I’m a fast-paced, impulsive, stress-magnet New Yorker. I’m more in my head than in the moment, and my tendency to overanalyze doesn’t exactly help. I get bored easily, silence makes me anxious, and I’m constantly on the go (both physically and mentally). In theory, meditation makes sense for me, but it’s the one thing on my daily to-do list that will get bumped to tomorrow. I know meditation is not as easy as just closing your eyes, but it’s one of the most important factors for quality health and well-being. I often postpone doing it, but I want zen in my everyday life, and I knew I needed to make time for it. So I checked into a meditation retreat far, far away.
Studies show meditation, a practice used by hundreds of religions, philosophies, and organizations since 5,000 BC, enhances mood and self-esteem and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Meditation can also help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation, and it can physically reduce brain aging. Studies also show that 15 minutes of meditation can create higher levels of well-being and lower levels of negativity.
I learned how to meditate in 2017 when I checked into Ananda Spa in Rishikesh, India. The all-inclusive wellness resort, known for meditation, yoga, and healing, is secluded in the foothills of the Himalayas with programs that Oprah Winfrey approves of (Oprah visited Ananda in 2014 and said it was “the most authentic spa experience I’ve ever had”). Ananda has a high level of luxury, modern comforts (heated outdoor pool, terraced restaurant, spa), passionate meditation and wellness gurus, and comprehensive diet consultations. One could be as involved as they like with lectures and group activities or find holistic alignment (and some pampering) at their own pace. The best value: I was completely removed from my busy NYC life, immersed in nature and “good energy” at a resort designed to better myself, surrounded by similar people who all wanted the same results. Here, I would take meditation seriously and build habits of mindfulness.
Self-awareness and clarity didn’t come gradually; it happened within the first day. I followed a personalized meal plan built around my diagnosed poor digestion, which affected my sleep, which affected my mental health, which affected my back pain, which affected my overall wellbeing. Diet helped in a significant way, and eating healthy, vitamin and antioxidant-rich, mostly plant-based meals, truly impacted my moods. I felt more energetic and confident, but it was the meditation that allowed me to change the direction of my stressful life.
I thought meditation was about putting your mind in a good place, and thinking about how you can achieve personal goals, but it’s the complete opposite. Meditation is breathing, focusing, and relaxing, thinking about nothing, as I learned from Sandeep, the gentle, wise, and thoughtful meditation master I was paired with for two daily private sessions. Sandeep was patient. He gave me time to ease into meditation. I spent the first two sessions asking questions about stress and happiness, as well as the terrible things in the world, and why we exist, and he always had the right answers. I didn’t realize until later, this was part of the process. Talking to him was like talking to a therapist, only he had answers that made me feel better. Talking helped me clear my mind, and relieve my stress. I left each session with chunks of inspiration and beneficial aphorisms that I wrote in my journal, and I read them over and over every day. They became my mantras, like: “If you can’t create love for yourself, how do you expect others to love you? Accept yourself; the universe will support you” or “You have to live in the moment and connect with yourself. Checking your phone and using it all the time is not living in the moment. It’s living for everyone else.”