Resolved to meditate in the New Year? NYC experts share what to expect


Every January, thousands of New Yorkers begin the New Year brimming with positive energy, and hopeful about a list of goals meant to help them lead healthier, happier lives. They shout from the city rooftops their intentions to hit the gym more, eat less sugar or dive headfirst into a new hobby. And at least a few such lists might include the goal of incorporating meditation into daily life.

But how to begin? Here are some questions and tips aspiring meditators might consider.

What is meditation?

According to Elaine Retholtz, a mindfulness-based stress-reduction meditation teacher, meditation is the practice of cultivating a mind and heart less prone to stress and anxiety. Often associated with Buddhism, meditation has a history that goes back thousands of years. Some techniques involve maintaining focus on a particular sensation, such as breathing. Others concentrate on mindfulness, which involves maintaining awareness of the present moment without prejudice.

“What we’re trying to do in mindfulness meditation is to cultivate being able to pay attention to what we want to pay attention to, when we want to pay attention to it,” Retholtz said. “And it’s about choosing to pay attention to some aspect of our experience, and knowing our relationship to that experience.”

Why incorporate meditation into your daily life?

Life is often unpredictable and full of challenges; we run into difficult situations, people and so forth. Kyle Davis, an instructor at Vajradhara Meditation Center, sees meditation as a way of taking ownership of how one responds to life issues.

“There’s so many things outside of our control, and so meditation is like we’re deciding instead of covering the world with leather, trying to make the world comfortable for our uncomfortable mind, we’re gonna take some responsibility for our inner world and make it comfortable,” Davis said.

One major benefit, he points out, is a feeling of empowerment. “It gives us a choice to feel the way that we want to feel in this world,” Davis said. “It gives us some sense of control, even when there are many things that we can’t control.”

Retholtz says as people delve deeper into meditation, they begin to slow down and realize how much their minds were racing. With practice, they become less of a victim to their own impulses.

“There’s a freedom that arises,” she said. “It’s a freedom from our inner emotional tyrant. And it’s a freedom from habits of fear and anxiety.”

What does being a meditation beginner look like?

The ultimate goal of meditation is to train the mind to settle — almost like when the fake snow in a snow globe is falling back into place, Retholtz suggests.

“When you put them down, all that swirling around settles,” she said. “So the thoughts and emotions and the habits and the worries, that’s kind of like shaking the globe, and we’re learning to settle the mind.”

After settling the mind, Retholtz explains, the next step is to bring that focused attention to other daily tasks.

“It’s kind of just like working out in the gym,” she said. “In the beginning, it seems like all we’re doing is noticing that the attention is wandering and coming back — but that’s building up the muscle of attention. And then slowly, we can begin to expand, to notice habits of thoughts and emotion, and investigate where we get stuck and what causes us stress.”

How do you make a meditation resolution stick?

New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, and even easier to break. Both Retholtz and Davis say that, just like with anything else, it’s important to develop a plan to meditate, and then commit to consistency.

“If you practice sitting, practice sitting in the chair, or sit on the cushion, or sit on the bench — to just put your butt on that spot every day,” Retholtz said. “Even when you don’t think you have time, and see what happens when you sit down.”

Recognize that there’s not a “good” or “bad” practice period

If your mind is racing, and you’re aware that it’s racing, then that’s your experience, Retholtz explains. If you’re falling asleep, and you’re aware of it, then that’s what your experience is

“Oftentimes what happens is we’re looking for our practice period to always be pleasant and easy and calm,” she said. “And when it’s not — which inevitably it will not be at times — we give up, or we think we’re doing something wrong.”

Find a community of people to fold into your journey

Davis said there’s an idea in Buddhism that says it’s difficult to form new habits in isolation. For some beginners, bringing a friend or family member along for the experience could help.

“Even if it’s making an agreement with a buddy — like, let’s both meditate everyday for a week or a couple times over the next week, or let’s meet up and meditate — that just builds in a real nice support network,” he said.

Ready to begin? Here are some local resources for learning in-person or online


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