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Meditation has been on my back-burner health to-do list. For months, it’s been right there with removing sugar from my diet, taking a shot of apple cider vinegar every day, and oil pulling each morning. All health goals with good intentions—and ones I haven’t been able to commit to.
Which is why I jumped at the chance to try Yoga Journal’s meditation challenge. I’ve read about the numerous benefits of meditation, from enhanced concentration to stress release. I thought the accountability of this challenge would once and for all catalyze a consistent practice.
In fact, when I started this challenge in early January, it seemed like one of the simpler ‘challenges’ I’d do: Sit down, listen to a guided meditation, and boom, 15 to 20 minutes later I’m done.
As all of you regular meditators out there know, I was misguided in my thoughts of how easy it would be!
So, if you are trying the guided meditation challenge yourself, here are some guidelines that most helped me:
1. Timing is Everything
The biggest obstacle for me initially was finding a consistent time of day to meditate. I drive 45 min each way to get to work, which means I wake up at 6 a.m. each morning, leave for work at 8 a.m., arrive home around 7 p.m., and eat dinner around 7:30 p.m.. I try to force myself to be in bed by 8:30 p.m. so I can read or journal before turning the lights out.
When does this leave me time to meditate, you wonder? Here’s what I tried:
My guided meditations in the evening
I’m a natural night owl, which is why I initially thought meditating in the evening would be best. I could wind down after work and meditate before eating dinner. Yet by 7:30 p.m. most nights, I was starving, and decided to put off my guided meditations until 8 p.m. Not a good call: After a long day (and long commute), the last thing I wanted to do was another to-do, so I quickly abandoned my nighttime meditation plan.
Then, I tried a few guided meditations at the office
I’ve read a few articles about how some people find time to meditate at work. Work is typically the most stressful part most people’s days—so it makes sense to me that interrupting stress with meditation would be effective. One day during my first week of the meditation challenge, I escaped to a small conference room around lunchtime to meditate. (Granted, I work for Yoga Journal, so didn’t worry about skeptical stares peering in on me through the windows—a luxury I know not everyone has!) After my first lunchtime guided meditation at the office, I decided to stick to it for a week. Overall, it was nice in theory—but if I’m honest, I also felt guilty being away from my inbox and colleagues for those 10 minutes, so I can’t say it was my most relaxing meditation sessions.
Morning meditation sessions turned out to be best
When I started this challenge, I avoided incorporating mediation into my morning at all costs. After working out in the a.m., I have just 35 minutes to get out the door. Needless to say, it’s a rushed get-ready routine. Then, I had an ah-ha moment: I realized because my mornings are so hectic, mornings may be exactly the time to insert my guided meditation practice. After evaluating my a.m. routine even more, I was able to pinpoint moments I was being mindless. Whether it’s catching up on SNL video clips, scrolling through Pinterest (yes, I still enjoy a good Pinterest sesh), or reading one of the many articles my mother sends to our family group chat, I realized I could find at least 10 minutes to sit comfortably and listen to a guided meditation. So, for the remainder of January, I settled down to meditate after my workout and shower.
As a beginner meditator, I found it extremely helpful to meditate after a good workout. My body was just tired enough that my mind found it easier to relax and focus on the present. Finding the right time for me made the experience so much more enjoyable. Keep in mind, it might not be easy to just incorporate into your regular daily routine. (Warning: Mindless social media scrolling may need to be cut!) But one of the biggest lessons I learned is that the routine of meditating is crucial if you want to stay consistent.
My Favorite Guided Meditation Tools
One of the best parts of Yoga Journal’s meditation challenge was being able to explore the different tools and applications that guide us through meditation. I know our culture is currently digitally obsessed—but what a great use of technology! The applications help us detach from the craziness of being glued to our screens and inspire us to just sit and breathe. A little ironic? Sure. But also very convenient!
Here are the guided meditation apps I tried, and what I thought of each:
Initially, I thought this application would be best to use since I spend so much of my weekday in the car. I’m already sitting down, so why not utilize this time in the car to be more mindful? The app walks you through different simple stretches with relaxing music. I found this helped me be a little more present on my drive—but it didn’t necessarily qualify as meditation to me. The audio reminded me numerous times to keep focused on the road and not become too relaxed, which I greatly appreciated. But it didn’t meet my goals to become more aware of my thoughts and more comfortable sitting with my breath.
Headspace and Calm
Next, I tried two different meditation apps: Headspace and Calm. I found both of these helpful in my journey to learn exactly what meditation is. Headspace provided a 10-Day Basics course and allowed me to choose from 3-, 5-, or 10-minute sessions. I appreciated this since, as a beginner, 3-5 minutes was plenty for me. This course also has little animations, which helped me visualize different elements of meditation better.
After the 10 days, I felt accomplished and ready to move on Calm’s “7 Days of Calm.” I’m glad I used this app second, since the Calm meditations are around 10 minutes, and that would’ve felt too hard for me at the start of my journey. While 7 Days of Calm was similar to Headspace’s Basics course, it had the added bonus of giving me a concrete intention of what to focus on each session, which I often carried with me throughout my day.
The Ultimate Secret to Sticking to Meditation: Ritual
When I roll out my mat for a yoga class, the rubber of my mat alone grounds me. I associate my mat and nestling my forehead into Child’s Pose with feelings of relaxation and rejuvenation. I knew I had to create the same safe, sanctuary-like space for my meditation practice in order for it to stick, so for each guided meditation session during my last week of the challenge, I set up my space very intentionally: I propped my mediation cushion next to my mala beads and used my alarm clock light along with my bedside lamp to create a soft glow in my room; I turned on my essential oil diffuser and inserted whichever scents called to me; I changed into super-soft, comfy clothes; then, I began my practice.
What I learned is that creating this mini ritual helped me relax a bit before my guided meditation even began and set my mind and body up for the practice.
Overall, I found this meditation challenge, well, challenging. Yet it had profound effects—including the boost in concentration and stress release I’d read about at the start.
As a beginner, I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to access meditation so easily and regularly. I ended up buying a subscription to the Calm meditation app and am excited to continue my meditation journey and practice.