Throughout the day, Whitney Fisch takes moments to talk to herself. While washing the dishes or taking a shower, she practices mindfulness, describing how the soap smells and feels, and what the splashing water sounds like. In the grocery store, she talks about the foods she sees and sniffs.
"Sometimes, people look at you like you're a crazy person when you're like, 'I'm feeeeeeling this pepper. It's red. It's waxy,'" laughed the 33-year-old school counselor, who lives in Miami with her husband and their 1-year-old daughter.
But the exercises, which Fisch's therapist recommended, are beginning to provide relief from the anxiety she has battled for the better part of a decade -- staying up nights, fretting: How am I going to go to work for nine hours and take care of the baby? When am I going to have time to go to the grocery store? Increasingly, through her daily practice of meditation, Fisch is able to exert some control over those thoughts, recognizing them when they arise, and calmly telling them to go away.
"It's not the traditional idea of meditation of, I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor, I clear my mind and I'm saying 'Om' for 20 minutes," Fisch said. "When you work full-time, and you have a kid, you're like, 'Seriously? I don't even have 20 minutes to work out. And I'm supposed to clear my mind?'"
Whitney Fisch says mindfulness has helped her deal with her anxiety and connect with her daughter.
Women are increasingly asking similar versions of those questions, as the ancient practice of meditation becomes more and more mainstream. The possibility that something so seemingly simple could help slash stress and affect broader markers of health is a tantalizing one, particularly at a time when 68 percent of women in the United States say that managing their stress is very important to them, but only 34 percent feel they're succeeding. Still, it's one thing to acknowledge meditation's benefits, and another to make time for it on a daily basis amid the demands of work and family life. And so more women are asking how and when exactly this is supposed to happen.
"I think a lot of women have no idea where to begin," admitted Gabrielle Bernstein, author of May Cause Miracles, a guidebook offering small changes women can make day-to-day to promote happiness. "I think with something as simple as Googling 'guided meditation' you can get yourself there, or Googling 'how to meditate.'"
Indeed, while more formal, group study has benefits, it's not necessary, echoed Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and author of Real Happiness, The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program. Women can turn to meditation books, tapes, classes, friends -- or any combination thereof that they feel connected or drawn to, she said.
As more people begin to consider meditation as a way to bring balance and calm to their lives, Salzberg says the most important thing is to approach it not as something intimidating and exotic, but as an accessible, flexible practice that can fit into even the busiest life.
"People tend to have such a strong tendency to punish themselves, and think, 'Oh, I'm not doing this right, because I'm not sitting here in bliss every single moment' ... or 'I failed at this, because I couldn't stop any thinking from happening.' It's those unrealistic expectations that really thwart us."
One of the strongest arguments for meditation is that it doesn't need to be time-consuming. Bernstein, for example, believes just 60 seconds of focused stillness a day can produce profound changes in women's lives -- breathing in for five seconds, holding their breath for five seconds, and exhaling for five seconds. Salzberg recommends beginners meditate three times a week for five to 15 minutes, and work up to 20 minutes daily if possible, but she believes that what matters most is consistency.
That's a lesson Jillian Amodio, 23, a prolific freelance writer and stay-at-home mother with a 2-year-old daughter, took some time to learn. At 19, she was diagnosed with endometriosis -- a painful condition that occurs when the tissue that lines a woman's uterus grows elsewhere in her body. Amodio went so far as to have menopause temporarily induced, which relieved her pain for more than a year before it returned. She then began researching "alternative healing" and took up a home yoga and meditation routine, piecing together elements from different videos and DVDs. (HuffPost is not advocating this approach, it is what Amodio tried.) Though she believes the practice has all but eliminated her pain, it took her several months to fight the sense that it was just another thing she was failing at.
"I was just concentrating on the idea of, 'If I'm going to do this right, I need to find an hour in my day, I need to find an hour in my day,'" Amodio said. "Some days, I would sit down and I'd start to do it, and I'd get five minutes in and I'd hear the baby crying on the monitor; some days, I'd sit down and say, 'I'm going to do my hour,' and I'd think, but I'm so tired, I just want to sleep."
But something clicked when she took a step back and asked herself, "What is the purpose of this meditation? It's not to get an hour in. It's to get relaxed, and to re-center myself."
Now, Amodio meditates daily after putting her daughter down for a late afternoon nap. She sits on a yoga mat or pillow in her living room with the windows thrown open to let in air and light, or with the blinds drawn, to create a sense of cozy calm. Other days, she goes out to the back deck of the Maryland home she shares with her husband. It faces the water, so she can sit and feel the breeze.
"Even if it's just 10 minutes of meditation a day," she said, "that's my me-time."
Jillian Amodio now averages around 20 minutes of meditation daily, despite being a busy freelancer and mom.
This story appears in Issue 71 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Oct. 18 in the iTunes App store.
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