Dream Big: Meditate Daily

by Beth Shapouri Health Writer

Meditation has a bunch of benefits, but the one all of us could probably use, er, right now, is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. So, if you try this step-by-step 30 day challenge for no other reason, try it for your peace of mind and the break that a mindfulness practice gives your over-worked nervous system.

Week 1: Set the Tone

Here’s the science: By now you know meditation, the practice of being fully, mindfully in the moment, is a good idea—according to a research review in the Journal of Religion and Health, it’s shown to help everything from sleep quality to cognitive function to the physical and emotional effects of cancer treatment. But, for many, the idea of sitting for minutes at a time with nothing but our thoughts can be intimidating.

However, experts insist that once you get started you may realize that you actually look forward to the quiet time. In fact, it’s something meditation expert Liv Bowser, the founder of Liberate, an L.A.-based mental fitness studio that blends physical movement, mindfulness, and community, has seen in her clients. With her guidance we’ll take mindfulness sessions from “I wish I did it” to a daily practice—and love every step of the way.

Move-the-Needle Monday: Your first step is simply to set yourself up for success by preparing yourself for mindfulness without diving—head-first—into the deep end. Mini-breathing episodes will help you start to embrace doing nothing in a very easy way. Says Bowser, “For new meditators it can feel like such a daunting practice, so whatever it takes for you to get to that one minute to start—if you want to do it with your eyes open or while you’re still in bed, there's no wrong way to meditate.”

Also on your to-do list this week? Setting up a meditation space in your house so you’ve got a place all carved out for future sessions.

The plan: Start the week off by staying in bed and focusing on the in-and-out rhythm of your breath for one minute before getting up. Don’t worry about doing it right or wrong; just do it. It’s one moment of mindfulness that will set the tone for the whole day without sucking you into a full meditation session … yet.

On Tuesday, start scouting out a place in your house to set up as a meditation corner. On Wednesday and Thursday, your task is to move anything out of that area that may cause distraction (photos, electronics, books, games, etc.) and warn your family about your upcoming quiet time. On Friday, try starting the day with another one-minute breathing session.

Then, over the weekend, schedule one three-minute meditation—you can simply set a timer and breathe or use a guided session via an app of your choice (such as Headspace). You may feel your thoughts drift, and that’s normal! “The idea is just to notice your thoughts—don’t try to stop them. Meditation is the ability to note your wandering mind, and then focusing back on the present,” explains Bowser.

Top tip: Bowser’s shortcut to creating a meditation zone that helps you feel centered: “Bring in something to activate each of your five senses. I might use a candle in the space for smell, a soft blanket for touch, tea for taste, a plant to bring nature in with your sight, and meditation music for sound.” Spending a few seconds on each one can help you become present in the space and set the right tone.

And that's all we've got for week one of your April Dream Big challenge! Dip your toes into the water and give these goals a test drive. Try one or go for all three—either way, meet us back here next Monday for more fun.

Week 2: Try Out Different Styles

Here’s the science: While you may expect to have to wait awhile to feel results from your meditation sessions, there’s at least one benefit that can come pretty much instantly: a reduction in stress. A study by Michigan Technological University found that a single 60-minute session was all it took to see changes in blood pressure and anxiety. Now, a full hour of meditation might be a bit much to jump into (and we’re not asking you to!) but it just goes to show that it doesn’t take months of practicing mindfulness to see benefits.

Move-the-Needle Monday: This week your goal is to explore different kinds of mediation to find the methods that feel right to you. After all, there are many ways to get in the moment. “There are so many options from sitting meditation, walking meditation, mantra meditation, body scans, gratitude meditation,” says meditation expert Liv Bowser, the founder of Liberate, an L.A.-based mental fitness studio. Whatever you try, don’t worry about being perfect at any one. “There’s no way to fail!” Bowser insists.

The plan: Select four types of meditation you’d like to try and give them a go this week. For example on Monday, you might start with a meditative writing exercise, where you simply write free-form to the prompt, “In this moment,...” On Wednesday you can attempt a guided session with an app like Insight Timer. Then, on Friday, attempt a mantra-based practice in which you repeat (10, 20, however many times it takes for you to believe it) an affirmation like, “I am living light.” On Saturday try a 15-minute nature-bathing walk in which you take in the elements of nature and hyper-focus on your breath as you enjoy time outdoors. Pay attention to how you feel after each type—different methods speak to different people and finding your fit can be the key to success.

Top tip: Don’t meditate hungry! “In the beginning, you want to make sure you’re in a personal state where you’re not going to need anything for a few minutes, including a breakfast sandwich!” says Bowser. So, make sure your stomach isn’t growling and you feel hydrated. “The fewer things to distract you while you’re learning, the better.”

