Meditation can be great for you. Research shows that meditation can help with mental health issues, relieve stress, improve your memory, help you fight insomnia and improve your sleep, and practically rewire your brain. (The verdict is still out on whether meditation can also help your hair grow faster or smash the patriarchy… personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it could.)
But many of us still haven’t gotten round to incorporating meditation into our daily lives. According to a National Health Interview Survey, the percentage of Americans who actually meditated, or had even tried meditation, was about 10 percent in 2007—and this percentage has only increased to about 12 percent. Which begs the question: Why aren’t most of us meditating already?
I think it all boils down to personalization—or the perceived lack of it. Take yoga, for example: We all know it’s good for us, but we’ve also figured out that everyone has their preferred yoga practice. You wouldn’t recommend a hot yoga class to someone who hasn’t exercised in years, just as you wouldn’t recommend slower types of yoga, such as hatha, to people who really want to sweat it out and challenge themselves physically.
But when it comes to meditation, we still have this “one-om-fits-all” idea in our heads. However, I’m happy to report that’s not the case at all. There are numerous different meditation types and techniques. Finding the one that’s right for you right now is the first step toward making this marvelous habit stick. And don’t worry if your brain doesn’t seem to shut down right away—it happens to everyone at first, no matter your meditation type.
So, what’s the right type of meditation for you right now?
If you struggle with positive thinking…
If negative emotions such as self-doubt, sadness, jealousy, anger, and anxiety have a way of creeping up on you, you’re not the only one. As much as we know that that positive thinking is great, for some of us, it just doesn’t always work. And when you’re in a bad state (for any number of reasons), it’s practically impossible to jump right into Pollyanna mode. What is totally possible, however, is to work with those negative emotions so that you can control them—instead of the other way around.
You should try: A guided meditation. The Insight Timer app offers guided meditations based on what you’re currently struggling with. Whether you need help with acceptance, coping with loss, or handling pain, depression, or anger, you can find a session that literally speaks to you. Just make sure that the teacher has a voice you find soothing. I really like the guided meditations by Sarah Blondin: “Our Warring Self vs. Our Infinite Self” is about controlling anger, and it has saved me from quite a few furious outbursts.
If you want to exercise better…
How is standing still for several minutes going to help you with that six-pack? Glad you asked. Although exercise has a way of making us present at first, after a while, we can end up going through the motions—which can lead to dissatisfaction with your practice, or worse, injuries. Switching off your brain during (and after) exercise will help prevent that.
You should try: Mindfulness meditation and yoga. Ashley Elgatian, a yoga teacher and founder of Tyan Yoga Chicago, recommends combining yoga practice with mindfulness meditations, such as the ones found on the Headspace app for people with active minds who have trouble flipping the off switch.
“When our minds are busy, we leave our bodies and simply get lost in thought,” Elgatian says. “This has an effect on our physical body—it becomes tight and tense, making relaxation a harder state to achieve. Simple mindfulness routines can help us: Practicing mindfulness once a day creates new neural pathways.” Elgatian also believes that yoga is a great way to get into meditation. “In yoga, you are mindful of the breath throughout your practice, and while you are practicing, you will catch yourself when you’re distracted: You don’t really have a choice since your task is to focus on the physical body.