The relationship between handling anxiety and meditation has always been a clear line for me—while I don't do it nearly as often as I should, just a few brief minutes of guided mediation (I use the app, Calm) are enough to give me the perspective I need to continue my day. If anyone understands the power of meditation to calm a hectic schedule, it's Suze Schwartz. Before she opened the L.A.-based meditation studio, Unplug, she was a self-described "stressed-out editor" (the Executive Fashion Editor-at-Large of Glamour, to be exact) for nearly ten years. Then, during a moment of anxiety on a family trip, her mother-in-law suggested she take a deep breath. "At that moment," she told me, "I realized, 'Oh my gosh, why don't I do that all the time?' Now I'm on a mission to get everyone excited about practicing it because it changes your life." But meditation isn't just for handling anxiety. Whether you meditate with an app, in nature, in a guided class—or have never tried it—here are 3 unexpected ways meditation can benefit your everyday life.
The Situation: You see something that upsets you and causes an immediate and intense reaction—a photo of an ex on Instagram, a mean text from a friend, something on the news—and want to throw a fit. "Think about how many times you've scorched the village when you're angry, then apologized afterwards," Suze said. Instead, use meditation to "press your inner pause button" and process your emotions so you can react in a way you'll be proud of once the fire is out of your eyes.
Suze's Advice: We all have our own tell when we start to react. For me, I get hot when I get upset, but the second you start to react, slow down your breath. Breathe in through your nose for four counts, hold for four, breath out for four, and repeat. By slowing down your breath, you send a signal to your brain that everything's okay, and are able to think more clearly.
The Situation: "Thoughts are very powerful," Suze explained, "If I imagine that I've achieved something, I become more powerful." But some thoughts, like the cruel ones we tell ourselves, have just the opposite effect. "Some people say they feel fat, or stupid—though it's usually a body thing," Suze said, "As a meditator, you can press pause and realize you're not fat. You get to stand up for yourself against your inner critic."
Suze's Advice: Close your eyes and imagine that you have a big jar, and on that jar is the label "Thought." Then, imagine a big blue apple—and try to really hold that apple, grab it, and imagine looking at that apple. You're probably thinking, "This looks strange, I've never seen a blue apple, yet here it is." Then put that blue apple into your "jar" and open your eyes. As soon as you open them, you'll realize that there's no such thing as a blue apple. In the same way, your cruel thoughts are exactly that: thoughts that have no basis in reality.
The Situation: You're reading a book and realize you've been staring at the same page for several minutes without reading a word, or you're sitting in a meeting when someone asks you, "What do you think?" and you realize you have nothing to contribute—you haven't been listening to a word. Instead, you were mentally preparing your shopping list, rehashing a conversation with a friend, or just zoning out. This is what Suze calls a "brain hike."
Suze's Advice: Our brains and bodies are not always in the same zip code, so when I notice that my brain has wandered and I'm bored, I do a simple exercise inspired by an instructor at Unplug, Heather Hayward. On my inhale, I internally say to myself "Here," and on my exhale, I silently say, "Now," and then I repeat it: Here Now, Here Now, Here Now, until I become here, now.
How do you meditate? At minimum, I give myself ten minutes a day in the morning, but I change up my routine daily or weekly [to avoid getting bored]. This week, I'm using a technique I learned from Tony Robbins on Oprah—I think of three things I'm grateful for, then three things I'd like to see happen, and three things I can be more loving towards in my life, then sit in silence for ten minutes. Last week, I was playing with Tibetan singing bowls and just listening to sounds. The week before that, I was using a mantra—my favorite is "Ahh-Humm." It doesn't mean anything, it just feels light when I say it.
Is there a right way or wrong way to meditate? No. That's the thing most people don't realize. You've already been doing it your whole life. Every time you take a deep breath, you're meditating. Every time you go into nature or close your eyes, you're meditating. I guess the only wrong way would be to close your eyes and immediately fall asleep...
Tips for being "in the moment"? Aside from using the "here... now" tip above, I just realize the only moment I have is right here, now. Even if there's another phone call coming in, I don't need to listen to that phone call. I imagine it's on silent and I stay present. The second I stop being present, I realize I'm not able to do everything. That's when we get overwhelmed.
Tips for first-time meditators? Buy our book, Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers. It includes fifteen meditations to get you started.
Where's the best place to practice meditation? You can do meditation anywhere. There are so many apps now [Ed note: Suze has her own, which you can download here!] that help with meditation, but studio's are also great. I love going to Unplug because there are so many great teachers—and you have to hand in your phone.