Who doesn’t have that one friend who’s always gushing about meditation? She finds time for it, doesn’t have a problem sitting still and claims it’s changed her life. Admit it: You kind of want to know her secret.
Since May is National Meditation Month, we thought it was the right moment to ask women about the real ways it’s impacted them. All of the studies already laud meditation for things like lowering risk of heart disease and cancer, improving calm and focus and overcoming fears and anxiety. But aside from avoiding a super-scary diagnosis and feeling better overall, which are obviously great benefits, what does that actually mean in day-to-day life?
For me, it began in the last few moments of yoga class during Savasana. At first, it was hard to lay there and hear the silence around me, but I soon embraced the downtime. Before long, I found myself taking Savasana breaks at home for a few minutes at a time. Ultimately, I think meditation is most helpful at helping us focus on our actions so they align with what we really want. For instance, I may not react as quickly to something that upsets me, which helps my body avoid harmful cortisol or adrenaline surges that come with being an anxious person.
Meditation can happen in many ways, and once you practice it, you’ll find that it works itself into your day seemingly without even having to try. To me, that’s the biggest benefit of all. Here’s how other real women use meditation in everyday life.
Loosen up, literally
“By sitting still for five to 30 minutes a day, I’ve learned I shouldn’t believe everything I think, and that’s made such a difference in my ability to lead and parent. As an author, I spend quite a bit of time at the computer, and thus, my neck and shoulders can be tight. I realized after about a month of meditation how much more relaxed I was physically. Now, while I write, I take breaks and meditate for five minutes to increase my stamina and ability to think creatively.” — Christina Harbridge, author of Swayed: How to Communicate for Impact, San Francisco, California
Press pause on reactions
“I had a global marketing career, steadily climbing the corporate ladder for 18 years. Then I developed a rare, aggressive and advanced breast cancer. I discovered that it’s not stress that’s the problem — it’s our physiological response to it. Mindfulness helped me wake up from a life of autopilot action and reactivity. It gives me space between emotions and reactions, allowing time, however brief, to reflect and respond more skillfully. After many months of intense daily practice, I realized if you want to make changes in the world, you have to start with changes in yourself. My schedule now includes intention and goal-setting in the morning, a formal meditation practice before breakfast or at lunch and mindful moments during the day.” — Kate Kerr, 42, mindfulness consultant, Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Dial down stress
“The word ‘overwhelmed’ has started to disappear from my vocabulary. I wear many hats in an emerging technology field and at fast-paced growing company. There will never be a day where I’m not faced with challenges. Meditation has changed the way I respond to that stress. Since I started practicing regularly, my mental response to stressors is no longer panicked and I don’t have the same physical response either. I find myself naturally reverting to breathing and other meditation techniques without thinking about it. The cool, calm, balanced demeanor is a win, not only in my personal and professional life, but a win for the company and my colleagues who are looking to me for an example and support.” — Brittiany Broadwater, 29, director of operations at Phone2Action, Washington, D.C.
“Meditation helps me shut out the anxious voices or external and literal sounds. Today, I’m in southern Maine, and meditation means concentrating on the crashing waves. When I’m home, it can be the rustling trees, blue skies or clouds. It’s quite literally looking at the beauty of the bigger picture and being able to focus on that instead of the stress of life.” — Rachel Weingarten, author of Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year, New York City
Be more efficient
“Meditation gives me a crucial mental focus and clarity that allows me to be more efficient at work. My partner and I meditate together and it’s given us some great quality-time together, offering us a new depth of intimacy in the interactions between actual meditation sessions. I also make more conscious decisions in everything from my eating habits to life-altering decisions, rather than moving through life triggered by my past and reactions.” — Tiffany Cruikshank, 37 founder of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight, Seattle, Washington
Let inspiration in
“Meditation helps me surrender more to what is instead of worrying what should be happening. My sense of touch, taste and smell is heightened. It’s amazing what good ideas come when I let my thoughts be and allow pure inspiration in. I am not trying to control my thoughts, but just allowing what needs to filter in come.” — Steffi Black, 50, life and career coach, Toronto
“I used to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, but by meditating, I’ve found that I can avoid getting too anxious, which means I avoid spiraling into panic. I’m always surprised at the difference I feel when I don’t meditate compared when I do. I have more clarity about what I want and am much more productive during the day. I feel more sure about the decisions I make and know that I’m more present in all aspects of my life. It’s really rewarding.” — Amanda Leigh Doueihi, 31 lawyer/writer, New York City
“When I practice, I feel more clear, conscious and able to flow with the changing nature of life and myself. It’s an adventure every time too — exploring the great mystery that is my own mind. It’s better than any vacation I’ve ever taken! A body scan allows me to witness whether or not I have emotional discomfort that I need to deal with. This sets me free from looping fear, anxiety, anger and sadness. It allows me a moment where I transcend my mind, which sets me free, if only for a moment, from the insanity that makes up my relentless thoughts. It allows me brief access to a bigger experience than my own limited personal view of the world. Every chance I get to connect to all things offers me greater compassion and empathy.” — Kristen Ulmer, 50, author of The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to do Instead, Salt Lake City, Utah
“Some people resist starting a meditation practice because they believe, erroneously, that it requires long, boring stretches of trying to sit still, doing nothing for 20 minutes or more. It doesn’t have to be like that. Meditation can be as simple and easy as pausing to clear your mind for three minutes, two or three times a day. Mini-meditations give me pleasant, healthy little rewards throughout the day, providing an opportunity to press the reset button whenever needed.” — Dr. Liisa Kyle, creative life coach, Washington state