The 21-day challenge: Meditation

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with yoga. I would enjoy going to classes, learning new poses, being challenged and guided by the teacher. I would try to create a daily practice and subscribed at times to Yoga Journal. But it was difficult to make yoga a practice. It would go to the wayside when I didn’t have cash for a class or was easy to skip when I didn’t have time. It became a real challenge to fit in as I started training for triathlon and needed to work in swim, bike and run training into my already hectic daily schedule.

So when the 21-Day Challenge from Yoga Journal crossed my internet path this January, it seemed like a great way to commit to a daily yoga practice,. And while on Day 10 it’s been an interesting journey, my biggest surprise as come through the meditation piece of the challenge. Along with one daily yoga practice and eating a vegetarian meal, the challenge asks participates to meditate for 15 minutes.

Me? Quiet my mind for 15 minutes every single day? Couldn’t I do 100 sun salutations instead?

I’ve had brief stints with meditation before, usually at the end of a yoga class or as part of a retreat. It always sounds appealing — the idea of quieting the mind. Of not thinking. Of letting go. Of chanting ‘OM’ until I felt completely peaceful.

But when practiced, well, I always felt like I fell short. Like I didn’t quite get it. Like I wasn’t really meditating. My mind would wander. I’d desperately need to shift positions or attend to an itch on my scalp. I’d have moments of feeling connected, but then I’d easily disconnect and start thinking about the meditation rather than actually doing the meditation. This 21-day challenge then was a chance of me to cultivate my friendship with meditation. And maybe actually make friends with my mind.

And so, midway through my 21-day meditation experiment, I’m starting to notice a difference in the way I react to stress and my tendency to over think nearly every situation in the course of a day. I’m starting to understand what it means to be in the present as opposed to being in my head, reliving the past or fearing the future. This? Is all worth the 15 minutes each day.

Here are some of my other discoveries in my first few days of my foray into meditation:

  1. Guided meditations are not cheating. I downloaded a series from Meditation Oasis on iTunes and the soothing, calming voice of a woman instructs me about breathing and helps me stop thinking and start being present. (And I will gladly take any suggestions of other guided meditations.) At first I thought this was cheating. If I was really going to meditate, I could be silent or put on some music and merely repeat a mantra or simply think nothing, right? Yes, mind not only likes to talk a lot, it also likes to judge. Whatever works for me is A-OK.
  2. Meditating on a full stomach is a bad idea. A few times I tried to meditate after dinner and it was uncomfortable. Full breaths with a belly full of black bean burrito does not help calm the mind.
  3. My mind does not need to be blank. I used to think I couldn’t meditate because I couldn’t shut my mind off. I would drift away from the focus on my breath and make a grocery list or wonder if a program director had returned my email. But the guided meditations have emphasized not to get upset when thoughts come. The point (at least for me) is not to have a blank mind but to bring myself back when I start to follow a train of thought. It’s the practice of noticing when I’m thinking, not the actual absence of thinking, which builds mental strength for me.
  4. Sometimes I fall asleep. True story. I was listening to a meditation on my iPod and started to drift asleep. I had a brief dream involving three witches. I think this is directly related to meditation discovery No. 2 as this came in an after-dinner meditation.
  5. Meditation is productive in its own way. Sometimes I get caught up in the notion of productivity. What am I doing to “get things done?” Have I crossed things off my to-do list? Have I worked to get better? Can I measure the results? Meditation doesn’t work like that. There is no “goal” and no measurable result. But I’m discovering it’s extremely useful and important to my daily life. Why? Because it makes me sit and be quiet. It makes me turn of my mind and connect with my heart and my body. It’s purpose is to keep me connected to who I am, not some cartooned version of myself. Only good things come from that. And I might start to argue it is actually the most productive 15 minutes of my day.
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