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Meditation changed my life. It’s so cliche, but I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. I spent the greater part of my twenties dabbling with having a regular meditation practice, stopping and starting more times than I can count. I think I began like most people, with a misconception of what it means to meditate and the thought that maybe I was one of the people who couldn’t.
My first attempt at meditation
After hearing that meditation was beneficial for overall health (but not digging into why) I up and decided I would start to meditate every day. I was under the impression that the “right way” to meditate was to stop all thoughts from happening in your mind. My master plan was that I would set a timer for one minute on my phone and completely block out all thoughts for that minute. Easy enough, right?
I laid down on my bedroom floor, started the timer, and waited. Thoughts came roaring through my mind as I aimlessly tried to stop thinking by breathing deeply. With 15 seconds remaining, I popped open my eyes, pleading with the timer on my phone to sound so it could be over. It was the longest minute of my life, and I felt like an absolute failure. I didn’t try again for months as I was left believing I couldn’t do it, and I didn’t know how.
Giving it another try
The more the idea of meditation entered the mainstream over the past few years, the more interested I became in giving it another shot. According to the 2017 National Health Interview Survey, meditation in the US increased more than threefold from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017.
While there is uncertainty surrounding the reasons behind the spike in meditation, I speculate it’s due mainly to the higher stress levels of the overall population in conjunction with the increased availability of meditation apps and tools. When I decided to try to meditate again, I knew I would have a much higher likelihood of success if I sought out a professional opinion on how to get started.
Seeking out help the best way I know
I am an avid reader, so when I decided that I wanted to make meditation part of my life, naturally, I turned to books. One of the first books that caught my eye was Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics* by Dan Harris, TV personality, and ABC News correspondent. The title of this book alone had me intrigued. Fidgety skeptic is precisely how I would describe myself during my early attempts at meditation. This book chronicles Harris’ journey from having an on-air stress-induced panic attack in 2004 to being a traveling advocate for practicing mindfulness.
Each chapter walks through one of the common excuses people use to not start with meditation. Reasons like “I can’t do this,” “I don’t have time,” and “people might think I’m weird.” Harris has a friendly way of countering these excuses and giving readers ammunition for what to say to the haters too. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to introduce a meditation practice but is struggling to see a way to start.
The second book I picked up last year is Stress Less, Accomplish More* by Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva Meditation. I first heard of Emily Fletcher on one of my favorite podcasts, The Genius Life. After listening to this episode, I was intrigued enough to order her book on the same day. This book goes seriously in-depth on all the ways that meditation can benefit your life, from focus and attention to better sex.
Emily’s meditation focus is a mantra meditation with the repetition of a single word or phrase. She encourages 30 minutes of meditation per day broken into two 15-minute sessions. I did this for some time after reading the book, and I have to say I felt fantastic. However, long term, I feel like 15-20 minutes in the morning is a better fit for my life. This book is excellent for people who need an extra push on understanding all the benefits of a meditation practice.
Last year, I also decided to try using a meditation app for guided meditations. While I started to practice just breathing on my own and using mantras, I feel that my practice began to thrive with direction and guidance. The app has taught me several new skills, and I am feeling much more comfortable using techniques learned in meditation in daily life.
I use an app called Balance for my daily guided meditations. This app is great because it gradually works with you over several 10-day introductory plans to learn new skills and meditate for more extended periods. I have also heard fantastic things about Headspace and Calm, but do not have any personal experience using those apps.
The benefits of meditation
The internet is bursting with promises of how meditation leads to less stress, lower anxiety, and greater focus. While these are among the most commonly cited benefits of meditation, and all things I have found to be accurate, there are many more benefits shown through various studies.
An article from Healthline cited studies that showed a reduction in age-related memory loss, lower incidences of depression, enhanced self-awareness, the potential reduction in addictive behavior, and better sleep. As meditation is considered low risk for healthy adults, it’s a practice that has virtually no downsides with a pretty heft list of potential upsides.
For more information on how meditation affects sleep, check out this post on 10 Natural Ways to Create Better Sleep.
What I’ve learned about starting a meditation practice
- Start slow. If you try to do too much too soon, you may end up like me and get discouraged from giving it another shot. Start with 1-2 minutes of silent breath focus then gradually increase the time spent as you get more comfortable. I would highly recommend starting with a book, app, or online tool.
- The point is not to stop your thoughts; it’s to strengthen your focus. Your mind is a busy place, and it’s natural to have a continuous flow of ideas. The key to a successful meditation practice is learning to allow those thoughts to pass without judgment or concern. Over time, you will strengthen your mental muscles that help you pull your focus away from your thoughts and back to your breath, or other points of focus.
- There are many different kinds of meditation. Some of the meditations that I have tried include mindfulness, mantra, and guided. It can be helpful to try several types of meditation and walk through multiple techniques before deciding on a meditation practice that’s right for you.
Changes I’ve noticed since starting to practice meditation
I have been meditating several times a week for the past two years. I would love to say I meditate every day, but life happens, and sometimes that’s not always the case. Throughout starting and expanding my practice, there are many benefits that I have seen clearly in my day-to-day life.
- Meditation has helped me to become a better listener. I no longer listen with intention to reply but to understand what someone is saying, internalize it, then respond. I am now okay with silence, where previously, I was always looking to fill it.
- Meditation helps me to slow down and practice gratitude in life’s little moments. Being present and in the moment holds so much more weight than it previously did now that I know how to do it better. Walking the dog on a sunny day is reason enough to stop and smile, and I have stopped to smell the roses.
- Having a daily practice has helped me establish other routines. See my post on designing a morning routine for how I fold in a meditation practice with my other daily habits.
- I can focus better. When it comes to daily tasks that require my focus, like writing or reading, it feels more natural for me to get into a flow state, and I tend to stay in that state longer. I used to pride myself on my ability to multi-task, but now I pride myself on my ability to stay focused on one task for long periods.
- Sometimes stepping away from the rat race is the best thing you can do for your productivity, and focusing on nothing is just what you need to hone your focus. These may seem counter-intuitive at first, but I am now a firm believer that a little bit of silence is a game-changer for productivity and focus at home and work.
Do you have a meditation practice or are looking to start one? I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments!