Wrapping Up the Meditation Challenge: Manifestation and How These 4 Types Work Together

We’ve come to our final phase of The Olive Branch meditation challenge, and it’s time to focus on manifestation. This concept is pretty trendy lately, particularly in yoga and wellness circles. It seems like you can’t go a day without seeing some kind of article or blog post about manifestation.

Manifestation is the idea that through affirmations and visualizations, you can create the things you want in your life. For example, by saying “wealth flows to me and I am professionally successful” every day, wealth will indeed flow to you, and you will begin to experience professional success.

Affirmations are the present-tense phrases that embody the things you want to come into your life. This process of having them appear in your life is called manifestation.

Sometimes people reference The Secret, a concept that theorizes that the energy we put out into the universe quite literally attracts similar types of energy. I talked about this a little bit a few months back when I wrote about how I’m using positive thinking to help manifest my freelancing goals – and I’m not going to lie, it’s been working (more on that in a different post, but things are really going well!).

If the theory of The Secret is to be believed, we create an actual, physical energy or vibration with each thought we have. These thoughts and feelings then go out into the universe around us and attract similar vibrations.


While I’m not down on New Age philosophy necessarily, I’m not going to base my reasoning off of theories like this. But when you consider the idea behind The Secret, it really boils down the the concept that “your vibe attracts your tribe.” I know you’ve seen that quote floating around the internet, and I know it sounds cliche, but I think it’s true. I’ve certainly noticed that my positive thinking seems to translate into success in my travels, physical fitness, personal relationships, and growing freelance business. I think this is because when you can establish a positive thought pattern in your brain, you’re likely to be less daunted by setbacks, and therefore, you are more likely to achieve your goals and meet similarly like-minded people.

So, the theory behind manifestation meditation is that you combine the idea of affirmations with visualization techniques. Manifesting is actually not that different than having a really positive, happy, elaborate daydream, only you are likely going to be pairing it with words and imagines that concretely establish your goals.

On a personal note, I recently read the book “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. I totally recommend it, and Hay’s other affirmation books, to anyone interested in affirmations or manifestation. Her message is that by analyzing your past (especially your childhood), you can discover what has hurt you, and use affirmations to forgive those who’ve played a part, learning to view those individuals with compassion. You also take responsibility for your thoughts. Hay says that you must recognize that regardless of what people have done to you in the past, only YOU have power over your thoughts tomorrow. Or 5 minutes from now. Or 10 years from now. You are the only person who can create your thoughts and feelings, so it’s your responsibility to heal your past wounds and embrace a better life.

So, how is this related to manifestation? I think that visualizing and affirming our intentions are the first steps to manifesting a happy, unencumbered, successful and peaceful life. This is where the four types of meditation that we’ve been working on come together, full circle. This is how they relate to each other.

To tie all four types of meditation together, consider your intentions as you create affirmations. Then visualize those affirmations with words and images in order to manifest them into your life.

Moving forward, you can practice manifestation, and improve your life, by doing some of these things:

  • Create a vision board. I prefer to do this on a cork board rather than online, and then I display it in the area where I meditate. This keeps my focus on my affirmations and the things I’m trying to work on personally.
  • Write down your affirmations. Louise Hay recommends writing down your affirmations 5-10 times in the morning and 5-10 times at night. As you write, really focus on their meaning. Remember, these affirmations should be in positive, active voice … things like “I am loved by my friends” or “I have lots of energy and vibrant health.”
  • Get into a meditative state right after you’ve focused on your affirmations or visualizations. This gives you the time to relax and recharge, letting your affirmations sink in. This is where you’ll use meditative tools such as mantras or visualization techniques.
  • Give it time. Big changes don’t occur over night.

In closing, I’d like to throw the science-minded people out there a bone. I’m spiritual, but I also believe firmly in scientific evidence and research. Science has shown that we establish neurological patterns in our brains. So, when we have a fight with our partner and we feel like “s/he doesn’t love me, I’m the victim here,” we strengthen the neurons on that physical path in the brain. This means that every time we experience a similar stimulus (other fights with our partners, confrontations at work, feeling let down by friends), our brains respond in the same way.

