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!
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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.
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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.
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?!
See also Try This Durga-Inspired Guided Meditation for Strength
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.
See also This Napa Valley Vintner’s Ritual for Inner Calm is a Meditation
“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.
This is Your Brain on Meditation
What’s actually happening to your brain when you meditate?
You’ve read about the benefits of a daily practice. But what exactly is happening inside your body to produce these profound effects? Thanks to research done using fMRI scans of the brain, we know. Here, Rebecca Gladding, MD, a psychiatrist and co-author of You Are Not Your Brain, sheds some light on what’s going on in your gray matter when you meditate.
See also Inside the ASMR Meditation People Are Calling a Brain Orgasm
In the first few minutes of meditation, your ventromedial prefrontal cortex lights up. When you start to meditate, your brain jumps from one thought to the next. One of the reasons for this “monkey mind” is that this part of the brain is always active—unless we learn how to activate other areas (which is what a regular meditation practice does). “Interestingly, this part of the brain runs everything through a lens of ‘me,’” Gladding says. And it can prompt you to catastrophize. You might remember something you said at work and then think, “I’m going to get fired,” she says. Or, rather than brushing off a pain in your hip, you might jump to the (unlikely) possibility that you need a hip replacement.
Once you start to focus your attention, your lateral prefrontal cortex lights up. Whether that focused attention is on your breath, a mantra, your footsteps, chakras, or a soothing voice guiding your meditation, your lateral prefrontal cortex activates—and overrides the “me” thoughts in favor of a more rational, logical, balanced position. “This part of the brain helps you see things neutrally,” Gladding says. Which helps you settle into your meditation. Even better, the more you meditate, the more active your lateral prefrontal cortex becomes—and the quieter your ventromedial cortex (the “me” center that has a tendency to catastrophize) gets.
After 8 to 12 weeks of meditating daily, your dorsomedial prefrontal cortex gets activated. This is a part of the brain that helps us develop empathy. “It’s why the more we meditate, the more compassionate we become in life,” says Gladding. “This part of the brain becomes more active, more of the time.”
Join YJ’s March Meditation Challenge online at yogajournal.com/meditationchallenge, where you can participate in live sessions with master teachers, watch guided meditation videos, and follow as our editors try each of these meditation styles along with you.
Meditation Has Proven Benefits: So Why Is It Hard to Commit?
Tasha Eichenseher, Yoga Journal’s Brand Director, talks about exploring meditation and the struggle to commit.
My meditation practice is relatively new—about two years old. And I am not the most disciplined practitioner, which is interesting, because I know how powerful the benefits can be.
In fact, when I do practice, it almost instantly changes my attitude, interactions, thoughts, perceptions, and anxiety levels. I become a more open and compassionate person. So why is it so hard to commit? Am I afraid of what I’ll find in the dark recesses of my mind? Of losing the stories I’ve held onto so tightly as my identity? Bottom line: sitting still with your thoughts is hard.
Enter this issue of Yoga Journal, dedicated to meditation and mindfulness. From Sally Kempton’s brilliant essay on working with your thoughts to Cyndi Lee’s calming (and unpredictable) slow flow sequence, everything about this issue asks you to pay more attention—to the way you think of yourself and relate to the rest of the world.
We also explore the resurgence of psychedelics in yoga communities. And we offer up plenty of support in finding tools, approaches, and styles of meditation, so that you can either get started, work to overcome obstacles, or find inspiration to move deeper into your own contemplative practice.
To be clear, we are not endorsing drug use, app use, or any one method. We simply want you to feel better too—to unlock the potential that exists when you are able to understand your own patterns, realize that you are not your reactions and emotions, and clearly comprehend how connected you are to your neighbor and the universe. The pure love that underlies and unites the contributions you are about to read is palpable, and it is giving me the courage and motivation I need to keep exploring my own $h*t.
See also Yoga Journal’s March Meditation Challenge
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