Meditation Made Easy
Less stress in 2014? Yes, please. Follow Gabrielle Bernstein's tips to change your mind, body and life in just a few minutes a day.
If Learn to Meditate doesn't make your list of New Year's resolutions, Stress Less likely will. And, really, the two go hand in hand. We've all been inundated with news reports and books citing meditation as one of the best ways to reduce stress and boost happiness levels. Some claim it will even help you live longer. But with all the evidence stacked in its favor, why can it still feel so hard to actually sit still and make it happen?
“Even a few minutes a day is a great place to start,” says New York Times best-selling self-help author and Oprah favorite Gabrielle Bernstein. And Bernstein, a former PR girl whose own battle with drug and alcohol addiction led to a spiritual awakening, has earned a reputation as something of an expert on the subject. She completed the Kundalini yoga teacher training last summer and has been quick to incorporate many of these teachings into her talks and workshops as well as write about her favorites in her upcoming book, Miracles Now (out in April). She has also studied Transcendental Meditation (TM) with the David Lynch Foundation, which she has since credited with everything from reducing stress to combating issues with her skin. “It turns out my skin problems were all stress related!" she says. "I also don’t suffer anxiety the way I used to, which I can directly attribute to incorporating this practice into my life.”
If you're a newbie looking to adopt this restorative and stress-reducing practice in 2014, read on for Bernstein's 6-step tutorial.
Choose the optimal time and place
“Before the sun rises and between four and seven pm while the sun sets are considered to be the optimal times to meditate, in both the Kundalini and TM traditions. They call it the ‘witching hour,’ when the veil between our world and the spiritual world is lifted and it’s the easiest time to connect to the divine. It’s ideal to have a meditation space of some kind in your home, away from technology preferably. A specific space will ritualize your practice to help you get into the habit. But my intention is to teach people to practice meditation wherever they are—on the subway, in traffic, waiting in line at a restaurant.”
Find just a few minutes a day
“I like the TM structure of 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. That will change you and heal your body, but not a lot of people are prepared to do that, so I would suggest a few minutes in the morning as soon as you wake up, before you get out of bed even. Also, I would advise not using a timer—your mental alarm clock works better than anything! If you set the intention; ‘It’s 1pm and I want to finish at 1:20pm,’ you will, always. An alarm is jarring, which can be stressful and scary for your body if you’ve entered a deeply relaxed state.”
Learn to breathe properly
“Put your hand on your stomach and make sure that on the inhale your stomach is opening and expanding—as if there’s an umbrella opening up in your diaphragm, into your back ribs—and that on the exhale it’s deflating. You should always breathe this way; if it’s the opposite you’re suffocating yourself.”
Focus on your breath
“Breathe quickly in eight (or four if that’s too much) times through your nose, and out for one long breath through your nose. It really tunes you in quickly by helping you focus on your breath. The eight strokes in, one stroke out is also deeply calming for your nervous system.”
Repeat a mantra
“A great meditation if you’re just starting is to put your pointer finger and your middle finger on your pulse at your wrist. Then repeat the Kundalini yoga mantra “Sat Nam” (translation: “truth is my identity”) with every beat of your pulse as you continue deep breathing. Focusing on your pulse helps get you back into your mantra when your thoughts come and also deeply relaxes you.”
Embrace your thoughts
“When your thoughts come in, let them come. Don’t push them away, deny, or try to control them. In TM they teach that when thoughts come up a lot during meditation there’s some emotional root that needs to be healed, and that allowing them to come is part of the healing. Using a mantra gives you somewhere to go—so you can be in the thought, come back to the mantra, and you keep going backwards and forwards. Whenever you catch yourself thinking, just come back to your mantra.”