To change our thinking patters, we need to give active effort into strengthening different neurological pathways. Forcing ourselves to think positively through manifestations and affirmations helps us with this. A few months into our practice, we might start to think “I’m the victim” during a fight with our partner, and suddenly recognize this mental flaw. So, we take a step back and acknowledge that this is our neurological response tricking us – actually, we’re not victimized, we’re angry about something else altogether. We can recognize our part in the argument and respond more calmly, or opt to take a walk and talk about the issue later. Over time, this new instinct becomes stronger and stronger, and we make a positive change.


Whether we call it meditation or not, training our brains to think differently is tough work. This is why so many people fail to blaze the trail through new thought patters, resulting in hardened synapses and, ultimately, hardened hearts. Over the course of the meditation challenge, I’ve learned that I do indeed have mental power, and that my mental power is best put to use for good. That power needs both time to recharge (through relaxation and meditation) and time to grow (through affirmations and visualizations), and it most certainly requires a daily, long-term practice.


Visualization Meditation

Hey guys! It’s time to move into Week 3 of our meditation challenge. With two days to go of intention meditation, I’m feeling more and more like these 15 minutes of peace will stay in my daily routine. I don’t seem to have a definitive pattern in when I meditate (as a freelancer, my schedule is pretty flexible, so my work hours are all over the place) but I definitely find myself craving meditation, particularly after a yoga session.

So as we move into Week 3, here’s what you need to know about visualization.


Visualization Meditation Techniques 101

So, I’ll start off by clarifying that there are lots of different interpretations of “visualization.” One such interpretation involves envisioning something you really, really want – but I’ve decided to keep that separate (that’s what we’ll focus on next week for manifestation meditation).

Rather, we’re going to be using visualization techniques to help us get into a meditative state. The difference between visualization and manifestation is actually very similar to mantras vs intentions. In both cases, the former involves using a sort’ve brainless technique in order to get our brains to relax, while the latter involves focusing on something with a deep meaning that we’d like to concentrate on.

Visualization Techniques To Try

Now, since we aren’t going to be envisioning things we want to manifest, what are we doing, exactly? We’re using visualization techniques to lull us into a relaxed, meditative state. Here are a few visualization techniques you may want to try:


  • Energy visualization: Envision a big ball of color or light moving along various points of your body. For example, this ball of energy may start at your feet and work its way up to the tip of your head as your meditation practice progresses.
  • Chakra visualization: You can focus on each of the seven chakras in progressive order. Getting into the associations/meaning behind each chakra is a completely separate topic (let me know if you’re interested in a post about this!) but if you are already familiar with the seven chakras, you can visualize each one individually. As you visualize each chakra, imagine it growing and shining with bright light. As the light grows, imagine that the chakra is being cleansed and renewed.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: While sitting or lying down, begin to focus on each body part individually. Start with your toes. Imagine them feeling heavy and relaxed, as if you simply couldn’t move your toes off the ground, even if you tried. Then, move upward to your feet, your ankles, your calves, etc. This is the basic concept behind yoga nidra (translation: yogic sleep).
  • Peace-spreading visualization: This is a technique I picked up from one of my favorite YouTubers, Lesley Fightmaster. As you’re sitting, envision a bubble of peace, joy and happiness around you. Picture nature, your loved ones – anything that makes you feel peaceful and joyful. Then, imagine that bubble of peace spreading out to your loved ones, enveloping them in joy and positivity. Next, imagine that this bubble grows even larger, enveloping all of their friends and family members. Keep this going until you eventually envision the entire world in this bubble of peace and joy.
  • Nature visualization: Last but certainly not least is the ever-classic nature visualization. Think of a place that makes you feel truly at peace. Maybe it’s a babbling brook beneath a big willow tree. Maybe it’s a sunny beach. Maybe it’s in the arms of a big tree in your grandparents’ backyard. Wherever it is, imagine yourself there. Picture how it looks. Imagine how the ground feels underneath you. Hear the birds singing, or the book babbling. Feel the sunshine on your skin. Completely immerse yourself in this creative visualization for the entirety of your meditation practice.


You can pick the same visualization technique to carry you throughout the week or you can try a new one every day. I myself will probably switch it up between chakra cleansing, nature visualization and energy visualization. Let me know what you decide to do!

