Follow your Breath
Give Meditation a chance
On January 2018, the company where I work decided to launch a wellness challenge. Each week, for 11 weeks, we would be presented with a goal that we needed to follow and document.
Before the challenge started, we were given a booklet that contained the full program. I got excited when I saw that the first week’s task was logging your food for a week (I just needed to copy this from MyFitness pal, where I keep track of my macros. Done!). The second week’s was to participate in physical activity (Pfft! I could do this standing on my head, literally). The task for the third week was to participate in a healthy eating session with our nutritionist (Piece of gluten-free, sugar-free cake!).
I was already preparing my speech for when I got crowned as the Queen of Wellness when I turned the page to week four’s challenge. There it was. My Nemesis. It which must not be named. As I read the word, the screeching violins from Psycho filled my head: Meditation. We had to MEDITATE. DAILY. For a WHOLE WEEK.
I always made fun of meditation. To me, it was hogwash, like eating cotton candy. Yes, you’re chewing, but at the end you swallow nothing. I remember that during a conversation with some friends, they were explaining about how each of them meditated and I said “I don’t need to meditate. I put my mind completely blank when doing Crossfit, because if I think of anything else, I might end up with the bar on my head”. I wasn’t lying but I might have exaggerated a bit.
But really, who can completely clear their mind? How can you sit still for 10, 20 minutes thinking of nothing? NOTHING! HOW?
So, I went to our nutritionist, who designed the challenge, and told her that she had just robbed me of my crown. I told her that, of all the tasks for the 11 weeks, that one was the most difficult, the one I wasn’t sure I could complete. With a smile, she asked me to try, and to help me, she suggested that I downloaded the Calm app.
I was dreading week four. For someone whose mind goes a mile a minute, trying to put on a break is a daunting task. Since my day is always packed, I decided to wake up earlier, so I could accommodate the 10-minute meditation that the challenge required. I’m in no way a morning person, and usually wake up at the nick of time, but I was determined. If I could run a half marathon, do a Spartan Beast, and Murph under one hour, I could do this.
The first day of meditation, I sat comfortably on a pillow, with my legs crossed and my hands resting on my lap. I opened the Calm app and played day one of “7 days of Calm”, an introductory program for people that have not meditated before. The soothing voice of Tamara Levitt guided me to breath in and out, concentrating on where the breath started and where it finished.
“This is easy” I though, and then I remembered I was not supposed to think. A dog barking in the distance made me remember that I needed to go to the post office. “Right! Let me get back to breathing”. I heard movement from my bedroom. “My husband is awak…Crap! Breath in, breath out”.
Ten minutes passed quicker than I thought and saying that I cleared my mind for one and a half is being generous. “I’m trying this again tomorrow”.
The challenge asked to do this for five days, which I did, with no more success than day one. But then I did day six, and seven, and 10, and 20. By the time of this writing, I’ve been doing it five days a week for 11 months, give or take a day.
The benefits of meditation are well known and documented. It helps:
- Relieve anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Improve focus and concentration
- Increase self-awareness
- Enhance overall health
- Control your mood and so on.
Just recently I found out that there are several types of meditation:
- Loving kindness
- And some others with names I can’t pronounce.
There’s even meditation that you can do while performing an activity, like Yoga (so I wasn’t so far off with my Crossfit statement). Even though they have different goals, all of them involve breathing and provide the same benefits. As with exercise, nutrition and supplements, you need to practice frequently and constantly to see results.
Almost a year after starting, I still don’t know if I’m doing it correctly. Unaware of it, I’ve tried mindfulness, visualization, mantras and guided meditation, with different apps and even in total silence. Some of my sessions are chaotic; my mind doesn’t stop and all I accomplish is 10 minutes of breathing. Other times, I feel calm and clear.
I cannot tell if I’m experiencing all the rewards that meditation brings. I still feel anxious sometimes, and on occasion, it’s hard to focus. But these moments are fewer and far apart. I’m also able to identify them before they overwhelm me, and even better, I’m able to control them. Even if I’m not reaping all the benefits, just being 10 minutes with myself, breathing calmly and deeply, not thinking on what comes next, is enough for me to be worth it.
So, I went from not believing in meditation to telling everyone to try it. It might not be for you, or you might become the next Deepak Chopra. The point is that if you never try, you’ll never know.