It seems like everyone from Kristen Bell to your aunt Jean is touting the benefits of mindfulness these days. And it’s not that you don’t believe them, it’s just, well—how the heck do you start? Here to help is Alexis Novak, the L.A.-based yoga instructor known for approaching her practice with vigor and a sense of humor. Get ready to seriously chill out.
Pick the Right Time
While Alexis likes to meditate in the evening as a way to wind down before bed, others find a morning meditation session to be more energizing than a shot of espresso. Ultimately, it’s about finding the time of day that works for you. “For beginners, pick a time that you know you’ll have ten to 15 undisturbed minutes to be alone,” suggests Alexis. Set a timer to start, and even if you’re not able to get into a completely clear headspace, challenge yourself to sit for that entire length of time. (Hard, we know.)
Set Up a Meditation Station
Even the most experienced meditation pros find it hard to calm their minds in the midst of clutter and mayhem. (Looking at you, desk chair that doubles as a clothes rack.) “It doesn't have to be fancy, but a few scented candles or some Palo Santo (an aromatic wood incense), with a gem or comfy cushion, can help make the area cozy and reserved for peace and quiet,” says Alexis.
Don’t be Afraid to Use Aural Aids
Need a helping hand? Get started with an online guided meditation (the Headspace app is great) that will navigate you to a blissful zen state (or at least give you some idea of what to do). Music can also be used during meditation, but opt for something without lyrics or words to help you focus.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up When Your Mind Starts to Wander
Because it will wander. “Use the very moment of distraction as an opportunity to recognize and shift your focus to your breath,” says Alexis. Yep, even if that means saying to yourself “breathe in and breathe out,” every 30 seconds. “I adopt the mantra 'There it is again' every time I am meditating and start to get intense thoughts swirling around. Instead of punishing myself and being so harsh, I just observe and say, 'There it is again,' with a sense of humor and shift my attention back to a simple inhale and exhale.” Sometimes meditation means fighting for attention, and that’s OK.
Here’s a simple exercise to help you get started: Find a quiet area to sit comfortably (use a rolled up towel or pillow to prop under your tail) and uninterrupted for five minutes. Set your timer and close your eyes. Don’t worry too much about the correct posture, and instead focus on being comfortable and relaxed. Now, scan your body from head to toe with your breath, taking inventory of how you feel without any judgement. “Play with visuals of your breath, creating an image of soft white light or a fluffy substance that grows with the inhale and softly deflates on an exhale,” says Alexis. And if your mind wanders, just remember to bring your thoughts back to the breath. Repeat a couple times per week and see if you can work your way up to ten minutes and then 15.