Intention MEditation

Intention Meditation

So how is everyone enjoying mantra meditation? We still have two days to go in Week 1 of our meditation challenge, but I thought I’d share my experience thus far.

I’m not going to lie: sitting quietly in my room whispering “shanti” felt a little weird at first. On Day 1, I meditated right after waking up, which I don’t think is the best choice for me … I ended up nodding off to sleep a little bit (I guess that means it was relaxing though, huh?). I meditated a bit later in the day on Day 2, and that worked out a little better. I’ll admit it, I didn’t get around to meditating on Day 3 – I was just really, really busy. These things happen, though, and I wasn’t going to let that derail my plans to form a new healthy habit. I got back on the bus on Wednesday, and I actually had a bit of a breakthrough.


I noticed that actually listening to the sound of my voice was extremely meditative. Even though I explained on this blog that the meaning of our mantras isn’t important, I guess I didn’t really understand what that meant at first. It wasn’t until Day 4 that I started allowing the sound of my own voice to relax me, and this moment of insight has carried me all the way through the rest of the week.

So now it’s on to Week 2: Intention Meditation

What’s the Difference Between a Mantra and an Intention?

Last week, I touched a little bit on the difference between a mantra an an intention. While a mantra is meant to be repeated quietly to one’s self as a vehicle to reach a meditative state, an intention is chosen with deliberation and attention to its meaning.

I’m sure you’ve had your yoga teacher tell you to set an intention before practice. This is the same concept, only its applied to meditation. In my yoga practice, I usually enjoy picking an intention that I carry throughout the entire week (or longer, if necessary). It’s usually something I’m working through or thinking about a lot at the time. For example, if I notice that I’ve been particularly angry with someone, I spend a week or two focusing on forgiveness as my intention (ahem, this is what I’m going to be focusing on this week!). Some weeks, I focus on gratitude. Other weeks, self-confidence.

Examples of Intentions

Most practitioners recommend forming your intention as an affirmation. In other worse, you say it in a positive sense, as if it’s already occurred. Here are some examples of intentions that may resonate with you.

  • My body is strong and perfect as it is.
  • I am loved.
  • I respect my body by fueling it with nutrients (this could be a good intention for those on a weight loss program).
  • I am grateful for my family.
  • I am grateful for my friends.
  • I love ___ (you could be picking a person to whom you want to send happiness and positive energy).
  • I forgive ____ (again, you could be inserting a person here).
  • I am worthy of healthy relationships.
  • I bring peace and joy to those around me.
  • The world is full of good.

Again, you can set your intention every day, or work on one intention all week long – it’s really up to you.


After you pick your intention, you’ll sit in a meditative stance (again, cross-legged, in lotus, lying in savasana, and sitting in a chair are all great choices), close your eyes, and inhale and exhale. Repeat your intention on your exhale a few times, just as you did with your mantra. However, after focusing on your intention for a few breaths, let it go.

The goal here is to surrender your intention to the universe. Focus instead on your breath moving in and out of your body, filling you up with warmth. You could use any of the meditation techniques I’ve mentioned previously, or you could move back into your mantra meditation – whatever you wish. At the end of your session, bring your attention back to your intention again and acknowledge it. And then, when you leave your meditation practice, let it go completely.

Let me know how you enjoy intention meditation! See you next week.❤


2 Days in London

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to really buckle down with regard to my finances, which means I probably won’t be doing much traveling anytime soon. With airfare to Europe at an all-time low, it’s been tempting to break this resolution – but so far I’ve stuck with it. If I can afford a trip up-front, I’ll take it. Until then, though, I’m confined to the greater Chicago metropolitan area.

Since this is partially a travel blog, I’ve decided to look back on trips I took before The Olive Branch came into existence: primarily, my summer in Europe. I was only 21 when I took this trip, but I think that certain parts of the adventure really shaped me into who I am today. I learned that I wanted to become that girl – the travel girl. The adventure-loving girl. The girl who knows about world politics and foreign culture. It was really my summer in Europe that set the course for many of the choices I made in my 20s.

It was a summer of exploration. I got a Eurail pass and took the train throughout France, Switzerland and Germany, with a short jaunt in London to kick the whole thing off. I took this trip solo, but I had people to meet up with along the way: My cousin John, my good friend Nicole (a German girl who’d been a foreign exchange student at my high school), and Sylvie, who’d been my au pair when I was a little girl.


