To help keep your breath steady, picture a balloon inflating and deflating with each inhale and exhale. A tool on the Calm app called the “Breathe Bubble” gives you a visual to follow; the bubble’s speed is adjustable. “It supports people to [help them] easily breathe in, hold, and breathe out at a pace that feels comfortable,” says Tamara Levitt, head of mindfulness at Calm.
Finding a Meditation Technique That Works for You
If you’re quiet and focused on your breath, congratulations: You’re already practicing silent — or unguided — meditation. If that’s working for you, keep it up. But many beginners appreciate having their hand held (metaphorically) through guided meditation, in which a teacher leads you through the session. There are hundreds of techniques to choose from, so it’s important to find a guide and practice that resonate with you. Some common types of meditation include visualization (in which you focus on a mental image, like a stream of sunlight hitting your body), mantra (setting an intention by way of repeating a word, like “abundance,” or a phrase), and body scan (becoming aware of each part of your body as you perform a “self- scan” from head to toe).
Many practitioners combine elements of different techniques, especially when designing meditations in pursuit of a particular goal, like better sleep or sharper focus. An easy way to parse out what works for you is by downloading an app. Here, a few of our favorites.
The Best Meditation Apps
The interface is easy to navigate, and the library of courses is vast. (But as you might guess, the three-part Basics course — which teaches foundational techniques — is a good place for newbies to start.) For those who struggle to sit still during meditation, Headspace ($13/month) also offers a “Move Mode” that incorporates gentle movement and yoga poses.
The Insight Timer app is free, but we’d gladly pony up for access to its 100,000+ guided meditations — many of which are led by mindfulness experts such as Koya Webb and Alex Elle. While there aren’t step-by-step courses on the free version of the app, users can earmark their favorite meditations by creating a “playlist” or browsing those curated by other users.
Whether you’re a One Direction stan or a basketball fan, the Calm app ($15/month) has something for you. Harry Styles and LeBron James are just two of the many celebrities who have lent their voices to the app’s sleep-time stories and courses on mental fitness. Calm also offers simple exercises (like the aforementioned “bubble”) to turn to when you’re feeling anxious.
The Best Time to Meditate
You really shouldn’t check social media before meditating for the same reason you should avoid it before bed. “Checking your email, scanning the news, or glancing at your to-do list forces the mind into a beta brain wave state [a term used in neuroscience],” says Morris. “That is useful for judgment and problem-solving tasks, but also characterized by [states of mind such as] anxiety and hyperactivity, which are not conducive to meditation.” First thing in the morning — before you’ve been bombarded with the news of the day — is an ideal time to practice, says Morris.
How to Stick to a Meditation Routine
Some research suggests that “committing to a style of meditation and practicing it consistently allows us to best experience the cumulative effects,” says Ellie Burrows Gluck, CEO and co-founder of MNDFL, a meditation studio in New York City that also streams live classes. Studies have shown that these beneficial effects include reduced blood pressure, eased anxiety, and help with insomnia.