True story #1: My little brother is a trained Buddhist monk. For over ten years, he trekked through Europe, Asia, and Australia learning ways to channel the natural world’s most healing energies into his own lifeforce, and when he returned to the US, he began teaching meditation to high school kids, college students, university professors, high-powered CEOs, and groups of international soul-searchers who knew aligning their mind and bodies with the planet was the first step to greater compassion, for themselves and the world. He’s even convinced rooms of first graders—hyper American six-year-olds!—to close their eyes and clear their minds in guided meditation.
True story #2: I hate meditating. I can’t sit still. I can’t clear my mind. I can’t “drop in” to a place of Zen acceptance. And for a while, when I’d go with my brother to his meditation classes, I’d close my eyes and silently recite the entire Hamilton soundtrack from the very beginning, seeing how far I could get before my brother rang a tiny Himalayan bell, and the rest of the room emerged from their cocoons of inner peace. (It was usually right around Satisfied…)
But I still wanted to try. People who meditate report less stress, better sleep, and even lower blood pressure, according to the National Institute of Health. And because meditation is free—and because you can do it almost anywhere, anytime—it’s one of the most accessible tools available for mental and physical health. Meditation is a key tool for personal wellness, and I do want to cultivate it. The question is how?
STEP ONE: SHRINK IT
“You know you can meditate for like five minutes, right?” asked my brother when I finally admitted I hated meditation. And… actually… no, I didn’t know that—but science did.
Studies have shown that meditating for 5 minutes can reduce stress and anxiety. Other studies have shown that meditation can reduce anger and aggression, which I’m feeling a lot of watching this season of The Bachelorette.
Knowing I could meditate for the length of a Lizzo music video made the process a lot less intimidating, which helped loosen my mind and relax my body—both key.
STEP TWO: MOVE IT
“For me, mindfulness practices like watching my thoughts come and go, or focusing on my breath, weren't enough,” says Wild Elements digital director Morgan Fleming, who is also a trained meditation practitioner. Instead, she recommends adding gentle movement to the practice. “A walking meditation or qigong is a nice option for people with a lifestyle where they are sitting all day,” she says. “And I find a little less awkward to do moving meditation outside in public. Once, I did a walking mediation around a block in the West Village of New York City, and I never looked at that block the same way again. Slowing down allowed me to notice so much more.”
Plus, meditating outside lets you harness the other wellness benefits of plugging into nature, including a boost in mood and creative thinking!
STEP THREE: FORGET ABOUT IT
“I had a really hard time meditating when I first got to the monastery,” my brother said. His breakthrough came when an ordained monk asked him, “What if you stop meditating and just relax?” Easier said than done, of course. But going into a meditation session with no expectations—even saying to myself “I’m just here to be here”—has helped me a lot, and I know other women with busy minds have had similar experiences.
STEP FOUR: TEST IT
“The first thing I think of when I hear ‘I can’t meditate’ is to sample a few different types of mediation and pick one that you enjoy doing,” says Fleming. That includes free guided meditations on apps like Spotify and Headspace, along with group meditation classes and indoor and outdoor tries.
For me, I realized sitting near an ocean, lake, or river was the best place to zone out, and even when I couldn’t get to the beach, imagining the rhythm of waves helped me calm down and zone out, too. If that fails? Hamilton, act 2, let’s go.