Over the past month and a half, after at least 3 false starts in recent years, I am finally developing a meditation practice and my life is already better for it. Yes, I am still very much a newbie, but I decided to share my experience thus far, especially the benefits I’m reaping and the resources I’ve used to stay on track, because I started from the same place as a lot of people. I was anxious at the thought of just sitting still, eyes closed, trying to calm my racing mind, and diverting time away from a more “productive” activity. As I discuss below, though, with the help of classes and a meditation app, I am slowly but steadily finding my practice to be a comfort and a very much-needed time and energy saver, enabling me to concentrate or relax when absolutely nothing else will.
What finally convinced me to give meditation a real try
Several potential benefits of meditation that I recently learned about appealed to my pragmatic side and persuaded me to commit to developing a practice:
- On a recent episode of a popular health and wellness podcast, a renowned meditation expert said that she got hooked on the practice when, after her very first session, she slept through the night for the first time in over a year. She added that she has not had trouble sleeping since and also noticed that she stopped falling sick, her hair ceased turning gray, and she enjoyed her career more. The expert recommended meditation as a potent alternative to an afternoon cup of coffee, claiming it supplies a supercharged rest and a hit of productivity and focus, and I definitely can always use that later in the day.
- During my first class at MNDFL meditation studio in New York City, the teacher mentioned that the practice was utilized by warriors to help them concentrate on the task at hand—eliminating their enemies—by strengthening their ability to block out distractions. I read more about this and learned that samurais did use zen meditation to ensure they did not allow doubt or fear to interfere with the successful completion of an objective on the training ground or the battlefield. This particular fact resonated with me because, when you live in a crowded, opinion-packed city like New York and work in a competitive industry, and then you add on the layer of social media with everybody thrusting their views at you, you feel like an urban warrior of sorts, battling through these obstacles to achieve an objective. I liked the idea of meditation as a tool for navigating these distractions to accomplish my goals.
- Many elite pro athletes have used meditation to maintain their focus and sharpness during the season. When he was coaching the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson had sports psychologist and meditation teacher George Mumford work extensively with the team to help them develop a regular practice. Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry frequents a float spa and meditates while in the tank. He finds its gives him mental clarity, boosting his focus and perspective for days after. Even retired New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter has said he did a one-hour solo morning meditation as part of his day-off routine when he was still playing. If it worked for Mike, Steph, and DJ, I was intrigued.
The resources I use
- Meditation classes: My sessions at MNDFL have been critical to learning fundamental mindfulness techniques. I am still working my way through the different types of classes, but they touch on all aspects of life management, including dealing with strong emotions and thoughts; using your breath to calm or energize yourself; and how to feel more compassion and empathy towards those you love, dislike, or who are just passing through your life. You learn concrete techniques for handling issues you encounter on a daily basis. Also, for me, the greatest value of live meditation classes is the opportunity I have to discuss the challenges I face in my practice with a teacher so I can shape my approach and eventually be able to meditate unguided on my own. I have received helpful guidance about a variety of topics, ranging from how to comfortably seat myself to my perpetual problem of reining in my wandering mind.
- A meditation app: I have used a meditation app to stay on track with my solo practice, especially when my work schedule is erratic or when I am traveling. I tested out several apps and found that buddhify was the right fit for me. I like that the meditation exercises are grouped into categories pertaining to different areas of life (my favorites are “Going to Sleep”, “Can’t Sleep”, and “Work Break”). The exercises range in length from 4 to 18 minutes, making squeezing one in totally doable when I require some guidance but am short on time. While my ultimate goal is to meditate on my own, using an app has allowed me to become more comfortable practicing on my own as I figure out my style.
The benefits I have realized so far
I was hesitant at first to write this post so early in the development of my practice, but I wanted to share how I have already come to rely on meditation in various areas of my life:
- It improves my ability to focus on specific projects and tasks: While my practice is not quite yet at the level of obviating my need for an afternoon cup of coffee, mindfulness of some form has become my go-to when I encounter a block or lack motivation. For example, when I realize I am staring at my computer screen way too long (which happened more than once with this post), I stop, close my laptop, close my door, close my eyes, and conduct a breathing exercise for a few minutes. If I am really stuck, I use the buddhify app to guide me through a meditation or, once or twice, when I could manage it, I did a quick session at MNDFL. I emerge feeling calmer, more clear-minded, and re-charged. It is a pure energy boost, without any of the brain fog or crash that caffeine many times entails for me.
- I disengage from unproductive conversations and interactions: I find this to be a key corollary of improved focus. We are all guilty at times of responding or reacting to statements or actions we don’t like, even if doing so serves no real purpose. The mindfulness techniques I have learned enable me to more often stop and observe my feelings about a situation rather than immediately react. When you live in a city where most everybody’s instinct is to have the last word or to give their two cents, it is empowering to be able to disengage and direct your energies where they are more needed.
- It enhances my quality of sleep: After experimenting, I uncovered that when I meditate at night, I sleep significantly more restfully and for a longer period of time than when I don’t. It does not matter how tired how I am, I still can always use the mental clarity and the calming effect of meditation to obtain higher quality sleep.
I look forward to attending more meditation classes over the next several months, learning about different schools of practice, and gathering the tools I need to effectively, consistently practice on my own. I will provide updates about my progress, but I would love to hear from you about your experiences with meditation—what classes and other resources you find helpful, any challenges you face, and how you have benefited from it!