'I Thought I Was Bad At Meditating Until I Realized I'd Been Doing It All Along'

Liz Plosser
·7 mins read
Photo credit: Liz Plosser
Photo credit: Liz Plosser

From Women's Health

For my entire almost two decades–long career in the wellness space, I’ve heard about (and written about, and edited stories about...) the power of meditation. There is indisputable, science-backed evidence that support the health benefits of this modality. A few quick examples: It has been shown to increase alpha and theta brainwave activity, which makes you feel calmer. Meditation causes your adrenal glands to dial back production of the stress hormone cortisol. And it also increases blood flow to your brain, which may help lower anxiety while boosting memory.

Reflexively, when you meditate, your lungs begin to draw deeper breaths.

And your heart begins to beat more slowly, causing your blood vessels to relax. That’s good news for heart health: In fact, regular meditation can drop your blood pressure by up to four points, lowering your risk for heart disease.

So yes, it’s very good for you. And yet! I need to confess my personal feelings on meditation.

It’s been a little bit of a love/hate relationship in my experience.

Love, because I am *here* for anything that will help me live a healthier, happier life. And hate, because, well, I’ve always considered myself to be pretty bad at it. A scroll through my App Store purchases over the years is illuminating. About every six months, I’ve downloaded an app with every intention of leveraging it to finally make meditation a regular part of my life. I log in once or twice. And then, poof, my resolve vanishes.

Which is why a recent conversation with my friend Jay Shetty, a mindfulness expert and the author of the best-selling new book Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind For Peace And Purpose, really hit home for me.

“There are thousands of years of study around understanding the mind, human behavior, why we do what we do, how we can make better decisions, where pressure and stress come from, and how to actually navigate them,” says Shetty. Enter: meditation.

For Shetty, meditation is the act of prepping your mind and body to take on the challenges of the day, rather than entering it with fatigue, lethargy, and a lack of clarity. “The example I often give is of sports,” he said. (Shetty’s superpower is explaining things in ways that will resonate with his audience…I never met an athletic metaphor that I didn’t “get.”)

"You don’t ‘train’ when you’re in the midst of the competition or game itself, you train during practice. And every morning we need a training ground. We need a training center," he says. "And if your training is 20 minutes or 10 minutes, or if it's an hour and a half, the point is finding your own training ground every day.”

Jay meditates for 90 to 120 minutes on weekdays beginning at 6:15 a.m. (Goals, amiright?!) But he encouraged me to think about the practice in shades of grey, rather than an all or nothing. “It’s not about whether you do two hours or not,” he assured me. “It’s got nothing to do with that. It’s so much more about you feeling like you're starting your day with your shield and your armor on to deal with the challenges that are coming.”

The more we talked, the more I realized that—without even knowing it—I had developed my own uniquely Liz form of meditation over the years.

And even better, I was *already* practicing it at least twice a day! My version? Music.

For the past couple of years, I’ve curated playlists for my morning commute from my home in Brooklyn and my Manhattan office. Some days, I need the audio version of a big mug of coffee: fast tempo, toe-tapping beats accompanied by head-bopping, lip-syncing lyrics. Try feeling anything other than “LET’S GOOOO!” when you DJ your morning subway ride with some girl-band action.

But other days, I want to take my heart-racing, high-adrenaline vibes down a notch. Maybe I’m hyped up over a meeting or a drama at school drop-off or just, you know, life! Nothing like some lovesick duets, moody ballads, or even a little angsty Bon Iver to chill me out and put things in perspective. I can close my eyes, zone out, breathe deeply, and let the power of tunes help be become my healthiest and happiest self.

By the time I take out my AirPods, I’m ready to project the energy I’ve cultivated into the people, places and things I’ll encounter that day. (If you're feeling my music-as-meditation epiphany, you will probably love our first-ever Women's Health Music Issue, featuring cover star and musician Kelly Rowland.) Which is, according to Shetty, exactly the point of meditation.

Shetty's book is all about making your mental health a priority—a.k.a. you spend time, energy and resources on it—and brims with other mindfulness tips and tools. Here's one of my favorites, a centering ritual that you can do anywhere, anytime.

Jay Shetty’s 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Practice

As a monk, Shetty learned this technique, which is a favorite for psychologists and therapists, too. It is, essentially, a method to become present, aware, and attentive. "When you are still with yourself, you actually notice what your body and mind want in that moment, and then you can go and find it," says Shetty.

5. What are five things that you can see?

Walk into a space and identify five things you can see. As I type this, I can see my laptop. I can see the ceiling. I can see the floor and I can see the succulent on my desk. I can see my glass of fizzy water. Go through them one at a time, patiently, and then take a deep breath.

4. What are four things you can touch?

Really experience them. Touch your shirt, grasp your chair, feel your ice cold glass, click your laptop’s keys. You may even notice sensations…maybe that the laptop is cooler than the chair, the chair warmer.

3. What are three things that you can hear?

Take a moment to be really silent and try to become aware of what you can hear. It might just be white noise, or you may hear a bird distantly in the background, and you may even hear your children. Listen.

2. What are two things that you can smell?

Inhale and take a deep breath. What are those scents? Is it your cologne? Is it your perfume? Is it an essential oil that you have there? Is something cooking in the oven? Take a moment to identify that smell.

1. What is one thing you can taste?

It might be coffee. It might be breakfast. It might be toothpaste. Identify it. "A few moments of mindfulness might help you notice an ache in your leg that you haven't felt before, or you may realize your lips are really dry and you want to drink some water," explains Shetty.

The 5-4-3-2-1 method’s impact not only allows you to listen to your body, but it sets you up to hear—really hear—those around you, too. “When we're present with our body and mind, then we can communicate with our partners, our children, our colleagues, our friends.”

If meditation is a safe space to experience clarity, peace, shifting energy...well then, listening to music is my meditation. Yours might be gardening. Or making a pot of tea. Or even washing dishes. Maybe you sit down in Buddha position and bank a solid 15+ minutes of traditional meditation, which is very awesome too. The point is, it all counts. And also? You get points for trying. For exploring. And repeating.

Author and mental health expert Jay Shetty's HEAL - 7 Day Mental Health Online Festival takes place his majorly popular (7.1 million followers can't be wrong that this guy is magic!) IG Live handle, @jayshetty, from October 13 to October 19, 2020. In daily IG Lives, he'll chat up artists, therapists, and other luminaries who have spoken out about the importance of mental health in an effort to de-stigmatize the conversation around the topic. Tune in for some inspo to start your day with influential voices like Miguel, Lori Gottleib, and Deepak Chopra. I'll join Shetty on Monday, October 19 at 12:30 p.m. EST.

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