Meditation was once viewed as a practice reserved exclusively for the yoga-posing, wheatgrass-sipping, crystal-touting crowd; a spiritually-indulgent act that busy people just didn’t have the time—or the devotional capacity—to get behind. Growing from a niche practice to an all-out wellness craze in just a few years, however, meditation has certainly gone mainstream, and anyone can reap the benefits of practicing mindfulness in their everyday life.
For many busy Americans and city-dwellers, penciling in time to meditate seems an insurmountable feat. Fortunately, injecting your already-packed schedule with mindfulness is easier than it seems. Observer spoke to holistic healer and meditation coach Aaron Teich to better understand why we should prioritize meditation, and how to begin incorporating it into our daily routines. Studying Comparative Religion at Harvard University, Teich translated his deep understanding of Buddhism and the practice of meditation into a private healing practice with locations in New York City and The Hamptons, where he helps clients realize the full potential that practicing spiritual and physical wellbeing has to improve their lives.
First and foremost, we wanted to learn what meditation really means. Popular culture depicts it as simply sitting down, legs-crossed, eyes-closed, patiently awaiting a mindful, refreshed outlook. Teich informs us that meditation is less of a physical act and more of a way to train the mind to see the world in a different light, gaining more control over how we approach life and allow it to affect us. “The stream of thought that dominates inner experience and inspires outer action tends to be far more multifaceted and uncontrolled than we generally recognize,” Teich explains. “Meditation encompasses a set of techniques for becoming more aware of the mind’s dynamics, which in turn offers the possibility of effective self regulation. We discover who we are under the hood, and apply that understanding to think and act more effectively and intentionally.”
Teich acknowledges that meditation can be intimidating when first starting out, and stresses the importance of maintaining a regular sustained practice. “Many new students find meditation difficult at first and often write it off too quickly. Sitting with the endless flow of thought and feeling without our usual outlets can be intense, even uncomfortable, with little noticeable benefit,” he told Observer. “However, with even as little as a week or two of regular practice, the inner noise can begin to subside, and deeper spaces of quiet, joy, and even ecstasy reveal themselves. With sustained practice, these positive states become more stable and infiltrate our experiences off the mat.”
For those new to meditation, Teich recommends taking it outdoors; it can even be as simple as taking a walk in the park on your lunch break, or carving out time over the weekend to get out in nature. The Japanese art of Shinrin-yoku, or the act of immersing yourself outdoors in a wooded area, is accompanied with countless benefits for your mental and physical health. Shinrin-yoku, more commonly referred to as “forest bathing,” has been proven to be medically beneficial; a 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that participants who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress in the body.
“Our minds have the tendency to become myopic within our own thoughts,” Teich told Observer. “Immersing oneself in the movement, sounds, and beauty of nature can effectively take us out of our own heads, complementing and even jump starting the expanded range of awareness that meditation can offer.”
Maintaining a sustained practice requires a considerable level of commitment, and it can be hard to understand just what you’re getting out of it after all that time on the mat. Teich explains that investing your time in meditation isn’t something that pays off in the moment, but creates positive change that has the power to resonate in all areas of life. “Innumerable benefits from practicing meditation have been reported and discovered: increased focus and energy, better sleep, less stress and more calm, being more present for activities and relationships, to list a few—because all life experience is mediated through our minds, becoming more aware of thought processes has an impact throughout the full spectrum of our lives.”