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.
If you just want to get some sleep…
Three a.m. and still awake? There are many reasons why you may be struggling with insomnia, but one thing's for sure: Meditation can help. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help you evoke the relaxation response necessary for you to finally sleep like a baby.
You should try: The Sleep Stories in the Calm app. Like the fairytales your grandma used to put you to bed with, these can help you fall asleep—just like when you were a kid.
If you want to devote a little time to self-care...
Based on the name alone, you may think that self-care is an inherently selfish act. But stress, depression, and anxiety aren't just personal—they're reflections of the culture we live in. When we take some time to care for ourselves and reflect on the state of the world around us, we can separate ourselves from these cultural messages and cultivate contentment.
You should try: The Awaken meditation app. Awaken works to connect the dots between our inner state and the outer world. Deconstructing patriarchy, racism, and other systems of oppression requires examining the ways we've internalized its messages about who we are.
If your job is currently crushing your soul…
Is it Friday yet? Is it payday yet? How did that deadline sneak up on you?! Even if you're lucky enough to genuinely love your job, focus and motivation aren't always easy to find.(So.many.things.happening.on.the.internet!) Guess what can actually help? Meditation.
You should try: Headspace at Work. This program by the Headspace app helps organizations "create a happier, healthier work environment" through meditation. If your boss isn't interested in making this a thing, though, you can also benefit from Headspace's meditations for focus.
If you think you have no time to meditate...
I totally get it. I never seem to have the time to mop the floors of my apartment, but I always seem to find the time to watch every superhero show on CW. We find the time for the things we like and deem important. How will you know whether you like meditation if you think you're always too busy to try it? Start small.
You should try: The '16 seconds' technique by meditation trailblazer David Ji. "Start with a long, slow, deep inhale through your nose, watch your breath slowly move into you, and follow it down deep into your belly. Then hold the breath in and witness it as it sits in your belly," Ji says. "Release your breath and observe it as it moves back up, through you, and out of your nostrils. As you continue to exhale, watch your breath as you continue releasing it out and observing it the whole time as it dissipates into the air. In. Hold. Out. Hold."
Each component takes about four seconds, so the whole experience lasts just 16 seconds. You can count along the way or simply surrender to the process and see where it leads you. Sixteen seconds is all it takes to practice presence. And you can gently increase your practice to around a minute by doing it four times or to five minutes by doing it 20 times.
"Practice throughout the day while you're stuck in traffic, standing in a line, sitting in the bathroom, attending a meeting, or even taking a shower," Ji says. "It's based on the ancient technique of mindful breathing popularized by the Buddha 2,600 years ago. This time-tested process will instantly infuse all the conversations in your head with a tiny bit of stillness—the swirl around you slows, creating an inviting aura of tranquility that others appreciate participating in. And as all of your interactions start to proceed at a slower speed, you receive information more clearly, process it more objectively, and speak with greater poise and purpose."
I'll meditate on that.
Danai is writer and editor by day, an almost-vegan baker by night, and a cat person 24/7. Born in Athens, Greece, Danai spent five years commuting in NYC before deciding to relocate to Scandinavia and learn how to forage berries and find a better work-life balance. Follow her on Instagram @accidentalscandinavian or in real life in some Swedish forest.