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Benefits of Meditation

Confessions of a Newbie Meditator: What I Learned After 31 Days of Guided Meditation

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The best part? It’s filled with secrets that helped one yogi finally stick to her goal of meditating every day.

This is how one YJ editor learned how to meditate and reduce stress in a month. 

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

Guided Meditation tools will help you stay focused and practice daily. 

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:

YogCar

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

What’s the secret to meditation? Ritual 

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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Benefits of Meditation

6 Breath Practices for a Stressful Day at Work

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Try these pranayama techniques at your desk to feel centered and calm when your job gets hectic.

When things start to feel out of control, one of the simplest things you can do to calm your nervous system and improve your state of mind is to take a few moments to shift your focus to your breath.

Work is often a huge source of stress in our lives. Whether you’re trying to meet unrealistic deadlines, manage a high workload, or handle a conflict with a boss or co-worker, it can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.

When things start to feel out of control at work, one of the simplest things you can do to calm your nervous system and improve your state of mind is to take a few moments to shift your focus to your breath. Better yet, take five for pranayama, or breathwork, right at your desk. Pranayama, which means controlling your breath and its energies, can be a powerful reset for your body and mind.

See also 30 Yoga Sequences to Reduce Stress

Research suggests that a regular pranayama practice can improve brain health and attention, which means you’ll be better able to tackle the tasks and challenges ahead.

Typically, your breath will become more shallow and rapid when you’re feeling stressed. So, it’s best to use the pranayama techniques that slow down your breath in order to quiet your mind, improve concentration, and ease anxiety, stress, or agitation.

See also Yoga for Stress and Burnout

To help you manage the daily grind, here are six breathing practices to try at the office when you’re having a rough day. 

These pranayama exercises are not just limited to work-related stress, but also are applicable to other areas where stress might come up in your life. So, practice as little or as often as you like. The time you take to focus on your breath also gives you the space to gain clarity and return to a more neutral state of well-being. 



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Benefits of Meditation

Here’s What Happened When I Tried Mantra Meditation During The Hardest Month of My Life

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Hint: It helped. A lot.

Want to know the benefits of mantra meditation? Here is what happened when one writer tried mantra meditation during the hardest month of her life.

If someone would’ve told me back in December that the first month of 2019 would be the hardest of my life, I probably would’ve thought twice before signing up for Yoga Journal’s 30-day meditation challenge. Because let’s be honest: Meditation is the exact opposite of running away from your problems. Instead, it inspires you to sit your butt down right in the middle of those problems and face your resulting emotions head on.

In January, all I wanted to do was run away from my ongoing relationship problems, self smack-talk, and most significantly, the immense sadness from the death of my beloved aunt.

See also YJ Tried It: 30 Days of Guided Sleep Meditation

Yet even though there were many days that stared at my cushion with pure, unadulterated resentment, or put off my practice until the end of the day, I can honestly say that the practice completely transformed how I handled some of the most challenging times I’ve ever faced. It not only gave me the space to confront my feelings, but it also helped me learn how to take care of myself along the way.

Introducing Myself to Mantra Meditation

I’ve been consistently meditating for a little over a year now, practicing everything from guided 10-minute meditations on the Calm app to classes at MNDFL meditation studio in New York City. However, I would say my relationship with meditation didn’t become a real commitment until I got a meditation cushion for my apartment about five months ago. It’s dramatically changed my practice, which used to happen in my bed. (You can imagine how that went on the days I was tired.)

Even though I had heard positive things about mantra meditation—a practice where you silently repeat a mantra, which you either choose for yourself or is given to you during an initiation—I was pretty intimidated by it. However, when I spoke with Alan Finger, meditation teacher and author of Tantra of the Yoga Sutras: Essential Wisdom for Living with Awareness and Grace, he told me that mantra, just like asana or pranayama, is simply a tool used to alter the consciousness. “When practicing with a mantra, it’s important to say the mantra aloud first, so that you can feel the sound vibrations in the body,” he told me.

See also Tempted to Skip Savasana? 10 Top Yoga Teachers Explain Why It’s the Most Important Pose

As a somewhat experienced meditator, mantra meditation was still very new to me. I didn’t really have a plan to choose a mantra, but after practicing alongside Hilary Jackendoff in a guided meditation video, she helped me discover “So Hum,” which means “I am that.” Finger mentioned that different mantras can be used for different feelings, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and more, but this mantra felt pretty versatile, so I stuck with it.