I gathered so much information prior to my trip. I created a scrapbook with all of my plans, including maps, restaurants, language guides and backpacking itineraries. Of course, I ended up using none of it.

This would be my first trip to Europe, a place I’d been dreaming about for years. Looking back now, I almost miss the kind of excitement that’s unique to being a new traveler. Though I’m more seasoned now, the whole thing was such an anomaly back then.

With being new to travel, though, come the inevitable blunders. The night before I was supposed to board a plane for Berlin, I realized that I’d lost my passport. I had to put off my trip for an additional two weeks, expediting a new passport in the meantime. Doing so meant that I had to completely reroute my trip, traveling not from Berlin to London, but London to Berlin, and then back to London again to return home (this was the cheapest airfare available at that point).


When all was said and done, everything worked out. On my flight to London, I was seated next to a handsome young Brit who ordered tea from the stewardess, a contrast to my enthusiastic coffee selection.

My dad had convinced me that it’d be really fun to arrive in London without having an inkling as to where I’d stay. When I arrived at Heathrow, the immigration officer glanced at my passport, asking me about my plans. The conversation went something like this:

“What do you plan to do in the UK?”

“I’m not really sure! I’ll just see where the trip leads me.”

Bit of a side-eye.

“Where do you plan to stay?”

“Oh, I don’t know! I figured I’d just find something.”

Long, cold silence.

“How long will you be here?”

“Only two days, and then I’m going to France.”

“What do you plan to do in France?”

“I’m meeting my cousin there, and probably doing a bit of traveling around.”

“And where does your cousin live?”

“I’m not really sure, actually.”

The poor woman probably thought I wouldn’t survive the trip.

I cringe looking back on this – I must’ve sounded like such a ditzy, idealistic American. Nonetheless, despite her icy stares, she eventually let me through immigration and customs, and I was on my way.


The train from Heathrow into the city was so exciting. There were British accents all around me, and the neighborhoods I glimpsed as the train sped by were historic and picturesque, exactly as I’d always imagined them.

I took the tube (London’s subway) out to Earl’s Court, the neighborhood I’d decided upon from my research. It seemed both traveler-friendly and sort’ve authentically local. I stumbled upon a small and clean-looking hotel, and after asking the front desk clerk about rates and accidentally saying “dollars” instead of “pounds,” I decided to take a small room.


I was tired because of the time difference, but I wanted to stick it out. It was only about 2 p.m. local time, and I’d only be in London for two nights. I took my tube map and whatever book I was reading at the time, and headed out to see the sights on foot.

When I got off the train at Westminster, I knew I was somewhere near Big Ben, but I wasn’t sure how I’d find it. I figured I’d have to walk a few blocks before I stumbled upon it. What happened instead was one of the coolest moments of my life. As I walked up the steps to the street, it was literally right there, towering over me, almost smacking me in the face with its grandiosity. I was completely stunned – it hit me that I was REALLY here. I was in London, the city I’d been dreaming about all my life.


That night, I walked around Westminster, took a ride on the London Eye, and stopped at a pub for dinner before heading back to my inn. At some point, I also stopped into an electronics store to pick up a pre-paid flip phone. Getting international service on my own phone line would’ve been astronomically expensive on my college budget, so I decided to simply buy a pre-paid phone when I got there. So yes, I arrived on a different continent with no hotel reservations and no way to get in touch with anyone. Genius, I know.


The next day, I hit up some more sights. I got around by walking and taking the tube, which to this day remains my favorite transit system ever (which is saying something, because I have a very deep and abiding love for public transit). I watched the changing of the guard at Kensington Palace, went to the street market in SoHo, visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, read my book in St. James Park, checked out the shopping at Harrods (kind of the UK’s version of Nordstrom or Macy’s), and wandered aimlessly around Chelsea, looking at the architecture and the gorgeous neighborhoods.



I spent my mornings at my hotel, blogging while drinking milky English tea in the lobby. (That was a totally different blog, and unfortunately I can’t seem to find it anywhere. I must’ve deleted it.) The lobby, located on the second floor, faced the garden on the rear of the building, and it was open, airy and cozily decorated, always stocked with tea, fresh milk, fruit and cereal. To this day, I can still remember how it smelled. I loved sitting out on the balcony overlooking the garden, writing and taking it all in.

