Like all things in fitness, meditation takes practice. And that’s true for beginners and more advanced meditators alike. Mediation requires a lot of trial and error—not every session is going to be a big success. Because of that, the practice can get a bad rep. But the benefits are overwhelming. If you’re new to meditation, or you’re frustrated as you try to find that center of gravity, remember that the more you try, the better you become at finding your zen. Here we share the meditation stories of ten people who were able to find something to connect their practice to so they could finally get into the meditation groove. You never know—it could be the same thing that helps you.
I decided to smile for a minute.
“I like to think of meditating the same way I think about exercise. Just like I don’t love all forms of exercise (I’ll never be a runner, but I love to bike and take yoga), I realized what works for some people won’t necessarily be what works for me. When I first began, I started out doing what one would think of as traditional meditation. Sitting legs crossed, hands in a mudra, and trying to quiet my mind by focusing on my breath.
“It wasn’t that it was horrible. It was just that I couldn’t wait for the timer to go off, so I was never consistent with the practice. But my practice transformed when I found what I did enjoy: writing! I began a gratitude journal as a form of concentration that quiets my mind, and thanks to an article I read about smiling (Did you know your mind can’t tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one?), I created a practice. I set several alarms a day to smile and just breathe for one minute until the alarm goes off. Funny enough, after doing these practices that I actually enjoy, I am now a morning meditator, and I don’t wait for the timer. In fact, I look forward to seeing just how much I can completely relax each time!” —Rebecca, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
I stopped using the word ‘meditation.’
“To help me get comfortable meditating, I took the word meditation out of my vocabulary. Somehow it seems less intimidating this way, kind of like instead of working out and/or exercise, one could say, ‘I am going to move my body for 30 minutes.’ It opens up a world of possibilities and helps me broaden my approach, therefore finding something I actually enjoy doing!” —Hillary, New York, New York
I stayed up in on a Saturday night.
“Meditating was hard at first, but I lost my meditation virginity on a random Saturday night. I decided to watch Netflix and relax instead of going out with my roommate … it just worked. It was surprisingly so easy! I had been putting it off because I felt like my mind was constantly go-go-go, but once you get the hang of it, it’s almost second nature.” —Danielle, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
I learned how to stay in the moment.
“I used to try and meditate in the bed lying quietly for 20 minutes. I found my mind would wander, and I really wasn’t meditating. Then I read an article that talked about really absorbing the moment you are in, really exploring it with all your senses. Now I can go on my back deck in the morning, close my eyes, listen to the birds, and feel the sun on my neck … and I love meditating!” —Malika, Atlanta, Georgia
I found a solution to insomnia.
“I cannot say for certain what one specific thing made meditation work for me. I think I was just so desperate to find a solution to relearn how to sleep and calm down. I had faith that because so many people were doing it, it would work for me—and it has done so, beautifully. Learning to meditate has cured me of eight years of chronic insomnia for which I used to take Ambien, which I now no longer need.” —Mary, Austin, Texas
I walked into my office and saw 322 emails.
“It clicked about a year ago. I walked to my desk on a Monday morning and looked at the 322 emails that I had to answer. It was overwhelming, and I was immediately stressed out. I plugged along for a few hours and managed to whittle the 322 emails to about 285. I was exhausted. I told myself I needed to break my day down and that I would take some time to refocus myself. It worked. I managed to get through the majority of the emails in about half the time I used to.” —Matthew, Montreal, Canada
I realized meditation could solve my binge eating problem.
“I used to think meditation was for yogis and bearded men who wear dresses. It wasn’t until I realized that meditating could solve my binge eating that I decided to try it. I heard that willpower is like a muscle and could be strengthened through meditation. The first time I tried was a disaster. I would start meditating and within three seconds be thinking about what I was going to make for dinner. It took practice, but now I love it! Like a muscle, willpower can grow, but it can also be fatigued. If willpower is like a cell phone battery, meditation is what charges it back up.” —Wendy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I used meditation to get over an illness.
“As a child I used meditation to control most of the symptoms associated with hay fever. In my early teens I moved away from my practice. I was more interested in fashion, pop stars, and boys. As a result my hay fever returned. I was in study hall with the hottest boy in my year when, to my horror, my nose chose that moment to drip on his hand. My inner voice said meditate, and I have every day since then.” —Wendy, Las Vegas, Nevada
I found a method that worked for me.
“There are thousands of techniques, and different ones work for different people. I’d tried a few but really was relaxing, not meditating. But when I got to the body-based techniques, I’d finally found a counterpoint to having lived in my head. The body techniques like vipassana often work well for type A’s because high performers tend to live in their heads. I tried ten days of a body technique, and by the end of it, I decided to change my life and use technology to spread the benefits of meditation to everyone.” —Nichol, San Francisco, California
I used my nose and breath to make it work.
“I’ve been meditating for 12 years, and the moment that it clicked was when I was meditating one day using alternate nostril breathing as a method to prepare for meditation as well as a tool to stay focused. I was counting my breath and holding the breath both in and out of the body. There was a moment when after holding my breath (to the count of 15), I wasn’t sure which way to breathe! I literally wasn’t sure if I needed to breathe in or out. It actually felt like I needed neither and could continue without breathing. Time was standing still, and I felt like I was just at center. Once I had a taste of that moment, it made it easier to return to the cushion knowing I could reach that point again.” —Ken, Charleston, South Carolina