Jackendoff taught us to meditate with the mantra, using the breath. On every inhalation, I would silently say the word “So.” On every exhalation, I would silently say the word “Hum.” I’m used to meditating with my breath, so this seemed doable.

Week 1: When Sh!t Hits the Fan, It’s Time to Sit

Disclaimer: I didn’t meditate at all the first two days of January. I also didn’t work out or eat healthy (some of the habits I stick with regularly). I was feeling really down on myself, because January is supposed to be a time to start new habits, eat clean, and get fit—and I felt like I blew it already. It sounds ridiculous, but that is my thought process sometimes. When my good habits don’t happen, I tend to beat myself up.

Then, as I was working at my laptop on the third day of January, I had a thought and told myself: You can sit here, work, and feel miserable—or you can take a 20-minute break, step away from your laptop, and meditate.

See also Get Your Sit Together: 7 Best Meditation Cushions to Support Your Practice

It took everything in me to walk upstairs and grab my cushion, but I was desperate to feel better, so that’s exactly what I did.

Week 2: When “I am that” becomes “I am love”

After my first week of mantra meditation, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Suddenly, my goals for the new year weren’t tied to perfecting myself through diet and exercise, but instead, doing something every day that made me feel loved—and meditation became that thing. I switched my mantra. Instead of silently repeating So Hum, I started repeating “I am” on every inhalation and “love” on every exhalation. I found myself looking forward to making a cup of tea, plopping down on my cushion, and sitting for 20 to 30 minutes every day.

Having a week of solid practice under my belt really helped me for what was to come. Because my theme for 2019 is self-love, I became hyper aware of my relationships—with myself and with others. My boyfriend and I got into an argument in the beginning of the month and I wasn’t able to let it go. Every time we tried to talk about it, we couldn’t come to a fair conclusion.

See also 5 Poses to Help You Reconnect With Your Partner After a Miscommunication

During the second week of my meditation, the lingering argument kept coming up in my meditation. I would sit on the cushion, silently repeat my mantra, and cry. How could I practice “I am love” if I didn’t feel loved? How could I love him if I kept beating myself up?

So, what did I do? I continued to sit, to cry, and to come back to my breath. Giving myself that space during meditation allowed me to tap into what I was really feeling. It also gave me the space to go to my boyfriend later that week with a calm heart. Instead of arguing, we were able to have a productive conversation. I truly believe that if I didn’t give myself that space, we would still be arguing today about the same thing.

Bee and her Aunt Gigi in 2011.

Weeks 3 and 4: Sitting with Sadness

For the past eight months, my beloved aunt had been living with metastatic breast cancer—the terminal kind. On January 21, she passed away.

A few days before her death, I my mom called me to let me know it was time to come home. I took a bus from New York City to Maryland on the morning of January 21 and repeated my mantra for about 25 minutes. An hour into my journey, my brother texted me to tell me that my aunt had passed away.

See also Spiritual Leader Ram Dass on Zen and the Art of Dying

In the days following my aunt’s death, I felt so much hurt I didn’t even realize was possible. Every time I came to my meditation cushion, I would cry, breathe, and simply sit in a feeling of numbness. The cushion gave me space—to feel sad, to mourn, to feel angry, and sometimes, to do nothing. Every time I came back to my mantra—“I am love”—I remembered that my aunt wouldn’t want me to live in grief and sadness. It was inevitable to feel these emotions, sure. But I realized the only way these feelings would pass is if I really felt them.

The difference I noticed thanks to my new mantra meditation practice happened when I wasn’t on my cushion. Every single day after my aunt passed, I would ask myself how I could bring a little more love into my day. Some days that meant resting and watching movies with my mom. Other days that meant working out, going for a long walk, or spending time with friends.

Moving Forward with Mantra

Now that it’s February, I still hold my mantra in my heart. I still ask myself every day, “How can you bring more love into your day?” or “What will make you feel more loved?” I think I will continue to keep my mantra in my practice until something else seems like a better fit. Just as Finger told me, there’s a mantra for everything—and I look forward to discovering more mantras as my life’s journey, and all its ups and downs, unfolds.

See also Why Does Meditation Make You Feel So Rested?



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How a Daily Chakra Meditation Unlocked More Time and Space in My Life

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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.

A YJ editor learns about the power of abundance through a daily chakra meditation challenge. 

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

Learn more about a chakra meditation and how to start a 31-day challenge as well. 

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

The real test came later in the month, when my schedule packed up.

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.)

See also This is the Reason I Take the Subway 45 Minutes Uptown to Work Out – Even Though There’s a Gym On My Block

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



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