able to commit to.
Which is why I jumped at the chance to try Yoga Journal’s meditation challenge. I’ve read about the numerous benefits of meditation, from enhanced concentration to stress release. I thought the accountability of this challenge would once and for all catalyze a consistent practice.
In fact, when I started this challenge in early January, it seemed like one of the simpler ‘challenges’ I’d do: Sit down, listen to a guided meditation, and boom, 15 to 20 minutes later I’m done.
As all of you regular meditators out there know, I was misguided in my thoughts of how easy it would be!
See also This Guided Meditation Will Inspire You to Live From Your Heart
So, if you are trying the guided mediation challenge yourself, here are some guidelines that most helped me:
1. Timing is Everything
The biggest obstacle for me initially was finding a consistent time of day to meditate. I drive 45 min each way to get to work, which means I wake up at 6 a.m. each morning, leave for work at 8 a.m., arrive home around 7 p.m., and eat dinner around 7:30 p.m.. I try to force myself to be in bed by 8:30 p.m. so I can read or journal before turning the lights out.
When does this leave me time to meditate, you wonder? Here’s what I tried:
My guided meditations in the evening
I’m a natural night owl, which is why I initially thought meditating in the evening would be best. I could wind down after work and meditate before eating dinner. Yet by 7:30 p.m. most nights, I was starving, and decided to put off my guided meditations until 8 p.m. Not a good call: After a long day (and long commute), the last thing I wanted to do was another to-do, so I quickly abandoned my nighttime meditation plan.
Then, I tried a few guided meditations at the office
I’ve read a few articles about how some people find time to meditate at work. Work is typically the most stressful part most people’s days—so it makes sense to me that interrupting stress with meditation would be effective. One day during my first week of the meditation challenge, I escaped to a small conference room around lunchtime to meditate. (Granted, I work for Yoga Journal, so didn’t worry about skeptical stares peering in on me through the windows—a luxury I know not everyone has!) After my first lunchtime guided meditation at the office, I decided to stick to it for a week. Overall, it was nice in theory—but if I’m honest, I also felt guilty being away from my inbox and colleagues for those 10 minutes, so I can’t say it was my most relaxing meditation sessions.
Morning meditation sessions turned out to be best
When I started this challenge, I avoided incorporating mediation into my morning at all costs. After working out in the a.m., I have just 35 minutes to get out the door. Needless to say, it’s a rushed get-ready routine. Then, I had an ah-ha moment: I realized because my mornings are so hectic, mornings may be exactly the time to insert my guided meditation practice. After evaluating my a.m. routine even more, I was able to pinpoint moments I was being mindless. Whether it’s catching up on SNL video clips, scrolling through Pinterest (yes, I still enjoy a good Pinterest sesh), or reading one of the many articles my mother sends to our family group chat, I realized I could find at least 10 minutes to sit comfortably and listen to a guided meditation. So, for the remainder of January, I settled down to meditate after my workout and shower.
As a beginner meditator, I found it extremely helpful to meditate after a good workout. My body was just tired enough that my mind found it easier to relax and focus on the present. Finding the right time for me made the experience so much more enjoyable. Keep in mind, it might not be easy to just incorporate into your regular daily routine. (Warning: Mindless social media scrolling may need to be cut!) But one of the biggest lessons I learned is that the routine of meditating is crucial if you want to stay consistent.
See also This Quick Meditation Will Bring Financial Abundance Into Your Life
My Favorite Guided Meditation Tools
One of the best parts of Yoga Journal’s meditation challenge was being able to explore the different tools and applications that guide us through meditation. I know our culture is currently digitally obsessed—but what a great use of technology! The applications help us detach from the craziness of being glued to our screens and inspire us to just sit and breathe. A little ironic? Sure. But also very convenient!
Here are the guided meditation apps I tried, and what I thought of each:
Initially, I thought this application would be best to use since I spend so much of my weekday in the car. I’m already sitting down, so why not utilize this time in the car to be more mindful? The app walks you through different simple stretches with relaxing music. I found this helped me be a little more present on my drive—but it didn’t necessarily qualify as meditation to me. The audio reminded me numerous times to keep focused on the road and not become too relaxed, which I greatly appreciated. But it didn’t meet my goals to become more aware of my thoughts and more comfortable sitting with my breath.
Headspace and Calm
Next, I tried two different meditation apps: Headspace and Calm. I found both of these helpful in my journey to learn exactly what exactly meditation is. Headspace provided a 10-Day Basics course and allowed me to choose from 3-, 5-, or 10-minute sessions. I appreciated this since, as a beginner, 3-5 minutes was plenty for me. This course also has little animations, which helped me visualize different elements of meditation better.
After the 10 days, I felt accomplished and ready to move on Calm’s “7 Days of Calm.” I’m glad I used this app second, since the Calm meditations are around 10 minutes, and that would’ve felt too hard for me at the start of my journey. While 7 Days of Calm was similar to Headspace’s Basics course, it had the added bonus of giving me a concrete intention of what to focus on each session, which I often carried with me throughout my day.
See also How to Work With Your Thoughts to Manifest a Bright Future
The Ultimate Secret to Sticking to Meditation: Ritual
When I roll out my mat for a yoga class, the rubber of my mat alone grounds me. I associate my mat and nestling my forehead into Child’s Pose with feelings of relaxation and rejuvenation. I knew I had to create the same safe, sanctuary-like space for my meditation practice in order for it to stick, so for each guided meditation session during my last week of the challenge, I set up my space very intentionally: I propped my mediation cushion next to my mala beads and used my alarm clock light along with my bedside lamp to create a soft glow in my room; I turned on my essential oil diffuser and inserted whichever scents called to me; I changed into super-soft, comfy clothes; then, I began my practice.
What I learned is that creating this mini ritual helped me relax a bit before my guided meditation even began and set my mind and body up for the practice.
Overall, I found this meditation challenge, well, challenging. Yet it had profound effects—including the boost in concentration and stress release I’d read about at the start.
As a beginner, I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to access meditation so easily and regularly. I ended up buying a subscription to the Calm meditation app and am excited to continue my meditation journey and practice.
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