I sat firmly planted in the back row of my local yoga studio on the outskirts of Washington D.C.. I had been struggling with my mental health for years, and often I just felt like I was drowning in noise. Meditation was the buoy that brought me to the surface. 

Not even a month before, I found myself in the psychiatric unit of Children’s National Hospital. After two weeks in a room I didn’t recognize, surrounded by people I didn’t know, I came to realize that if I had any hope at all of returning to my life outside of those cold gray walls and staying there, I had to make a change. 

When I arrived back home, I reluctantly followed my sister to our local yoga studio, where she was a regular. I wasn’t so sure about the prospect of being confined to a humid room with 20 sweaty strangers, but honestly, I needed to get out of my bed and leave the house. Yoga seemed like a decent place to start. 

The yoga class challenged my body in a way that I didn’t realize was possible. I had never been flexible, and even down dog, the basis of any beginner’s yoga practice felt unnatural. I struggled through 60 minutes of hot yoga, and when the teacher called for Savasana, the final resting pose, I gratefully lay flat on my mat and let my legs and arms fall comfortably to my sides. 

The room was still. 

I imagined my arms were wrapped around my chest, embracing my body in a hug and thanking it for carrying me through the physical challenges of the class. The world stopped spinning, my mind stopped racing, and I only heard my breathing. In. Out. In. Out. 

I couldn’t stop coming back to the feeling of peace I fell into on my yoga mat. But I was frustrated by my lack of focus and knew that I had to teach myself that focus was more than complete silence and a blank mind. In a conversation I had with Melissa Davidson, a certified yoga teacher, she offered the advice that “being aware that your brain goes in different directions is exactly what mindfulness is about.” 

My mind is often off thinking about how others are feeling or perceiving me. Since I was young, I knew I was an empathetic person. I take on the emotions and experiences of those around me. This can quickly become too much for me. Sitting alone in the business of my brain isn’t always a place I want to be. 

Dr. Lauren Rubenstein is a clinical psychologist, author, and Registered Yoga Teacher. Her experiences with leading adults and children give her an insight into how to approach meditation.

“Not every type of meditation is going to work for everyone … It is important for people to know as meditation becomes more and more popular that it really is a very difficult practice,” Rubenstein said. “I think especially people with anxiety, depression, or other mental challenges, it is very hard to be alone with your thoughts.” 

I frequently rope friends and family into sitting with me as I meditate. Their support has always been behind me as I have tried different meditation techniques and, looking back on my journey, their help is unbelievable. Somebody is always on the other line of the phone on anxiety-filled nights, and there was always a visitor at the hospital even though I was far from grateful for it at the time.

My meditative process grew from the insight of different possibilities. Intention is a powerful force in my actions, but I am no master at this. I rely on music in my mindfulness practice because quiet becomes an opportunity for my mind to wander to dangerous places. With only months of experience, I depend on the model of more experienced meditators such as Davidson, who recommends to “keep coming back to your breath, keep coming back to the feeling of your feet on the floor.”  

Mindfulness isn’t just for conventionally “mindful” activities. Days spent on the couch, and long naps can be transformed into productive time if the grateful intention is incorporated. Every experience is a unique opportunity to appreciate the life you have which, believe me, some of us take it for granted. 

I am only at the start of my, hopefully, lifelong meditation journey. I know the girl crying on the floor in the back of the psychiatric unit group room would not be able to recognize the person I have grown into. I have begun to understand the peace and chaos in my world as two necessary aspects for my success. 

Meditation is not magic. It won’t make everything okay, but it will make everything a little easier. “Every time we sit down to meditate or get on our mats to start moving,” Dr. Rubenstein reflected. “We’re at a different place… Be patient with yourselves and be patient with your practices.” 

I fought my whole life to escape my noise. Little did I know, all I had to do was embrace it. Use meditation to find the beauty in your life again.