Meditation can be many things. To name a few: intimidating, boring, an activity to be avoided at all costs, at least if you’re like most people I know. That said, it’s also a powerful tool for our health. As Forbes notes, studies show meditation can have significant impacts on anxiety and depression, can increase focus and concentration, and can even be helpful when quitting addictive behaviors like smoking.
My point? Don’t shoot the messenger, but we should probably all start embracing the practice. But … how?
Enter Jess Naim, reformed meditation-dreader who now teaches meditation to the masses, to rescue us all. As she confesses, before morphing into a meditation guru herself, “I was like your average neurotic modern person. I was always on my phone, always had some sort of distraction going on, and I wasn’t necessarily showing up for myself and didn’t know how to. I was doing all the right things, achieving at my job, and I was like, ‘I have my shit together, but I still feel anxious.’” Have more relatable words ever been spoken?
The idea of sitting down to meditate was about as appealing as the idea of sitting down to have 10 teeth pulled. “When I was told to meditate, I screamed inside because I didn’t want to,” she says. “I had so much anxiety. I was scared of the silence.” Again, relatable.
But eventually she started—with a not-so-scary three minutes of meditation a day—and now she’s been teaching meditation for four years and uses the practice as a formative tool in her life to gain clarity, recharge and even be a better boss (in her other life, she’s a designer at Free People).
Below, Naim’s top tips for embracing meditation when you, um, really don’t want to. For a more guided intro to meditation, you can also catch her at her in-person workshops, which you can find here.
1. Start short. Like one-minute short.
You know that image you have in your mind of meditation being an hours-long process spent cross-legged on the ground? Erase that. Naim says you can start with one minute of breathing a day. Yes: One measly minute.
Her instructions: Sit, eyes closed, and simply focus on your breathing. Inhale for four seconds, exhale for six seconds, and repeat. “If you do that for one minute, it calms your nervous system so your body gets on board with sitting down. If you can do one minute, you’ll be able to pick up on the difference you’re feeling. Even just doing that every day can be profound for your health.”
One minute of breathing is essentially Naim’s gateway drug to longer meditations, but if you don’t ever want to be an hours-spent-meditating person, you don’t have to be. In fact, Naim is a fan of shorter meditations, around 20 minutes. “I’m not someone who’s super good at regimen, so things have to be achievable for me to get excited about doing them.” Hear, hear.
2. Know that if your mind won’t shut-up, that’s totally fine.
There’s a myth that meditating means silencing the cascade of stressful thoughts running through your head (see: “Wait, where did I leave my car keys?!” and “OMG, I totally forgot to send my boss that email). But Naim says that if you can’t shut those thoughts off, it’s fine. Really.
“If you sit down and your mind is telling you, ‘OMG, I can’t go to this event tonight,’ honor that. Maybe you’re getting a message for yourself,” she says. “Ask yourself, Why do I feel anxious? And do a little self-inquiry. Essentially, when we sit down to meditate, we want to go home to ourselves. And ideally we relieve that energy that isn’t ours”—the energy that comes from a day spent dealing with other people and stressful situations—”and we get clarity. Truly, one minute of breathing and self-inquiry will accumulate. A week of that, you’re going to know yourself a little bit more and you’ll have given your nerves a break.”
So thoughts are fine—welcome them instead of swatting them away, and you might start to understand yourself a bit more.
3. Do it for the people around you, not just for yourself.
Sometimes, things we think we’re doing just for ourselves tend to take a backseat to things we have to do for others (see: feed kids, meet your boss’s expectations, etc.). But as Naim points out, meditation has quite the ripple effect.
“At Free People, I have 17 people that I oversee. I have to manage people. I wouldn’t be doing this job, if I didn’t have this practice. It’s my responsibility as a leader to do this—it trickles down. If someone’s a boss or a leader, they owe it to themselves to adopt this practice. They owe it to their people. This goes for parents, too.”
Her point: When you are less stressed, more focused and have clarity in your own life, that will trickle down into the lives of your employees, your kids and all the other loved ones around you. So when you’re feeling stressed about taking time for yourself when you, um, have no time, remember that you’re not just doing it for you.
4. Don’t be a snob about it.
There are plenty of apps out there for meditation, so use them! Sure, it can feel like something a character in a crappy romance novel would do after being left at the altar, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile tools. Apps like Headspace make meditation accessible, and that’s key.
As Naim notes, part of breaking down the intimidation factor surrounding meditation is to stop taking it so seriously. “We need to be light about doing it so that we do it,” she says.
5. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Fact: You probably won’t feel like Deepak Chopra’s clone after your first one-minute meditation. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It’s a practice—which means you’ve got to keep doing it and, if your story is anything like Jess Naim’s, it’ll pay off in big ways later down the line. “That’s really the crack of it,” Naim says. “Your life is going to start to unfold differently.”
Let our meditation mavens help you reach your mindfulness goals in our Focus classes at City Fitness.