Even for yogis, the zen minded, and dream chasers among us, stress affects all of us. Whether from an impossible daily commute, an unhappy relationship or the perpetual time crunch at work, we all have stress—and the havoc it wreaks on our emotional, physical and mental well-being. (Stress eating, anyone?)
The Ellie team is observing April’s National Stress Awareness Month by shining a light on ways to combat the intense pressure brought on by stress. To help uncover the most effective way to de-stress, we consulted with Megan Monahan, meditation teacher and first-time author of Don’t Hate, Meditate! 5 Easy Practices to Get You Through the Hard Sh*t (and Into the Good).
In case the title of her book isn’t enough of an indication, Megan isn’t your parent’s meditation guru. The former Los Angeles music executive, once on a first-name basis with recording artists like 50 Cent, hit a breaking point 10 years ago and left the stressful industry in search of something more meaningful. Megan discovered balance and the tools to manage her stress at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, where she studied under Deepak Chopra himself. Today, Megan merges ancient teachings with a relatable approach she credits to her New York City upbringing, and uses it to help her students transform their lives.
For a look at the benefits of meditation to relieve stress with a dose of Megan’s signature real talk, check out our Q&A.
Ellie: Stress has been dubbed the health epidemic of the 21st century. Before we can deal with its impact on our lives, can you help us explain it?
Megan: Stress is the anticipation of a need not being met. Most of the time, we’re not even stressed in the actual moment. We’re reacting to a future scenario that we’ve created in our minds that may or may not ever happen, and our body kicks into a “fight-or-flight” response.
Ellie: How can we manage stress before it begins to manage us?
Megan: Stress isn’t innately bad; it’s how we digest our stress that’s harmful. Meditation is literally the antidote to stress. It does something psychologically that slows down the stress response. Imagine a fuse for an explosive. Often times, the fuse isn’t very long and an explosion takes place in seconds. With meditation, you lengthen your internal fuse, so you’re able to pause—remember the Zack Morris “time out” from Saved by the Bell?—and assess whether the stress is something you're making up in your mind or if it’s something in the outside world. When you have that ability to pause and take notice of what’s going on inside of you, then you can alter your reaction.
Ellie: Meditation can seem a little intimidating, but your approach seems much more inviting.
Megan: I have a deep-rooted intention to hold a modern conversation about meditation that is applicable to how we live now. None of us are sitting in a cave meditating, we simply need to vacate our real lives that are messy and overrun with technology. Because I lost my shit early, I found meditation in my 20s; and now at 34, I’m thankful that I can bring a modern and relatable perspective to ancient teachings that have changed my life.
Ellie: For first-timers, what’s the best way to begin?
Megan: I think there’s an idea that we need to “accessorize” our practice, but you don't need to have an altar, wear all white and sit before a Buddha! Spoiler alert. It’s as easy as closing your eyes or placing your hand on your chest and counting 10 breaths. It’s really the practice of noticing where your mind is going, deciding whether you want to engage with that thought, and bringing it back to something, either your breath or silently repeating a mantra.
Ellie: You’ve debunked one myth about meditation, what’s another one you often encounter?
Megan: The number one feedback I hear is “I can’t meditate, because I have too many thoughts!” As long as you have a pulse, you’re going to have thoughts! Be okay with the fact that there’s going to be activity in your mind. Your practice is about noticing the activity and building the ability to disengage from that activity. When you notice your mind has drifted away (What should I order for dinner? Did I remember to RSVP? Is it too late to drink coffee?) and you bring it back to your point of focus, the drifting away and coming back is your meditation. The dance between the points of focus is your meditation. It’s like a mini mental rep!
Ellie: Your book supports the different ways meditation can help improve our daily lives. What are some of those benefits?
Megan: There’s a whole class of Eastern Indian herbs called adaptogens that do whatever you need them to do. I feel like meditation is the ultimate adaptogen, because you’ll notice the benefits wherever you feel an imbalance. I used to be so cynical and so self-deprecating, but post-meditation that stopped being my normal. We have neural pathways in our brains that dictate the way we react to the things around us and we do the same things over and over again, and we respond in the same ways over and over again, creating a conditioned way of seeing the world. There’s a quote that says, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” We all have the power to do that; it simply takes mastery over your mind.
Ellie: Speaking of great quotes, do you have any favorite words to live by?
Megan: “You are not your thoughts” is a really good one for me, and “Your story is being written in this moment by your thoughts.” Where you put your attention is what feeds your reality. Knowing where you are opting in to stress and fueling it is huge. It feels so external, but a lot of times, we’re unconsciously opting in to stress. We have to call bullshit on ourselves and unsubscribe to that train of thinking.
Ellie: Do you have a morning routine?
Megan: I always workout and meditate in one order or the other. I’m kind of an addict of Cycle House, and I just started boxing, which is not meditative, but I like the amount of thinking required. I love using exercise as an additional practice to be super present in my body.
Ellie: What’s your version of mood-boosting music?
Megan: I use music to invoke the way I want to feel; sometimes that’s classical, alt pop or ratchet hip hop—it runs the gamut, and not all of it is meditation-teacher approved! The music you listen to is an energy that will permeate your frequency, and you want intention around the frequency you're letting into yourself. This morning, I listened to “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys.
Ellie: Do you have a favorite daily affirmation you like to make to yourself?
Megan: I’ve been working on my self-worth, so my go-to affirmations are: “I choose me, I choose myself” and “Everything is working out, stay the course.” I really try to connect to how important it is to feed myself that love, attention, worth and respect that I want the outside world to reflect back to me.
Megan’s 20-Minute Guided Meditation
Exclusively for Ellie members, Megan created a 20-minute meditation perfect for beginning your day or unplugging at the office. Here, our favorite meditation teacher shares some guidance for getting started:
“Before you begin, ask yourself “What in my life could use a shift?” and get really clear about your what. Then meditate 21 days—because it takes 21 days to develop the foundation of a new habit—and if you don’t feel any differently in that area, then you can stop and you never have to meditate it again!”
Follow Megan on Instagram for all things meditation and the motivation needed to transform your lives: @megmonahan.