I am such a lousy meditator that I could write an article on that subject alone. However, I feel meditation has had such a positive impact on me, that I have to bring it up, even with my beginner’s impressions only. If you are pondering whether to try it or not, or if you are a struggling beginner, this text is for you.
Growing up, I always saw meditation as some mystical mumbo jumbo with no practical application. I come from an environment that isn’t big on things like meditation. Where I come from, we solve problems with alcohol.
I read a lot about productivity, personal growth and development. I noticed one word which comes up regularly: meditation. Some authors are experts at it, some are just good at it and some suck at it but keep trying. All of them, however, regard meditation as a productivity and wellness booster. These authors, interestingly, come from different walks of life: athletes, philosophers, businessmen, artists, etc. Who was I not to give it a try?
I did a bit of research online and learned that, for a beginner, it is best to try an app for guided meditation, like Headspace and Calm. I suppose that the best is to actually find a live instructor, but being an introverted nerd that I am, I opted for the technical solution. After trying out a couple of apps, I settled with Calm, mostly because I liked the sound of the voice in the guided meditations. I tried to follow the instructions as much as possible and do it every day for at least 15 mins.
Simple (?) Instructions
As you will see, there are a few guidelines in meditation: breathe normally, concentrate on your breathing, try to clear your mind and think about nothing but your breathing. When your mind wanders off, bring it back to the breathing, gently and without reprimand. As you will probably also see, this is easier said than done… I had a hard time clearing my mind because a) my mind is full of crap; b) I constantly feel the need to stop and write something (I have a rule: what is not on my to-do list will never get done); and c) I cannot concentrate on my breathing because it is just too boring.
Even though it was hard not to scold myself for not being able to clear my mind for more than 30 seconds, I kept trying for weeks. After a couple of days, I noticed that I was calmer than usual. Know this about me, dear reader: I am not a calm person. I get triggered by the smallest of details. That’s how I caught the change – I did not blow up because of the little things. I also noticed that I could concentrate on my work for longer periods and get more done.
Falling Off The Wagon
As life usually does, life happened. Due to frequent traveling for work, I was not in my standard environment every morning, which kicked my freshly developed habit of morning meditation right out of the window! Soon thereafter, I slipped back into my usual state of mild agitation. As soon as I realized what happened, I made a point of re-introducing meditation as soon as possible. It wasn’t easy – I had to make a daily reminder and report back to myself every Sunday about how many times I had meditated that week. (That’s a nice trick for developing good habits.)
Facts To The Rescue
Since I am a fan of scientific facts and trivia, this one piece of information inspired me to keep trying: When you breathe with your diaphragm, your sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight” mode) gives control to your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest” mode). This means that through correct breathing you will eventually calm down, no matter how stressed you were when you started. It is just a physical phenomenon, no philosophy there. In addition, I heard somewhere that it is not “against the rules” to let your mind wander off. In fact, meditation is a good state for calmly mulling over important things and coming up with solutions.
This is what works for me now:
- I take a comfortable upright position
- Instead of breathing “normally” (shallow breathing with the upper chest), I breathe diaphragmatically (deep belly breathing)
- After breathing in, I hold the breath in for a 2 seconds
- I take a long breath out
You can experiment on what works best for you. For example, try out box breathing and work your way from there.
This breathing routine gets me to concentrate on my breathing and keeps the scattered thoughts away. I do wonder off sometimes and if it is something important, e.g. a problem I want to solve, I let my mind wander. I think I reach better conclusions while in this relaxed state, so I use the opportunity.
In the very beginning, I expected to enter a special state of body and mind and was disappointed when nothing special happened. Now I understand that the special state is calmness and collectedness – something we can hardly achieve in our hectic modern lives.
I still don’t have the patience to meditate for more than 10 minutes at a time. I do it in the morning, to get ready for the day ahead. If during the day I get stressed, 2-3 minutes of breathing helps tremendously. Even if I can’t sit down and breathe, e.g. in traffic (yes even as a pedestrian I get frustrated in traffic), I just walk and breathe with my diaphragm, and the stress slowly fades away.
It’s amazing how this simple activity affects my entire day. I am calmer than usual. I stay positive even when negative things happen. I am super productive and check things off my to-do list with ease. How can such a small time investment have such a big impact on one’s life? I don’t know. Yet. Let’s find out…