Learning How to Meditate Made Me Want to Try Harder at Life

BY: Kelly MacDowell | Jul 12, 2016

How to Meditate

“You look like you’ve been going a mile a minute,” the meditation teacher said to me when I arrived to class. He wasn’t wrong—even though I was in Sunday chill mode, my mind was racing. It usually is. I’m convinced this is why I’m terrible at napping. Instead of slowing its roll, my brain would rather think about that ridiculous perm I had in third grade or the backlog of Last Week Tonight eps on my DVR. If meditation classes can help lead to relaxation, then maybe it was time I learn how to to meditate.

Since I’d never tried meditation or even yoga, I figured a guided class was a good place to start to glean some meditation tips. The first thing I learned? You don’t just plop down on the floor and stop thinking for an hour. There’s thinking involved. And chairs.

Read on to see what else I learned about meditation techniques and why you might want to try it, too.

How to Meditate Yoga Shop

Apparently, we have more than one body.

My meditation teacher counted four: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. (He was quick to note that last one “has nothing to do with church or religion” but rather refers to your aura, or energetic body.) And while our physical body demands most of our conscious attention, one of the benefits of meditation is you can get out of that body for a little while and hang with the other three.

Being out of body is both harder and easier than it sounds.

For me, learning how to meditate was sort of like remembering a dream—the harder I tried to do it, the more it eluded me. I found that if I focused on the breathing exercise (more on that later) and the teacher’s prompts, as opposed to expecting my mind to do something, the quiet came more easily. With that said, visualization is an essential component. So you’ll need to concentrate—just not too hard. Mindfulness training is a delicate balance, one that probably comes more easily with practice.

It’s good to have goals.

Sure, sometimes we just want to try something out of curiosity, like cutting our own bangs or Birthday Cake Oreos (neither of which I’d recommend). But it’s best to meditate with intention, a goal that’s important to you. Are you trying to develop a stronger sense of self? Save up for a year abroad? Guided meditation is partly about visualizing self-improvement, so you’ll want something better to ruminate on than which Oreo flavor is best (definitely not Birthday Cake).

How to Meditate

It’s also good to breathe.

We started the meditation process with a breathing exercise—deep diaphragm inhalations, slow exhalations. Not only did it keep me focused throughout the class, but I’ve also found myself using it a lot since then. Relaxation meditation helped me take it easy during a deep-tissue massage, and it’s great for winding down when I get in bed at night. As a Chicagoan who’s easily wrapped up in big-city energy, it’s nice to have another tool in the relaxation toolbox.

Meditation can make you more self-conscious—in a good way.

After spending the morning learning how to meditate on more positive thoughts, I found myself making positive choices the rest of the day. I took a leisurely walk home, went on a bike ride, and made a healthy lunch. At a barbecue later that day, I abstained from booze and junk food. (OK, I had one mini cupcake. It was a birthday barbecue, I had no choice.) I’m not saying meditation is some magic switch that turns on Your Best Self, but it did inspire me to, like, try.

If nothing else, it’s good to try something new.

The teacher brought up a factoid that Google seems to corroborate: the average person has around 60,000 thoughts each day. As many as 80% of those thoughts are negative; up to 98% of them are recurring. Meditation is all about shutting down distracting thoughts—the teacher had us envision a box we could put them in and come back to later—to clear the mind and access new ways of thinking. So if Google is right, then it seems like most anyone could use the benefits of meditation.