We all know we should meditate; from mitigating chronic pain to easing the physical symptoms of anxiety, meditation has long been touted as a panacea for the people. In fact, meditation is the fastest-growing health trend in the U.S., and with new apps and retreats being introduced every day, it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.
In addition to helping with stress, studies have shown that meditation can help improve immune function, promote increased longevity, and reduce blood pressure, says Dr. Will Cole, functional medicine expert and author of Ketotarian. “Meditation actually has a variety of benefits for your health beyond just reduced stress, which is still important, due to the fact that stress can both trigger and perpetuate health problems,” Cole said.
Okay, so meditation is kind of like eating your leafy greens. We get it. Here’s the real question, though: What if you absolutely hate meditating? What if every time you sit down on your yoga mat, you sweat and twitch while thinking about your massive pile of dirty laundry? Is it even worth your time? Or should you just skip it all together and go wash your laundry instead?
Turns out: Meditation is hard
Here’s the secret: Meditation is difficult for everyone, according to Dr. Subhadra Evans, a researcher and lecturer at Deakin University in Australia. “The mind is by nature incredibly restless,” Evans said. “By sitting with the breath, or whatever anchor we are using in meditation, we learn to allow those feelings to be present, and to pass. This eventually brings a sense of peace.”
Just like learning any new skill, meditation takes time and practice. In other words, don’t dive into a weeklong silent retreat the first time meditation even crosses your mind. Instead, start with just a few minutes a day, said Dr. Megan Jones Bell, Chief Science Officer at Headspace. “We liken the brain to a muscle: It’s similar to when you’ve been lifting weights,” Bell said. “You may have sore muscles and use a foam roller to dig into your muscles for relief. While it’s uncomfortable, it’s helping the muscles heal and get stronger.”
Plus, if you’re extra resistant to meditation, you may need to do it even more; let’s face it, the Dalai Lama probably doesn’t struggle with road rage. In fact, those who are most resistant to meditation may benefit the most from practicing it, said Dr. Kristina Hallett, a board certified specialist in clinical psychology and a Fellow of the American Academy of Clinical Psychology. “When someone is constantly under external stress, their nervous system stays on ‘high alert’ and this increases the likelihood of feeling agitated and feelings of restlessness and anxiety,” Hallett said. “Meditation is like having a drink of water on a hot summer day, as it allows the brain to start to ‘cool down’ and return to equilibrium.”
At the end of the day, maybe learning how to sit with discomfort is the whole point of meditation. Still, that can sound pretty unappealing, especially if you’re feeling uneasy to begin with.
So, how can you incorporate meditation into your life without it feeling like a root canal? We talked to five every day women who shared their top tips on mastering meditation, especially if you actually kind of hate it.
Make sure you have a variety of tools in your toolkit
“To be clear, I’m not a person who enjoys meditating! I don’t look forward to it, I don’t even like setting aside time to meditate. However, I’ve noticed that with habitual meditation, I’m a different person — I’m calmer, I can handle stress better, I’m perhaps kinder and more aware of others. I do transcendental meditation two times a day for 20 minutes, morning and afternoon. For quicker calming techniques I use breath work, and I carry some lavender oil — my favorite scent — to help me chill out.” —Monk, 29
Find a practice that fits your mood
“I’ve come to find a meditation practice that works for me and my depression and anxiety, but it took a long time to get there. I’ve realized I do much better with a moving meditation, and yoga is best for me to do that. I can also get there with a walk, but not quite as well as yoga. I’ve used apps before and they help me sleep when traveling, but that’s about it. I also realized in a mindfulness class that I absolutely cannot ‘relax’ or ‘let go’ when a guided meditation is led by a man’s voice.” —Ali, 37
Remember that it all starts with breathing
“Take four breaths in the morning when you wake up and at night before sleeping. With those breaths, try to breathe in slowly over a count of four, hold your breath gently for four counts, breathe out over a count of four, and hold your breath out over four counts. I find that a simple breathing exercise can help clear the mind in just a few moments. If you enjoy the way it feels, take a few minutes during the day to repeat the same breathing exercise. The next time you mindlessly go to pick up your phone, gently close your eyes (if you’re somewhere safe to do so), and try to focus on the sensations of your surroundings from the sounds, to smells, to the way the light touches your eyelids.” —Zoë, 28
Meditate on the go
“Even if I just meditate for a few minutes every day I’m able to manage my anxiety and stress better. Start with one- or two-minute meditations for a couple weeks every day to more easily integrate it into your routine. Set an alarm and do it at the same time every day. Take five minutes in a conference room, the bathroom or outside and do a quick meditation to refresh and clear your head.” —Sarah, 22
Take the time to make meditation a habit
“For me, meditation is like exercise. I don’t see the point in doing something unless I see the results, but the crappy thing is, it’s called a practice for a reason. You gotta practice, even through the bad days, if you wanna see results. I started going to a Vedic meditation class because I felt unfulfilled with the apps. With the apps, it just didn’t fit me, and no one wants to walk around in shoes that don’t fit. I’d happily go barefoot than wear a pair of heels, but Vedic meditation is my comfortable pair of Vans.” —Chloe, 28
A version of this story was published May 2019.
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