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Resources for Learning to Meditate

It took my therapist about a year to convince me to commit to daily meditation. I started down the path of meditation and yoga years prior to that, but, like most other attempts to take care of myself at that time in my life, it never stuck for more than a week or two. I was a stubborn, anxiety-filled perfectionist, and I would give up on anything that didn’t work immediately, or that I could not perfect overnight.

Like most of the changes I have made in my life in the past few years, it took a major wake-up call for me to finally get help and commit to healing. Daily meditation has become one of my most important tools in finding serenity, awareness, connection, and physical and mental health in my life.

Daily meditation has helped eliminate anxiety from my life. On the days I meditate even just for 15 minutes in the morning, I notice how much calmer I feel throughout the entire day. When I first started my daily meditation practice, I could feel my brain changing after several weeks of daily practice (or “sits” as they sometimes call it). This wasn’t just in my head (pun intended) – it has been shown in multiple studies that meditation actually changes the brain. Check out this study and this study, both published by Harvard researchers; or this one published by UCLA researchers (which is a little easier to digest in this Forbes article). You can Google “meditation studies” and find pages and pages of articles and scientific publications discussing the benefits of meditation.  

As I continue down the path of meditation and mindfulness, I am finding out that I am a “secular meditation practitioner,” meaning that I don’t meditate as part of a religious practice. I would consider meditation to be a spiritual practice, but not religious. From a purely scientific standpoint, it’s more of a physical practice than anything else: the quieting of the mind, and the calming of the limbic system - especially that pesky “fight flight freeze” part of the brain, called the amygdala (a.k.a. the “lizard brain”). There are so many benefits from a daily meditation practice that don’t necessarily involve religion. 

(At the same time, I do want to say that opening myself up through meditation has made me a much more spiritual person than I ever was before. I feel connected to the universe and supported by a benevolent power that is greater than myself, which has brought a lot of healing and relief into my life. I will save the “God talk” for another day, but I do think it’s important to be open to the full benefits of meditation - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.)

People are always asking me to share my meditation resources with them, so I wanted to put it all in one place online. Below is a list of the main resources I have used over the years to develop and maintain my daily meditation practice. I always suggest (as was suggested to me by my therapist) to start small – a timer set to 5 or 10 minutes at first, then going up from there. I’ve been meditating almost every day for over two years, and it’s still hard for me to go longer than 20-30 minutes!

1. Insight Timer App

This free app is probably the best place to start. It has a great timer with all kinds of bell sounds and customization tools, which I now use for my daily silent meditation practice. But it also has thousands of guided meditations, meditation music, themed playlists, and more. All free! You can search for 5min meditations or 60min meditations. I use the timer in the morning and the guided body scans or relaxation meditations at night.

2. Winter Feast for the Soul

This is an annual worldwide meditation “challenge” where teachers from all different philosophies put together 40 daily 40-minute meditations. The challenge is to meditate every day for 40 days. Participation is totally free, though I make a small donation each year. The meditations are available year-round in their full online meditation index. There are a lot of teachers to choose from, but my favorite this year is Anam Thubten. For beginners, I usually suggest Sarah McLean. They release a new “feast” of meditations each winter in January. Note: Because 40 minutes is a bit long for me in the morning, I use my meditation timer to break it up into 20 minute segments.

3. The Chopra Center

I learned to meditate with the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Meditation challenge several years ago. The series is free through their website and mobile app. It has become so successful that Oprah got involved with it a couple of years ago. They release a new challenge 1-2 times per year. You can sign up on their website to find out when the next one starts.

4. Tara Brach’s Podcast

Tara Brach is a Buddhist meditation teacher and psychologist who offers free weekly talks and guided meditations through her website and podcast (iTunes). I highly recommend subscribing and listening through her archives!

5. Swami Jnaneshvara & the Center for Nondualism

“Swami J” is a teacher of traditional yoga meditation in the Himalayan tradition. His website is overflowing with articles, links, and information about traditional yoga, meditation, and non-dualism. You can listen to his talks and guided meditations on his podcast (online or via iTunes). My favorites from his podcast are:

- “Developing Determination for Enlightenment”
- “Money, Sex, Fame, Health, Self, and Yoga”
- “Who’s Driving Your Chariot?”
- “11 Minute Meditation”

Sarah Saturday