Getting into meditation has been on my to-do list for some time. If you haven’t heard, meditation is the holy grail of wellness. It improves sleep, manages stress and—according to a Harvard Medical School study—can even affect you at the genetic level, turning on genes that fight inflammation and kill diseased cells. Just ask anyone who mediates. They’ll tell you how amazing it is. My initial interest in meditation was largely stress related. I am bad at managing my stress, but I am interested in self-improvement, so giving meditation, which from the outside looks to be essentially sitting and breathing, seemed like a decent way to tackle and address my stress issue. Since I’ve dabbled before, but never really committed to starting a practice, I decided to do a 30 day meditation challenge to really see if it was something that was sustainable and that I could keep up long term.
My first hurdle was picking an app that would help guide my meditation. If you, like me, have never really meditated before, I highly recommend finding a guide—be it a book, a mentor or an app. There are plenty of apps, but after trying a few I settled on Buddhify which was $2.99 up front, but which also wasn’t going to charge me monthly after that. The other thing I really liked about Buddhify was that they have lots of different meditations of different lengths that are broken into categories. Think meditation for when you’re commuting. Or meditation for when you need a break from your computer. These targeted meditations really addressed what was happening at the time, which made it easier to get into the right headspace to practice. They’re tailored for what you’re doing now, so you don’t have to try and find a quiet place if that’s not possible.
It me, @alxdonaldson
And that’s the other thing—meditation is a practice. Some days, you will be very bad at it. I am often bad at it. A month in, my greatest realization has been that the experience and practice is something that fluctuates. It isn’t always balanced and you don’t always feel calm about it. Some days it takes all my effort to just get through a short two-minute meditation and other days I crave something much longer. If I’m being honest, there were a few days I skipped completely. But, like working out, the satisfaction of doing it often outweighs the discomfort of getting it done. (Note: Fight that feeling of superiority post-meditation. I limited myself to only one meditation-related tweet last month, even though I felt like I deserved congratulations every time I did it.)
The first few days I tried meditation, I did it first thing in the morning. (I have read so many interviews with successful people who swear by meditating for 30 minutes first thing in the morning, so it seemed like a good place to start.) I quickly learned that I require something a bit more stimulating first thing in the morning to get me to concentrate on anything, even breathing. Like a shower. Or lots of coffee. Starting with shorter meditations was also key for the first week of my meditation practice. If you aren’t used to sitting and breathing and being mindful, five minutes will feel like more than enough time to meditate.
Once I figured out that meditating in the morning wasn’t for me, I switched to the evening in the second week. This is where I really started to notice a difference. I usually find it hard to get to sleep, even when I am very tired, because I tend to be doing something stimulating before bed—watching TV, working on the computer, scrolling through Instagram. Reading is the only thing that helps, and even then I tend to stay up too late reading just one more chapter. Meditating before bed has become my new nightly ritual. Allowing for a soothing voice to focus my mind, and make me aware of my breath is something that has changed my bedtime routine. I fall asleep so quickly now. I have fallen asleep before the end of a 13-minute meditation several times. It’s a bit like magic.
The last part of my meditation trial, I decided to try meditating during what is always a stressful time of day for me, my commute. The meditations in this section aren’t too long, but they were actually quite helpful. I was surprised at how I was able to tune out the noise and commotion around me, without ignoring it completely (which would have been impossible), and how much calmer I felt when I arrived at my desk in the morning. At this point I had become better at tuning into the guided meditation, and was able to follow them without getting bored or aggravated with myself when I felt I wasn’t doing it properly. It was shocking how a bit of disconnect from the outside world and a bit of turning inward really changed the experience.
After my 30 (give or take a few) days of meditation, I’m actually feeling very positive about keeping up a practice. The bedtime meditations are a game-changer for me, and I’m actually looking forward to a day when I can meditate for longer than 20 minutes comfortably. Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was how quickly I started to really enjoy the practice. The verdict? I’m someone who meditates now. Not every day, and often not well, but I’m learning.
P.S. Don’t miss my article on 5 easy ways to get into meditation this year to help you get started.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Alexandra Donaldson)