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How To Start a Meditation Practice (and Why)


Until five years ago, I truly sucked at meditating. I had only tried it sporadically, and without any real commitment or structure. I'm a lifelong athlete who has trained for loads of events, so I’m not sure why I thought I'd be good at meditation with exactly zero training or effort. When I tried to meditate, I had a lot of trouble getting my mind and body to settle down, which made me (many times) abandon the process and decide that meditation wasn’t for me. I wasn't achieving a zen state, or getting to a point where my mind was perfectly blank, or seeing some universal truth bathed in a beam of soft, white light. Perhaps because I’ve practiced yoga for so long and knew so many people who meditated, I thought meditation would come naturally? It didn’t.

I had a fairly stressful period in May of 2019, during which I found myself craving a meditation practice. As I sat with my dad in the hospital after some surgical complications, I used my yoga breath often, but wished I had more experience and structure with creating space in myself for all the complicated emotions I was navigating. I relied mainly on exercise to keep myself centered and calibrated, but meditation would have been a great tool had I known more about how to use it.

What I realized back then was that meditation, like any other worthwhile discipline, takes practice and training. So, I decided that, for the month of June in 2019, I would commit to a progressive practice, starting with just five minutes a day. I tried not to have specific expectations of myself. Instead, I hoped simply to DO IT, and see what evolved with 30 days of consistent effort.

A surprising number of Osmia fans came on that initial meditation journey with me in 2019, committing to 30 consecutive days of practice—I think we started with over 400 people, and finished with just over 250, which was super impressive!

Since then, meditation has become a regular part of my life, and I hope it has for many others in that group. Meditation is now one of the main tools I use to manage stress, in addition to exercise, nutrition, and time outdoors. It was profoundly helpful to me during the pandemic, and continues to anchor me during times of turbulence, and during times of relative peace. 

Am I "good" at meditation now? Well, I'm better at it, but mostly because I understand that it's pretty much impossible to be bad at it! You don't have to have a quiet mind or achieve nirvana. You simply have to accept what is. You have to sit and breathe. You have to carve out the time. And you have to keep showing up.

The best way I can think of to describe what meditation has done for me is that it has created a soft cushion between me and the events of my life. When something upsetting happens, my first instinct is now to breathe, rather than react. I'm able to respond to life in a more measured way, and can more often find a sense of wellbeing in a given moment, even when the world overall feels out of control or upside down. 

If you're considering learning to meditate, I vote YES! Below you'll find some information and tools you might find helpful, as I did when I was starting my practice. See what resonates with you, and take it one step and one breath at a time.

Why Should I Meditate?

People are always saying that we need meditation “in today’s busy world,” and while I agree, we should also realize that we are the ones making ourselves so busy! It’s not as if we are ACTUALLY any busier now than we were when we had to grow, hunt, and harvest our own food for mere survival. Back then, we lived by the sun; when it went down, we would slide naturally into meditative activities, like reading or talking or going to sleep. It’s only because of the technological connectedness of our lives, the ever-present umbilical cord of information traveling between us and the rest of the world, that we’ve gotten so “busy.” There simply isn’t enough quiet space anymore, which is why we must create it.

Research consistently shows that anyone who has stress in his or her life (that means about 7.7 billion of us) can benefit from meditation. It has been proven useful in managing anxiety and depression. It may prevent grey matter atrophy (fancy speech for shrinking of the brain tissue), which accompanies many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s dementia. Meditation can be used to improve sleep quality in older adults—far preferable to the sedating medications that are overprescribed. More research needs to be performed, but even the American Heart Association acknowledges that meditation may be a valuable tool for patients in managing cardiovascular risk.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF MEDITATION?

There are SO many types of meditation, and you don’t have to conform or subscribe to any one of them! Trying different kinds can help you figure out what feels most natural to you, and what feels forced or weird. I’ll list a few of the most common types of meditation, ending with the type I chose for my first month, and have continued to practice more than any other.

Loving Kindness (Metta) Meditation

This practice can be very helpful for those struggling with anger, frustration, negativity, or difficult relationships. It begins with saying loving things to yourself, like “May I be happy, may I be strong, may I be healthy and calm.” Eventually, the “I” is replaced with “you” as you think of people you love. Then you move to people in your outer circle, and finally on to those who challenge you the most. The meditation ends with the thought “May all beings everywhere be happy,” which often leaves people feeling empowered and positive.

Tonglen

Related to loving kindness, Tonglen is an acknowledgement of universal suffering. A therapist once explained it to me as breathing in the suffering of others, either specifically or generally, and breathing out peace and relief from suffering. It’s a beautiful practice, but requires you to be able to access that kind of energy and focus.

