How to Start Meditating, Once and For All

It's as easy as breathing in and out—no really.

photography by PHUONG NGUYEN


If Suze Yalof Schwartz, CEO and Founder of Unplug Meditation can impart one piece of information about meditation, it is this: “If you can breathe, you can meditate. It has zero negative side effects. And the only people it doesn’t work for is the people that don’t do it.”

And Yalof Schwartz would know. She created Unplug, the world’s first secular drop-in meditation studio, after seeing the drastic changes meditation imparted on her, and wanted to share the benefits with others. “I thought meditation needs a makeover and I’m going to do it.”

Fitting, as she was once known, according to the New York Times, as “the Fairy Godmother of Makeovers” after years at the top of publications like Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour (styling the famous “Do’s and Don’ts” section there), and conducting makeovers for shows like Oprah, Today, and Good Morning America. But one simple thing led her to meditation: “Stress. My mother-in-law said you need to breathe. Breathe in as slowly as you can, and as slowly out as you can. And visualize your happy place. And three minutes later, I realized I was calm.”

One bestselling book (Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers), a meditation app, pop-up meditation classes collaboration with Athleta (#permissiontopause), and a revolutionary meditation studio later, the rest is history.

We asked Yalof Schwartz for a starting point for beginners, and she gave us some epic beginning tips.

BEGINNER'S GUIDE

  • Close your eyes. Breathe in through the nose. And exhale loudly out of the mouth. Try to just listen to all the noises all around you and how your feeling, be aware. Once you notice you have a thought, go back to focusing on the breathing again and start over.  
  • Feel the air on your skin, smell the air around you, hear the birds around you, the noises. If your brain wanders to the to-do list and you realize you’re no longer meditating, begin again. "It’s almost like doing a bicep curl for your brain—every time you think, you redirect your brain. And the more you do that, that’s actually how you change the structure of your brain."
  • Still having trouble focusing? Try essential oils. “Whole Foods has a great orange essential oil by Now, (and orange scents makes you happy) and put a little in your palms and rub your hands. You smell it, you put your hands down and start listening to everything around you, be aware of the present moment and when your mind starts to wander, bring your hands back up and smell your hands again, and be aware of the moment again. Essential oils can totally shift your mood, and put you in the present moment. You want to get your mind and body in the same zip code.”
WHY MEDITATE?

Brain Power
It can literally strengthen your brain—primarily the frontal cortex, which is the part that controls memory and executive decision making. (Watch this fascinating TEDx talk by neuroscientist Sara Lazar, who showed how meditation reshapes the brain, and scans of fifty-year-old meditators had as much active gray matter in that region as twenty-five-year-old non-meditators.)

Immediate Results 
In that same study by Lazar, non-meditators were asked to meditate daily for 30 to 40 minutes, and at the end of the eight weeks, the new meditators had changes in the brain regions that control learning, memory, focus, emotional regulation, empathy, and more.

In Control 
“There is a way to be in control of your reactions and emotions, rather than the other way around," says Yalof Schwartz. (According to the National Science Foundation, the average person has approximately 50,000 thoughts a day, stealing our attention away from the present moment.)

Less Stress, More Joy
A study done by research scientists at UC Davis showed that meditation can lower the amount of cortisol in the body, otherwise known as the stress hormone. Less cortisol, less stress, more capacity for joy. And a separate study done at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine showed that meditation can provide a level of relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression similar to that of antidepressant drugs. But no prescription needed!

More Creativity
You’ll rewire your brain so you can more easily shift out of the amygdala and into the prefrontal cortex, where the inspiration turns into ideas, and ideas into execution.

Our other favorite meditation experts weigh in on where to begin: 

Kelly Morris, Sacred Feminine meditation teacher:

“The hardest part about meditation is sitting up. Seriously. The warm bed, the handsome lover, the coffee, all will show up as super important, and definitely more exciting than some silly little meditation practice that hurts your knees and makes you feel like some Hindu imposter. How could something to small, so still actually be so powerful? It seems impossible. How could it be? I am just SITTING THERE. How could just sitting there single handedly enhance every single area of your life? But over time, your practice will become your touchstone, your home, the place where you are most yourself. If when you were a child on all fours, your mother encouraged you to walk and you gave up, you'd be speaking to her knees right now.”

Biet Simkin, meditation expert:

“Start with books, audio—anything that will remind you how to do it. Listen, and notice what teachings make you feel good and what teachings do nothing at all. Follow what makes you feel good. Light a candle, set some flowers, gaze at a beautiful painting, put on some beautiful meditation music (perhaps download "The Lunar by Biet" on iTunes or Spotify) and sit there and go inward. You can begin with 15 minutes a day. The aim is just simply to do nothing sometimes. It gives your heart a chance to enter into the equation.”

Morgan Rose, yoga and meditation expert:

“The easiest way to begin is to begin. Ha! But really, find a sweet spot, clean and tidy, and sit. Start with two minutes. Then five. Then seven. And so on. Set a timer, and no music to start, just watching your breath. In and out, in and out. Begin to feel comfortable just settling with your breath and your body. That’s it.

APPS TO TRY:

Meditation assistance is now an app away, and you can choose your own adventure. Here’s a few of our favorites: 

If you want options (time, theme, teacher, etc): Unplug ($12.99 a month/$93.99 a year
If you want a bedtime story with that meditation too: Calm ($12.99 a month/$60 a year)
If you want the OG meditation app: Headspace($7.99 a month)
If you want some mindful reminders too: Stop, Breathe And Think ($6.99 a month)

Related meditation reading:
The Best Meditation Apps to Help You Zen Out
This Is How Meditation Gurus Sleep Like Babies
11 Ways to Create the Perfect Meditation Nook at Home

Published on August 19, 2017 - 6:00am EDT

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