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Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. 

- Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor

I didn’t start meditating to reach enlightenment, but rather to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was in grad school on a marathon-sprint through a 4-year psychology doctoral program that typically takes 5+ years to complete. This path was jam packed with hurdles, curves, and roadblocks that left me exhausted, confused, and in a mountain of debt. So, I did the practical thing that any burned out and debt-ridden 29-year-old would shake their head at – I detoured in the form of a year hiatus to explore whether I wanted to pursue a postdoc and get licensed, or change professions completely. 

Did my meditation practice save me from making life-altering decisions? Not yet, but it’s helped me become more aware of the decisions I make, which I’ve found to be life-altering. For me, meditation is akin to eating well, getting adequate rest, and sufficiently moving my body. 

Do I always do these things? Nope. 

Do I do them when I know I should? Sometimes! 

Is it always pleasant when I do them? Not always, because let’s be honest… 

Do I feel better when I do them? Most of the time (nothing is perfect, after all). 

If that’s not a solid endorsement of the practice, know this: Mindfulness has helped me become aware of how much tension I hold in my body, when coffee actually makes me more tired than alert, and when I’m about to say or do something I probably shouldn’t. And this practice of awareness is what makes the difference between telling someone, “I’m reaching the end of my good-decision making capacity,” and showing them through your actions.

As a psychologist, I understand as much as anyone that starting a new habit can require Herculean effort. Whether it’s finding the time, motivation, or discipline to practice anything daily, we often set ourselves up for failure by creating lofty goals that we give up on before even giving ourselves a chance to begin. Thus, setting realistic goals is the first step to developing healthy habits, and meditation is a habit that you can virtually do anywhere and can always begin again. That’s actually the essence of the practice. And if you can find 5 minutes to scroll social media or read this article, I guarantee you can find a few minutes to meditate on the couch, at your desk, on your commute, or when enduring a marathon.

For those who want to try meditating, (or want to try meditating again), I recommend keeping the practice as simple as possible with these 5 S’s: 

  1. Set a timer 

  2. Sit in an upright and comfortable position 

  3. Still your body and focus on the breath with eyes closed or downcast 

  4. Sense when any distraction through thoughts, physical sensations, sounds, or emotions are shifting your focus away from the breath

  5. Start again 

Repeat steps 3-5 until the timer dings, knowing that the goal is not to clear your mind but to become aware of your breath and when your mind drifts away from it. Also, start with small increments of time such as 2-5 minutes. The amount of time doesn’t matter as much as your effort to sit and focus, and once you attempt this you might find that starting with 2-5 minutes is ambitious enough. That said, you can always increase the time as you see fit.

In steps 1-5, you will also likely encounter many of the common hurdles, curves, and roadblocks that can come in the form of:

  • Not finding a routine that helps facilitate the practice 

  • Feeling like you’re doing it wrong

  • Discovering that in the stillness there’s a whole world of thoughts/feelings/physical sensations that keep your mind running and are extremely difficult to sit with 

The good news is that this is completely normal. The better news is that there are a multitude of resources on meditation to help you navigate these obstacles. If a self-guided practice feels impossible or intimidating, you’re not alone. There are many online guided meditations to listen to (more than you might ever be able listen to, actually) and to help you sift through this bounty of information, here are a few suggestions that I’ve found helpful along the way:

  • Insight Timer – a free app that has a variety of guided mediations for sleep, gratitude, anxiety, etc, as well as a timer with or without ambient noise to accompany your practice

  • Tara Brach, PhD – a psychologist and Buddhist teacher who has a number of guided meditations in both English and Spanish on her website as well as links to talks, courses, and other resources

  • Dan Harris’ Meditation for the Fidgety Skeptics – an entertaining read that includes guidance and tips for the novice meditator. He is also author of the book, “10% Happier,” and creator the “10% Happier” podcast and the 10% Happier app, free for download

Once I moved to NYC and started my career at Mount Sinai, I ran an actual marathon. And when my left leg started to tense up at mile 21, I focused my awareness and breath on that area while running the last 5.2 miles to the finish line. This showed me you can actually meditate anywhere, and even though I will probably never reach enlightenment, through meditation I can at least feel a little lighter along the path – regardless of what marathon I’m running.


About Anna Hickner, Psy.D.

Anna Hickner, Psy.D. is a Supervising Psychologist at The Health Center at Hudson Yards and Assistant Professor under the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She specializes in depression, anxiety, grief/loss, chronic medical conditions, trauma, and stress related to interpersonal relationships and life transitions. As a trained yoga and meditation instructor, Dr. Hickner provides a safe, empathic, and affirmative environment by using a holistic approach to wellness. Dr. Hickner speaks English and Spanish and has extensive experience working with adults from a variety of backgrounds including race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and place of origin.

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