Vipassana Meditation

This is a breath-centric meditation, in which one focuses on the flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils, with an ultimate goal of “seeing things as they really are.” It’s a nice practice for beginners, because it has a physical focal point, which serves as a useful tool for new meditators.

Zazen Meditation

Originating from Japan, Zazen meditation is often referred to as Zen Meditation, and evokes beautiful images of Tibetan monks in saffron robes. Practitioners assume an upright, seated posture, holding a mudra (a special position) with the hands, and breathe deeply into the belly while counting breaths (in=one, out=two, etc. - up to ten, then start again).

Transcendental Meditation

TM is a trademarked form of meditation in which you repeat a mantra assigned to you by a certified TM teacher. Many people swear by TM, but you should know that it’s a paid program, and requires 20 minutes twice a day, so it’s a bigger investment of time and money than some other options.

Guided Meditation

This is a great option if you’ve tried self-guided meditation and found it fruitless. It does require you to listen to someone else’s voice, so there’s always the chance that you won’t vibe with the style or voice of your guide.

Body Scan

This is a delicious way to fall asleep at night. Lying down, you can start by consciously relaxing your toes, then your feet, then your ankles… all the way up to the crown of your head and down to your fingertips. Good luck staying awake till the end.

Yoga Nidra

Similarly sleep-inducing, yoga nidra is a guided, pre-sleep meditation. You can find a thousand options on Spotify or any meditation app. It’s great for taking your mind off a busy day and transitioning into sleep, and you can keep headphones near the bed in case you wake at 3am with monkey brain.

Mindfulness Meditation

This is the broadest, most beginner-friendly form of meditation, which is why I chose it to help me get over my meditation hurdle! Mindfulness meditation is practiced by sitting in a quiet, comfortable position and bringing awareness to the breath. It sounds absurdly simple, and one day it will feel pretty simple, too. 

Do I Need an App to Meditate?

Need? Definitely not. Some people love apps like Headspace or Calm to help get them into the practice; they’re great tools for beginners and regular practitioners alike. I chose not to use an app for my first month for my daily practice, because I wanted to cultivate the ability to meditate anywhere, with or without a device or wifi. After that initial month, I tried a few apps, and the two I use most often now are Insight Timer and Waking Up.

What Essential Oils Can I Use for Meditation?

Again, these are not necessary by any means, but can help set a meditative mood pretty quickly, as your sense of smell has such a direct path to your brain. My favorite essential oils for meditation are these: frankincense, vetiver, sandalwood, atlas cedar, palo santo, clary sage, and lavender. Use a single oil or a blend of 2-3 oils in a diffuser, or inhale a few drops on a tissue with your first few breaths. You can also use an aromatherapy blend on your hands, over your sternum, or above your collarbones.

What Osmia Products Can I Use for Meditation?

If you don’t have essential oils at home, but you are an Osmia lover, you can use a bit of Lavender Body Mousse on your hands and chest to facilitate meditation, or do the same with Night or Water Body Oil. A few deep breaths from cupped hands is a beautiful way to begin your session.

How Do I Start Meditating?

I started with a five minute session once a day for one week. I sat in a chair a few times, with my feet on the floor, then ended up kneeling on a cushion because I found kneeling more comfortable. You can use a cushion like this, or even a special stool for meditation, but you should find a position that's comfortable and supportive, and maybe one that won't put you to sleep immediately.

MEDITATION TIPS + TRICKS

A few pieces of wisdom came repeatedly in my research, and I took them to heart before I set sail on that first month of meditation. As you learn to sit, you will hear sounds, have thoughts, experience physical sensations like a nose itch or a need to cough. None of those things need to ruin your meditation—just keep coming back to the breathing, and scratch your nose if you need to! Feel your abdomen expand gently as you inhale, and enjoy the sensation of letting your exhale linger on the way out of your chest. If you have monkey mind, or a surge of emotion, notice it as an observer and come back to your breath. It will not feel easy or totally natural at first. You’ll feel like you’re faking it. But there’s no faking— only practice. And practice makes progress.

Meditation doesn’t have to be a big, scary monster lurking in the corner. It doesn’t have to take an hour or transport you to a blissed out state that you need to tell everyone about at the coffee shop later that day. It doesn’t have to involve full lotus and a saffron robe (but how cool would it be to experience THAT one day?). All you need is a place to sit, a few precious minutes of your time, and a commitment to explore whether meditation, in one form or another, should be part of your life.

With love and a half-lotus from us to you,