My time in London was admittedly short (and touristy), but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the city. In fact, I’ve been trying to go back for a longer stay ever since. If you know me personally, you may know that I very seriously considered going to graduate school in London. I was even accepted into a literature program at King’s College. It wasn’t to be, though. Maybe someday I’ll get to go back and explore the city in full. But by this point on my European adventure, my time in London had come to a close. It was time to head to Paris, where I’d be spending nearly a month hanging out with my cousin John and his wonderful, bohemian friends – my first taste of a lifestyle I’d grow to aspire to. But that’s a story for another day.

The Olive Branch

Meditation Challenge Week 1: Mantra Meditation

First of all, thanks so much to everyone who has decided to participate in this meditation challenge with me! Not only does your participation really help me fulfill my own meditation goals, it also really means a lot to me from a personal standpoint. It’s so refreshing to know that there are so many people who’ve decided to come along on this journey with me.

Second of all, let me just say that I hope I can do this topic justice. Since I’m fairly new to regular meditation myself, I’ll be learning about this right alongside you. If you come across some tips and tricks that I don’t mention in my blog, please share them with other readers by posting in the comments. We’re all in this together, and it’d be awesome if we could get ideas and inspiration from each other!

If you missed Monday’s post, read up on the challenge and what’s involved here.

Now, without further ado, I’ll share my research on Week 1’s challenge: mantra meditation.

What is a Mantra?

Not to be confused with an intention, a mantra is a very short and simple word, sound or phrase that you repeat over and over as you move into meditation. The point of a mantra is to help your mind relax, so you don’t want to pick anything super meaningful that you’ll have to concentrate on.

For example, while phrases like “I am strong” or “I am perfect as I am” might be good intentions, they don’t really embody what you’re looking for in a mantra.

In Transcendental Meditation (a form of meditation that became popular in the 1960s, championed by none other than The Beatles themselves), you literally pay a fee in order to receive a personal mantra. You are then instructed by a teacher on how to repeat this mantra over and over again in conjunction with your breath. I don’t personally believe in paying to meditate, though, and I think picking a simple, short sound that feels right to you is probably just fine.

How to Pick Your Mantra

So, how do you pick a good mantra for you? The thing is, since the purpose of the mantra is really just to relax the mind, you really can’t go wrong. In fact, you can pick a sound that’s completely meaningless. The idea is that as you repeat the mantra over and over again in your head, your consciousness will transcend distractions and move into a relaxed, meditative state.


If you want something that’s at least mildly meaningful, I’d pick a sound that you find beautiful and peaceful. Here are some ideas, taken from a wide variety of spiritual backgrounds:

  • Om: A yogic term that has a complex meaning and is often described as “the sound of the whole universe.”
  • I am that I am: Taken from the Torah, this was God’s response to Moses when asked for His name.
  • Shanti: Sanskrit for “peace.”
  • Kyrie Eleison: A Greek translation for “Lord have Mercy,” an important component in the Christian, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
  • So hum: A common yogic mantra, “so hum” reflects the sound of the breath and also means “I am that.”
  • Love: Pretty self-explanatory, no? You could also pick a different virtue word, such as faith, hope, trust, peace, gratitude, etc.
  • Elohim: According to Programming Life, this is a Hebrew term meaning “to whom one has recourse in distress or when one is in need of guidance.”
  • Hare Krishna: A mantra derived from one of the Upanishads (spiritual texts) of Hinduism, this mantra gained popularity back in the 60s with the rise of transcendental meditation. You can read more about its meaning here.
  • Amen: Meaning “I believe,” or “so it is,” this is obviously a sacred term in the Christian tradition.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Really, any sound that you find appealing will do fine. Maybe it’s the imitation of a baby’s coo or the call of a bird. Pick something that inspires you, relaxes you, is easy on the ears, and has a very easy, digestible meaning (if any at all).

How to Meditate With A Mantra

I’m going to be starting the challenge on Sunday (July 24) and I invite you guys to join me! As I already mentioned, we’ll be meditating for 15 minutes each day. If you miss a day, please don’t feel discouraged – just hop right back on the train! I personally prefer to meditate in the morning, right after waking up. However, pick the time of day that works best for you.

