This article is from the January 2019 Grand Rapids Magazine. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
Skip the resolutions this year and, instead, try incorporating something into your routine that is guaranteed to grant you physical, mental and emotional benefits: meditation.
Kelly Smith, founder of Yoga for You Online and the “Mindful in Minutes” podcast, explained that humans have an innate tendency to let their minds control them rather than being in control of their minds. Meditation is simply the act of reclaiming control of the mind, and, according to Smith, choosing to meditate for just eight to 10 minutes per day can offer a surplus of benefits.
Meditation has been shown to offer mental benefits (better logic, decision-making, memory, emotional control and neuron development); emotional benefits (decreased anxiety and depression, enhanced relationships, higher self-esteem and body image); and physical benefits (improved sleep, lowered blood pressure, hormonal balance, alleviated stress and stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and IBS).
Smith believes she is a living testament to how mindfulness, yoga and meditation can benefit every sphere of your life. “I’ve become more comfortable and secure with who I am,” Smith said. “Through meditation, I’ve been able to master my mind, become so much more self-aware, and I’ve realized that I am enough just the way that I am, which was always extremely hard for me.”
Smith’s journey to meditation began with a love for yoga that started at age 16 when her mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and she became her mother’s primary caregiver. Smith researched the therapeutic benefits of yoga and started attending gentle, restorative yoga classes with her mom.
She continued her pursuit of yoga into college, visiting the small yoga studio in her college town daily, and she started to learn that yoga was far more than physical poses.
“People often come to yoga for the physical aspects, the stretching, strengthening and flexibility, but just doing the poses and putting your body into shape is one-eighth of the practice of yoga,” she said, explaining that yoga was founded on the concept of ashtanga, meaning “eight limbs,” and is essentially an eightfold path to meaningful and purposeful living. The poses practiced in yoga, called asanas, are just one of the limbs. The remaining seven include yama (moral discipline), niyama (positive behaviors), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (enlightenment or bliss).
“Yoga is a journey to the self through the self. It’s a self-discovery, and no one achieves that just through the shape of their body,” Smith said. “Everything you do, how you interact with people, speak to people, speak to yourself — it is all a practice of yoga. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Because of her personal life improvement through the practice of yoga and meditation, Smith has made it her career and life mission to share this with others.
Smith opened her first yoga studio in Missouri, originally called Kirksville Yogi’s then later named the Yoga for You Studio. When she moved to Grand Rapids in 2017, Smith sold the physical studio and turned it into Yoga for You, a digital platform for students to practice their yoga training online. She also started recording guided meditations and launched her podcast in November 2017.
Smith intended for the podcast to make meditation more approachable to people by giving them something easily attainable to walk them through it. “People have a common misconception about what meditation is like,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know how to do it and they need something to listen to.”
Smith’s meditation podcasts are roughly 10 minutes each, and they focus on various topics, including anxiety, insomnia, joy, confidence, intuition, grief and more, based off the requests of her listeners.
“For beginners, meditation can be big, scary and unknown, but there’s no wrong way to meditate,” she said. “You can’t fail meditation.”
Meditation for beginners
Kelly Smith’s tips for beginners to meditation:
- Set yourself up for success by turning off all distractions, removing your Apple Watch and turning off your phone.
- Choose either the first 10 minutes or last 10 minutes of your day.
- Sit in a way that your spine is long, in a chair or upright in your bed, and be comfortable but not so comfortable that you fall asleep.
- Close your eyes to eliminate external stimulus.
- Just do it! “Although it only takes eight to 10 minutes per day, it can take 16 weeks to notice the benefits,” Smith said. “Some days will feel more successful than others, and that’s OK. It’s a constant pursuit of trying to connect with your deeper self, and your deeper self is always changing and evolving. So, even if it feels awkward or foreign, stick with it and just do it!”
Photo of Kelly Smith by Jim Gebben