By Beth D’Addono
Throughout her career as a hospitality and tourism PR professional, Paula Butler has traveled the world. Whether accompanying a group of art writers to Paris to preview an exhibit for Visit Philly or launching a new Marriott hotel in Dubai, she’s a seasoned traveler with decades of experience. Which is why now it feels so strange to feel anxious at the prospect of getting on a plane or even driving a few hours to visit friends.
“There is so much uncertainty surrounding traveling during the pandemic, it’s hard to find a comfort zone,” said Butler, who retired last year as Communications VP for Visit Philly. For Butler, the notion of calming her mind with meditation provides anxiety relief for trips as close as the grocery store and as far out as driving to the city from her home at the Jersey Shore.
Although she’d never meditated before, on the plus side, her home is an oasis of calm. “I live by myself with my two cats Bobbi and Betty, so finding a quiet place for me to meditate is very easy,” she said. “It’s important if there are a lot of other people around to find a nice quiet corner where you can grab 20 minutes uninterrupted by noise or people talking.”
She did some research and discovered how easy it was to use one of the meditation apps on her phone. Her favorite app is Insight Timer. She’s also a fan of Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience. “I found using the apps was a great fit for a newbie,” she said.
At its purest form, meditation is more than 2,500 years old, a practice for training the mind that has roots in the early Hindus of India, as well as in Chinese Taoist and Indian Buddhist traditions. Meditation is credited with health benefits from lowering stress levels and blood pressure to promoting focused acuity and a mindful life.
The practice of quieting the mind, counting breaths and repeating a mantra sounds simple, but it’s not. In its Beginner’s Guide to Meditation AboutMeditation.com offers a step by step primer, along with a range of online courses to help get the hang of it.
Sitting comfortably and counting breaths helps focus attention on one thing and gives the multi-tasking brain a space to rest. As we gradually increase our meditation time, the practice provides a safe place to counter anxiety and promote mental well-being. Of course, patience is a must – a mind is used to wandering. When it happens, simply bring the attention back to the breath and refocus. More good news – according to a UCLA study, meditating even preserves our gray matter, keeping our brains more resilient and better equipped to deal with anxiety as we age.
Butler is a big fan of Insight Timer, a free app that puts more than 45,000 meditations at your fingertips. Designed for novices and even skeptics, Insight keeps things interesting by offering an additional 10 guided meditations every day. There are discussion groups and ambient music soundtracks, lots of content to lead the way.
Another popular app is Breethe, co-founded by mindfulness coach Lynne Goldberg. One of the most downloaded meditation apps on the market – more than 10 million downloads in 90 countries – Breethe provides inspirational talks, guided meditation, music playlists and bedtime readings to nudge you into slumber.
Simple Habit is an easy to navigate app that promises five minutes of on the go meditation, along with a customized program based on personal goals. Click on meditations, then choose relieve anxiety, and categories like Overthinking, Calm your Busy Mind and Just Landed, to decompress after flying, are just a few choices. Like all free apps, there’s an option for “super premium,” usually in the $70-$80 a year, but hold off until you kick the tires for a while, no need to spend out the box.
Butler relies on her morning meditation to feel centered and ready to face the day. And while she isn’t planning an extended vacation anytime soon, daily meditation is giving her the chance to breathe easier on the road, even close to home.