Find a comfortable position, whether that’s sitting upright with your legs crossed, lying down in savasana, sitting in a chair or kneeling as if to pray. Just make sure that a) you’re comfortable, and b) your back is straight. Ideally, your palms will be facing upward.


Begin by inhaling and exhaling deeply. Try to keep your inhales and exhales equal in length, but don’t obsess over this – no counting, for example.

After a few deep breaths, begin repeating your mantra with each exhale. You can do this aloud or in your head – it doesn’t matter. The point is that with each exhale, you repeat the mantra, focusing on the sound.

And … that’s it. That’s the entirety of mantra meditation. If your mantra eventually slips away and you stop repeating it, that’s totally OK. You may’ve reached a place of deep meditation in which your mantra is no longer necessary. If, however, you stopped repeating the mantra because your mind wandered, then just gently call your attention back and begin repeating your mantra again.

Personally, with all that’s been going on in the world lately, I feel drawn to the term shanti, which means “peace.” So that’s what I plan to use for my own mantra. I can’t wait to get started! If you’d like, let me know what your mantra is in the comments, and feel free to invite your friends to join us!



Announcing: The Olive Branch Meditation Challenge!

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I need to personal accountability incentives in order to stick with my goals. For years now, it’s been a huge personal goal of mine to include a meditation practice in my daily routine. I wrote a post last week about some of my favorite meditation techniques, but if I’m being completely honest, I could increase my efforts to practice these techniques on a more regular basis.

I’m a spiritual person, and I definitely function at my best when I keep spirituality in mind. Moving through the motions of life isn’t enough – most of us need a sense of purpose and meaning. Most of my peers aren’t involved in organized religious communities, and with millennials delaying the experience of settling down and starting families, a lot of us (myself included) need something to help us feel grounded. We need to make time to stay in touch with ourselves, the nature of our lives, and the deeper purpose for our time here on earth.


I’m not going to push my spiritual ideas on anyone, of course, but meditation is a universally beneficial practice. Some call it praying, others call it meditating. It can take many forms, and it can bring all kinds of benefits, including spiritual awakening, relaxation, the manifestation of goals and dreams, and the ability to be present in the moment.

Last week, I asked you guys if you’d be interested in a meditation challenge, and I got quite a few messages from friends and followers saying they wanted to participate. I’m SO EXCITED to go on this journey with whomever is interested in coming along for the ride! They say it takes about 28 days to build a habit, so for the next four weeks, we’re going to meditate for just 15 minutes each day. Hopefully by the end of our challenge, our meditation practice will be such a big part of our daily habits that we won’t want to quit.

So here’s how it’ll work.

We’ll be trying out four different meditation techniques, one per week.

Week 1: Mantra Meditation
Week 2: Intention Meditation

Week 3: Visualization Meditation
Week 4: Manifestation Meditation

Each Friday, I’ll publish a post about the upcoming week’s meditation technique, and I’ll include ideas for how you can make that type of meditation personal for you. For example, before week 1, I’ll explain the difference between a mantra and an intention, and I’ll give you ideas for how you can form your own mantra and use it in your meditation practice. Then we’ll start our daily 15-minute meditation practice together the following Monday.


If you’d like to participate, I’ll ask you to take a few minutes to write down your mantra, intention, visualization or manifestation plans. As you go through the week, try to keep short notes about your experience. Were you able to clear your mind? Did you feel better after meditating? Did you get frustrated? What did you think of the technique you tried? Did you miss any days?

Each week, I’ll also post my own notes from the week prior. This stuff can get pretty personal, so you’re in no way obligated to post your own experiences – but if you’d like to, you can do so either in the comments section of this blog, on your own blog, or on social media. If you go the social media route, just hashtag your post with #OliveBranchMeditationChallenge so I see it and can respond! Feel free to tag your yoga- and meditation-loving friends too so they can participate if they wish.

I’m really excited to get started! I’ll be posting on Friday with information about how to prepare for Week 1, which we’ll start on Sunday. (If you’re reading this after-the-fact, though, feel free to jump in and try this out anytime!)

Looking forward to Om-ing with you,

❤ Maggie