How meditation can help you stay zen during the holidays
The days are shorter, it’s getting colder (depending on where you live), and the email and Instagram ads are getting more aggressive. That can only mean one thing: it’s almost the holiday season! The deluge of holidays that occur in November and December are often called the most wonderful time of the year, but no matter how much you love the holidays, they’re not without periods of stress. There’s family drama, navigating holiday travel at a time when flights are seemingly canceled on a whim, and purchasing the perfect gift (on the exact day it’s on sale).
While the best cure for holiday stress may be telling your family you’re not coming home this year, that’s not always an option. An excellent plan B is developing a meditation practice now. Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Practicing meditation regularly can keep you more zen overall, and once you’ve made it a habit, you can rely on it in times of acute stress.
Here are five types of meditation and/or corresponding apps to help you stay zen through and beyond the holiday season.
1. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is the most common form of meditation and can mean many things. It’s based on Buddhist teachings and simply involves becoming more aware of your thoughts and observing them without judgment as they pass through the mind. When combined with some breathing practices, this technique can reduce stress and increase self-awareness. It’s a type of meditation that can be practiced alone and without a guide (unlike some of the other practices on this list).
Two of the most popular apps for mindful meditation are Calm and Headspace. They are relatively inexpensive and incredibly diverse in their catalog of meditation practices, including everything from straight mindful meditation to “fear of flying” meditation playlists to meditation playlists to help you sleep that are narrated by celebrities. Not ready to pay for a meditation app just yet? The Healthy Minds Program app is less comprehensive than Calm and Headspace, but it’s free.
2. Focused meditation
Focused meditation is very similar to mindfulness meditation, and depending on the app you use, there may be a lot of overlap between how you establish your practice. Focused meditation is just a bit more advanced because it involves finding a deep state of focus. Your focus can be on virtually anything, but some common techniques involve focusing on the breath or staring at a candle flame. It sounds easy in theory, but focusing without letting your mind wander after a few minutes can be incredibly challenging.
Just like with mindful meditation, common apps like Calm and Headspace offer courses or playlists centered on focused meditation. Put in the effort, and it could lead to a long attention span and the ability to focus on something even when you don’t want to (like a task at work or a long conversation with a relative at the Thanksgiving table!).
3. Movement meditation
This type of meditation involves, you guessed it: movement. It seeks to deepen the mind-body connection to establish deeper awareness of the body. While it may immediately call to mind yoga (which is the most popular form of movement meditation), it can also involve tai chi and qi gong. You might be familiar with tai chi if you’ve ever walked past a group in a park participating in a series of slow, choreographed movements resembling martial arts.
If you’re looking to get started with movement meditation via yoga, I recommend an app called Down Dog. I love how customizable its routines are, which allow you to select your level of expertise, the body parts you’re hoping to target, and ( most uniquely) the amount of minutes you want to practice. With Down Dog, I can squeeze in a quick 15-minute practice or do a full-hour practice; just don’t skip Shavasana at the end! If you’re looking to try tai chi or qi gong, look for a class or meetup in your local park.
4. Transcendental meditation (TM)
Do mindful meditation, focused meditation, or movement meditation seem too “basic” for you? Transcendental meditation is a more advanced practice that seeks to quiet the mind and transcend your reality, if you will. It was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s and has become popular worldwide. It’s also been the subject of numerous scientific studies which found it may lower blood pressure among other benefits.
The practice is a form of mantra meditation which involves repeating the mantra for about 20 minutes at a time twice a day. The mantra is typically given to you by an instructor who will also teach you how to succeed in the program. That’s the catch with TM, in order to practice it you need to go through the worldwide TM organization which can be expensive (fees vary by country).
5. The gateway experience
OK, want to really put yourself out there? And I mean that literally. Adapt The Gateway Process, which is a meditation technique (of sorts) that was founded by radio broadcast executive Robert Monroe in the 1950s. It combines techniques like hypnosis and TM to achieve a state of consciousness that may eventually lead to an out-of-body experience (astral projection). Does The Gateway Process or astral projection sound familiar? It could be because this has all been explored rigorously on TikTok, especially in light of the CIA declassifying 12 million pages on the technique in 2017 (TLDR from the report: it works!). VICE has a great report on the technique, its history, and how the CIA got involved.
Want to give it a try? There are plenty of places to find the records, including on Reddit and YouTube. You can also learn more on The Monroe Institute website. Just keep in mind that you need to meditate with headphones as an important component of Gateway is achieving Hemi-sync, which involves hearing different sounds in each ear.
Khalid El Khatib is a Brooklyn-based writer and marketer who tweets too much.