When LEARNING to free your mind with meditation, a well thought out strategy helps bring in a sense of calm and lets you check in with yourself.

From the outside, meditation can look positive. You're sitting still with your eyes closed, taking deep breaths. But anyone who has spent time meditating knows how active, and how intentional it can be.

In the stillness, your heart rate slows and your levels of cortisol - the hormone associated with stress - drop.

A regular practice can help with depression, chronic pain, anxiety and sleep issues. It's a sort of like stretching, but for your mind.

How to get started can be unclear : should you sit on the floor? Use an app? Chant or even come up with a mantra? And how long is long enough? If you don't read any further, the main take away from meditation teachers and psychologists is if it works for you, it works.


When you think of what meditating looks like, what comes to mind?  A lotus position, a yoga mat, a beautiful woodlined room?

If that's how you feel most comfortable practising, that's great. But some people prefer to lie flat on their backs, while others choose to sit on a chair : The key is to find a position where your body can feel strong yet neutral.

Toni Backman, an artist who puts together hip-hop mixes to shift her mind and energy, initially hesitated to consider her music-based practice meditation.

''There's that stigma,'' she said. ''To use the word ''meditation'' without using the word 'prayer' can feel airy-fairy.''

After long conversations with friends, Ms. Blackman who lives in New York, decided to record her own music and lead meditation classes with it.

''In hip-hop it's called 'getting open','' she said. ''To get open means that you're in a trance, you are in the zone. Your body starts to take over, and you surrender to whatever is going through you.'' Now, she says any activity, as an opportunity for meditation, from running to cooking.


''It's tough for everyone when they begin,'' Ellie Burrows Gluck, the chief executive of MNDFL, a New York meditation studio, wrote in an email. ''Like going to the gym or learning to play an instrument, you can't lose 10 pounds or play Mozart after a single session.''

Set up a framework for yourself by first picking a time and a place to meditate. You also start off slowly : If you were training for a marathon, you wouldn't begin with a 10-mile run.

''Ten minutes is great, five minutes is great,'' said Sara Lazar, the director of the Lazar Lab for Meditation Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. ''There's no 'should' '' 


In a corner of your home, set up an area dedicated to meditation. Some people call this an altar and add plants, rocks or candles. If that's your thing, full steam ahead. Or just pick a place in your home that is quiet and makes you feel calm.

''I don't think that people have to do anything fancy,'' said Diana Winston, the director of  Mindfulness Education at the University of California, Los Angeles's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center and the author of ''The Little Book of Being.'' 

But a separate space is important, said Tony Lupinacci, a 35-year-old yoga and meditation teacher who leads retreats and training around the world.
''This is not your bed, maybe not even your couch,'' he said.


This might seem counterintuitive - phones are often enemies of calm. But working through your first few meditation sessions with some guidance will help you find your groove.

That's because meditation is not just sitting still for a few minutes. It's part of a broader philosophy, with thousands of years of history and training.

Mr. Lupinacci was against apps for a long time and still prefers to work directly with his students [and his own teacher]. But he really enjoys Calm, which has a seven-day free trial and then a yearly fee subscription of $69.99

There's also Insight Timer, which is free and also popular. Or consult Wirecutter, a product recommendation site that's owned by The New York Times, which recently updated its guide to meditation apps. Headspace [which costs $69.99 a year] is ranked first.


You're doing this for you, so that you feel more settled in yourself and in the world. So, just let yourself sink into whatever your practice is for that day.

If you don't want to use an app, you could try visualization, like picturing yourself somewhere calming and beautiful. Or just breathe in for six counts and out for six counts.

Pay attention to your body - where your legs touch the floor, how your spine feels - and listen to yourself.

The World Students Society thanks author, Amelia Nirenberg.


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