How To Actually Convince Yourself To Start Meditating

Of course you want to meditate, but you're too busy. You always get distracted. You don't think you're doing it right. And so on. There are about a million excuses for why you "can't" meditate, despite knowing that it might just change your life.

Studies have shown that meditation can help us deal with everything from chronic stress to clinical anxiety, and possibly even change the physical structure of our brains in the process. Some researchers believe these changes make us more resilient to everyday pressures, and possibly more compassionate to those around us.

However, even if you're already convinced you want to take up a meditation habit, you're still going to run up against your fair share of challenges — including those excuses. For some pointers, we turned to Ralph De La Rosa, a meditation expert and therapist, for ways to make that habit just a bit easier to build. Get ready: full Zen ahead.

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Go To A Class
It might seem obvious, but going straight to a meditation class can be daunting for many beginners. “Still, there’s no substitute for the group energy of a class,” says de la Rosa. Even if it’s challenging — and it probably will be — going through that with other people may be the motivation you need to keep practicing.

For a beginner class in NYC, de la Rosa recommends checking out MNDFL or Maha Rose. If you’re elsewhere, though, the internet can help you find a place nearby.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Get Comfy
Do you absolutely have to sit in lotus position on a tiny cushion? The answer, says de la Rosa, is a resounding "no." In fact, he says that for the first year of his own practice, he sat in a chair. So, no, there is nothing special about sitting on the floor. "This stuff is hard enough," he says. "Who wants to deal with legs falling asleep, too?"

Feel free to grab a chair with some back support, sit with your knees at a 90-degree angle, and keep your feet flat on the floor. From there, it's much easier to sit up tall. And think of it like training wheels: If your back muscles start hurting, you can relax into the chair. But practicing that active posture will make it easier should you decide to transition back to sitting on the floor.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Make Your Space

"This is a pretty universal one," says De La Rosa. If you want to be meditating more often, it makes sense that you'd want to make your meditation space as inviting as possible. That means using the same space every day, keeping that space clean, and making it yours.

So feel free to surround yourself with flowers, sounds, candles, comfy pillows, blankets — whatever it takes to feel like a place you want to spend some time. Or if you're trying to strip away distractions, you could try to dedicate this space to being the one uncluttered corner in your apartment. The key is to figure out what would make you want to be there.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
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Focus on breathing.
Though you've probably heard countless yoga teachers stress the importance of breathing your way to a "Zen state," actually applying that advice is tricky. After all, breathing just happens whether we think about it or not, right?

If you're looking for some help, try enlisting the aid of a Spire wearable, which tracks your breathing and sends a push notification through your corresponding phone app every time it senses that you're feeling tense. From there, you can access a guided meditation that walks you through deep-breathing exercises.
Spire Mind and Body Tracker, $129.95 Buy
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Create An Altar

Another way to dedicate a space in your life to meditation is by creating an altar. This is a space where you can keep anything you use while meditating — and/or objects that remind you of the mindset you're after during practice. The altar can be on your nightstand, your bookshelf, or on a little table; it could hold your favorite calming candle, your iPhone speakers, crystals, or plants.

But like everything else about your meditation practice, what you put on your altar is totally up to you. It's about what feels right for your own unique approach. So, sure, you could buy a Buddha — but only if you feel like it.

"For the secular mindset, it's not necessarily about it being a sacred space or having religious icons on a table," says De La Rosa, "but it's just nice to light candles and have good smells and fresh flowers around — and it's more likely to entice you to practice."
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Try An App

If you're a total beginner, try an app like Headspace, which can be an on-the-go guide to starting mindfulness and breathing exercises — without the commitment (or potential for self-consciousness) of a class.

Other apps might be better for more seasoned meditators looking for specific training. For instance, Happify places meditation in the context of other happiness boosting exercises. And Karmic offers the more free-form experience of calming music on a timer, for however long you want to go. Try out a few of our favorites here.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Find Your Time

You've probably heard that the "secret" to creating a habit is to do the activity you're trying to make stick at the same time every day. But, the right time for you to meditate might not be when you wake up — or maybe it is! The only way to know what will feel best is to try it.

Maybe you'll do your best mindfulness work right before you head to bed, or you'll need some stress relief in the few minutes you actually get to sit down on the subway.

As time goes on, don't be afraid to get creative with your timing if you need to."If I'm too rushed in the morning or if I wake up late, I'll use my lunch break," De La Rosa says.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Find Your Mantra

A lot of people have this idea that meditation means completely turning your brain off, but it's really about being present. Finding a mantra to repeat to yourself during meditation is a great way to stay focused on what you're doing — rather than the 15 emails waiting in your inbox. Try doing some searching and experimenting to find a phrase that resonates with you. For instance, check out metta meditation, which has you send goodwill to yourself and other people.

Or maybe it's much simpler than that: "Something that helps me a lot when my mind is busy or I'm overcaffeinated is using the mantra 'Here,'" says De La Rosa."You're just calling the mind to be here."

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Start Small

If you're starting with an hour, or even just 15 minutes, it's easy to get psyched out in the first few moments. De La Rosa's advice: Don't get too ambitious too quickly.

"Begin with something totally manageable that you can sustain with some consistency," he says. "But remember that 10 minutes of meditation a day is a lot more than zero minutes of meditation a day."
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Try Ambient Music

Although De La Rosa isn't a huge fan of using music in his own practice, he says some people find it helps them focus.

"I would recommend anything ambient or really minimal," he says. "Think Brian Eno."

If you need a place to start, though, de la Rosa suggests "The Southern Sea" by Garth Stevenson, a spare but swelling track that he uses for meditation classes to emphasize mindfulness in our different senses.
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