Think you can’t “do” meditation? Think again. Meditation offers both professional and personal benefits. And thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever.
By Nicole Bélanger (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
My meditation practice came out of a challenging time in my life. I had just quit what was supposed to be my dream job, I was grieving the death of a parent and I was experiencing a depression for the first time in my life.
Looking for some peace and relief, I turned to meditation.
Hungry for information and eager to meditate “the right way,” I read articles, watched interviews and downloaded guides. It wasn’t until I actually got started with my practice that I realized that I already knew quite a bit about meditation. In fact, I had been meditating since childhood.
Misconceptions about Meditation
From the relaxation tricks I used when I had a hard time falling asleep to the calming breaths that helped me through stressful situations, I had been meditating since I was in grade school – I just didn’t know to call it that.
This realization completely shifted the way I understood meditation and its place in my life. It became less about self-discipline and regimented practice, and more about my ability to create my own peace, no matter where I was or what I was doing.
I don’t think I was alone in holding these misconceptions about meditation.
I’ve heard so many people say that they tried meditation and “weren’t good at it” or that simply shied away from it entirely, thinking that it would be too challenging or time-consuming. Which is quite unfortunate, as they are missing out on a whole host ofhealth benefits – and professional benefits – too.
The reality is that with so many different types of meditation out there, if you’re truly struggling to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, it might have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the style you’ve been practicing.
What is Meditation?
The term “meditation” is a catch-all that refers to a multitude of practices, many of which have been practiced for thousands of years. A 2008 study published in Trends In Cognitive Science defined meditation as “a family of complex emotional and attentional regulatory training regimes developed for various ends, including the cultivation of well-being and emotional balance.”
Or, in plain English, meditation involves cultivating attention and presence in order to reach a better mental state.
Personally, my favorite definition of the word comes from spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra:
“Meditation is a progressive widening of the mind, until it reaches the source of the mind,” he explained. “It takes you to your source.”
Finding Your Meditation Groove
The key to making meditation a regular part of your routine is finding the type of practice that works for where you’re at now. Whether you’re looking for something regimented or fluid, movement-based or still, you are more likely to be successful in maintaining your practice if you are using a style that fits your unique needs and interests.
Here are three popular styles of meditation that you can test out:
A popular form of meditation, particularly among young people, mindfulness meditation originates from the Buddhist tradition. Mindfulness meditation is all about non-judgmental observation and awareness of the present – from the sensations in the body, to the rhythm of your breath, to the thoughts floating through your head and even the sounds in your environment.
As Dr. Karen Kissel Wegela explains, “There are three basic aspects worked with in this meditation technique: body, breath and thoughts.” This falls into the category of open-monitoring meditation.
If the prospect of having to sit still for 15 minutes is keeping you from meditating, you might want to consider movement meditation. From walking a labyrinth, to the Chinese practice of Qigong, to a simple yoga sequence, tying your meditation to movement can be a powerful way to create relaxation and foster a greater awareness of the body. Moving meditation is also quite handy, as it can be easily incorporated into your daily walk or existing workout schedule.
3. Focused Attention
As Antoine Lutz defines it, this style of practice involves “the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object.” For this meditation, you can focus on almost anything – an object, an image in your mind, or simply your breath.
If you feel that you’ve given one style of practice a solid effort, but it still doesn’t feel right, don’t force yourself to stick with it, give yourself the permission to move on and explore. It’s all about finding what works for you.
4 Tools to Get You Started
An important consideration when making your first foray into meditation is finding something that will fit in comfortably enough into your daily life that you can easily incorporate it into your routine.
Thankfully, technology is helping to make meditation more accessible than ever. As Rohan Gunatillake, creator of mindfulness app, buddhify, explains, our smart phones are making it easier than ever to incorporate mindfulness into our daily existence:
“I'm passionate about the idea of 'meditation everywhere' rather than the all-too-common view it has to be locked down to a particular type of place or environment. Since we take out mobile phones everywhere, it means that if the content and the technology is done well, our ability to be present, calm and compassionate can be just as portable as our devices. One of my big hopes is that our phones and tablets and laptops become seen as wellbeing devices rather than the cause of all our distractions and worries… The more we – both as a company and as a wider emerging community – can combine the expertise of design, technology and mindfulness, the closer we'll be to that vision.”
1. buddhify - iOS (Android in development)
Buddhify takes their tagline “Modern mindfulness wherever you are” very seriously. This $3 app comes pre-loaded with guided meditations for everything from working out to walking in nature to working online. If you’re anxious to get access to their tracks, but don’t have an iPhone, you can purchase mp3 meditations.
2. Headspace - iOS + Android
Billing itself as a personal trainer for your mind, Headspace offers a variety of programs designed to cultivate mindfulness and teach you how to meditate. This includes their free Take10 program, personalized content options and even a Buddy System that allows you to connect with friends.
3. Calm - Desktop + iOS
One of the most notable features of Calm is the beautiful collection of mesmerizing nature scenes and sounds. The free version of the app includes their signature “7 Steps of Calm” as well as several guided meditations of varying lengths. Users can also purchase meditations for specific intentions such as compassion, creativity and sleep.
4. Mindfulness - iOS + Android
This popular app was designed with both beginners and experienced practitioners in mind. It includes both silent and guided meditations, as well as a guided body scan session – perfect for those times when your stress is manifesting itself physically!
Meditation is highly personal – we all have our preferred ways to practice, and our own reasons for doing it. And whether you use technology or simply take some time to focus on your breath, the important thing to remember is that it isn’t about being perfect, or even being “good at it.” It’s about showing up and being present.
Have you benefited from meditation?
About the author: Nicole Bélanger is a writer turned coach and speaker who is dedicated to helping others find and live by their authentic definition of success. A two-time TEDx speaker, her writings on personal development, entrepreneurship, and careers have been published in Levo League, Business Insider, Women 2.0, Urban Native Magazine and Huffington Post Women. She tweets at @nskbelanger.