And there you have it: The blueprint for another week of living well, eating right, and making your body stronger. These challenges take effort, but they should also bring joy as you see small improvements. Remember, it's your life. It's up to you to make the most of it.

Week 3: Stay Still... Longer

Here’s the science: You might start to notice your focus sharpening this week at work. That’s because mindfulness has been proven to help with attention span. In fact, a 2018 longitudinal study in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement spanning seven years found that the practice not only helped to enhance focus but it off-set age-related declines in response time. A simple, free practice that keeps your brain young and razor sharp? Sign us up.

Move-the-Needle Monday: This week your goal is to do something meditative at least five days, including one longer session over the weekend. Somewhere along the way, don’t be surprised if you start craving your meditation—meditation expert Liv Bowser, the founder of Liberate, an L.A.-based mental fitness studio, says this is around the time when she begins to see the magic of the body understanding the importance of stillness. “You'll start to really look forward to the time because you’ll realize ‘this makes me feel good. This is taking care of myself.’” But, she warns, “Your mind may actually start wandering more as you increase your time!” Just notice the thoughts and try to turn your attention back to your breath.

The plan: Your mission in week three is to deepen your practice by adding time to your favorite forms of mediation. A sample schedule: Monday, start the day with a 15-minute meditation walk, Tuesday try a six-minute gratitude meditation, Wednesday do an eight-minute guided meditation, and Friday add in a 10-minute before-bed sleep meditation. A challenge for the weekend: Add in a one 20-minute session now that you’re getting the hang of it.

Top tip: If you’re a parent finding your kids are having trouble leaving you alone during your mediation sessions, try getting them involved by asking them to do a body scan. “We find this works in kids six and up—we have them focus on the sensation of their bodies from their head to their toe,” says Bowser. By getting them to understand what you’re doing they might not only respect your quiet time, they just might join you for a portion of it!

Week 4: Incorporate More Meditation Throughout Your Day

Here’s the science: You may start to feel a much-welcome side effect this week: the quality of your sleep is better. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness practices were more effective at reducing insomnia and fatigue than sleep education. The study's authors theorized that this could have a major impact in the overall quality of life in people struggling with sleeping issues ... which feels like everyone these days.

Move-the-Needle Monday: This is the week that you’ll make meditation a daily practice, with two longer sessions sprinkled in to up your benefits even more. Another goal this week: Start to bring that mindfulness outside of your actual mediation time by adding in mid-day check-ins. Liv Bowser, a meditation expert and the founder of Liberate, an L.A.-based mental fitness studio that blends physical movement, mindfulness, and community, says the overall idea is to bring mindfulness into all corners of your life, and to help tap into a feeling of calm anytime, anywhere.

The plan: On Monday, schedule a long 15- to 20-minute session. Might as well start your week off in a relaxed and dialed-in state. Tuesday through Friday, schedule at least 10 minutes of your day doing some meditation of your choosing. On Friday, you’ll also want to start setting an alarm at noon every day to spend one minute giving yourself a quick “What am I feeling in this moment?” check-in—and keep that going forward. On Saturday or Sunday, do a long session (at least 20 minutes). Sandwiching every few days with extended meditations is one of Bowser’s secrets to staying on track: ”It’s just a nice way to begin and end your week.”

Top tip: For the days when you just can’t squeeze in even a full minute, Bowser says you can still get in some mindfulness by taking a quick 30 to 45 seconds to focus on something you’re thankful for. “You can use a talisman of some kind if it helps—I use my necklace. Interact with that item [twirl it or tap it] and just take a breath to think of one thing you're grateful for.” It may not seem like a lot but, she says, “these little moments allow you to connect with yourself anytime, anywhere, so you don’t end up with those days where it's 7 p.m., and you find yourself thinking, “I haven't breathed today!”

Impacts of One Session: Michigan Technological University. (2018.) "Meditation could help anxiety and cardiovascular health." plan.core-apps.com/eb2018/abstract/8bf13c01-6090-4bc8-827f-779d9e1991a4

Beth Shapouri
Meet Our Writer
Beth Shapouri

Beth Shapouri is an award-winning beauty, health, wellness, and lifestyle freelance writer whose work has appeared in Glamour.com, Elle.com, Health Monitor, Magnolia Journal, Marie Claire, RealSelf.com and more. Career highlights include a multi-year stint as Lead Beauty Writer for Glamour.com and contributing to a New York Magazine package on circumcision that received a National Magazine Award for service.