As part of my new year’s resolution for 2020, I meditated at least 5 minutes every single day for 2 months. Since I’m very new to meditation, I followed along with a mobile app called Headspace. Before I discuss what happened, let’s go over a quick list of meditation benefits:
Benefits of Meditation
- Reduces Stress
- Controls Anxiety
- Promotes Emotional Health
- Enhances Self-Awareness
- Helps Maintain and Re-Direct Attention
- Improves Memory and Mental Clarity
- Increases Positivity, Empathy, and Compassion
- Develops Mental Discipline and Willpower
- Improves Sleep
- Diminishes Perception of Pain
- Lowers Blood Pressure (Credit: Dr. Axe)
Did I Experience Any of These Benefits? Absolutely!
Honestly, in the beginning, I was very skeptical. Some days, I thought to myself this isn’t going anywhere, it’s a waste of time. Other days, the commitment seemed to have a profound effect on my mood and performance. Overall, I experienced many benefits and can say that meditation is the real deal.
The Headspace App
I highly recommend the Headspace app to anyone looking for a reliable guided meditation. It is free to try, but you have to pay for it if you want access to more sessions. There are options ranging anywhere from 5-20 minutes. The 5 and 10-minute sessions were very doable, but the 15- and 20-minute sessions were extremely challenging to stick with. 5 minutes is more than doable for any human, in my opinion, and 10 minutes seems to be my sweet spot.
What Meditation Looks Like
For anyone who has never meditated before and isn’t sure what to expect, here’s a quick run down of what a 10-minute meditation looks like for me:
- Time: First thing in the morning
- Location: Usually my living room
- Position: Sitting upright in a comfortable chair, feet on the floor, hands resting in the lap
- Start by briefly reflecting on why you want to meditate and your intentions for the day.
- Close your eyes and take 3-5 big, deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth, loud enough so that someone close by would be able to hear you breathing. Focus your attention on the lungs filling with air and the body softening as you release.
- Allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm.
- Focus your attention on the weight of your body resting on the chair. Feet on the floor. Hands resting comfortably. Where do you feel contact the most? The least?
- Briefly listen for any sounds. Notice them and be aware of them.
- Focus your attention on how your body feels. Overall sense of comfort or discomfort?
- Mentally scan your entire body from the top of the head down to the toes, paying attention to each area of the body and how it’s feeling. Not dwelling on any discomfort but simply acknowledging it.
- Switch attention to the breath. Focus on the rising and falling sensations. Follow the natural rhythm of the breath for a few moments.
- Begin to count the breaths 1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out, and so on, up to the count of 10, then restart. Repeat this process for several minutes (Note: It’s very easy to become distracted. When you realize your mind has wandered off, simply return your attention back to where you left off in the meditation).
- Let go of your focus completely. Allow your mind to be free and don’t try to control it. If it wants to think, let it think, if not just let it float out into space.
- Finish the meditation by bringing your attention back to the physical senses. The points of contact between you, the chair, and the floor. Noticing any sounds, strong smells, or tastes. Open your eyes.
- How did you feel during the meditation today? Results will vary day to day. Just keep showing up and stay consistent with it!
Why I Decided to Meditate
Aside from hearing about all the benefits for so long, I knew there were holes in my consciousness that meditation might help with. Many days, I start off the day feeling a bit wired. I wake up in a state of fight or flight and get my day off to an intense start. If a meditation practice could bring peace to my morning and potentially reduce stress overall, who wouldn’t be up for that?
Developing the Habit
I thought it might be difficult to incorporate meditation consistently, but it really wasn’t, especially when starting at only 5 minutes. By lumping it in with my daily morning practice of journaling and hydration, it was easy to quickly find the time to do it.
I will admit, however, that once I got into the 10, 15, and 20-minute meditations, it became increasingly tough to hang with it. Some days, I’d be fully submerged in the meditation and get in deep. Other times, my mind would race so much I wasn’t sure if I even meditated at all. Each day is different so just hang in there and stay consistent with it.
Overcoming Anxiety and Reducing Stress
I battled anxiety for many years, so I fully understand the power it holds over our mind and emotions. I treated it initially with diet and exercise, but briefly turned to medications because I was so desperate to cure it. Over time, I was able to beat anxiety through living a healthy lifestyle. Looking back, I wish I had used meditation to help, because reduced feelings of tension, stress, and anxiety were the biggest benefits I saw.
Although I don’t deal with intense anxiety any more, I do experience feelings of tension, and meditation has helped alleviate those feelings. I specifically recall one day driving home from work recently when the realization hit me, “I actually DON’T feel tense right now”. During many drives home at the end of a work day, I would have this general sense of tension in my chest. Not because my day had been particularly stressful; it was simply an overall feeling of pressure that wouldn’t fade until I got home. Since I started getting more headspace, I have found that this sensation no longer exists. I also feel less stress and tension, in general.
Reducing stress through meditation goes far beyond the 5, 10, 15 or more minutes you spend at the beginning of each day. The practice teaches you to check-in with your body frequently and to be conscious of how you’re feeling, how you’re breathing, and your mental state. That moment of presence helps calm the mind and get back to that sense of relaxation you achieved at the beginning of the day. This is key to unlocking all of those amazing benefits like happiness, emotional health, anxiety, and self-awareness.
Ever have trouble getting and staying asleep? Does your mind wander until you overthink yourself into restlessness? I’ve been there and meditation has helped tremendously. It teaches you methods to use in those moments where you need to get your body into rest mode. Previously, my mind would wander and I would overthink myself into restlessness. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to shut my mind off due to something that was bothering me, a project I needed to finish, or even food cravings. Now, I take a few deep breaths, use some simple meditation techniques, and I’m out like a light! Gaining more control over sleep is a priceless side effect of meditation.
I wish there was a way to make all the benefits of meditation tangible, but I simply believe it has helped my life in ways I can’t quantify. My days seem to just flow easier; I’m less distracted, more focused, and more gratified. Getting over that initial resistance toward sitting and doing “nothing” for a period of time is difficult at first, but I believe it’s the antidote many of us need in our lives. It could very well be the key that unlocks a new chapter of awareness in your life, which is a benefit that cannot be measured.
Taking the time to sit and calm the mind helps you reach a baseline of relaxation for a great starting point to the day. I’m by no means an expert on meditation but have learned enough at this point to know it’s something I absolutely will continue doing and learn more about. I do not yet have the patience to sit for a full 20-minute session every day, so 10 minutes is just fine for me, for now. But even just that small commitment has made a big impact on my life, and I believe it can help you, as well. So, give it a shot! Meditation may be the physical and mental health game changer that you need to transform your life today.
If you know someone who’s stressed out and needs a way to reduce stress, control anxiety, and improve sleep, please share this article with them!