I am not what one might call a "calming presence." On the contrary, whenever I enter a room whatever calming presence may have been there immediately dissipates like morning dew on a spring day.
So, in an effort to find a little more internal balance, I decided to make one simple lifestyle change every day for a week — I inserted meditation into my daily routine. Because if daily meditation is good enough for Ellen and Oprah, then by gum it's good enough for lil' ole me.
Besides, studies have shown, meditation, even for only ten minutes a day, can help reduce stress, increase focus, and promote mindfulness. According to The Huffington Post, it may even help increase overall happiness, self-awareness, slow aging, and improve your cardiovascular and immune health.
Though it often takes weeks, months, or even years to see the positive effects of meditation, I was skeptical I could ever be that dedicated. So, I wondered if someone like me could reap any of those benefits in just one week.
I decided to find out.
Like any good journalist, I began by doing my research — I typed "how to meditate" into Google. After scrolling through a few websites, I learned psychologists consider the best time to meditate first thing in the morning (fine) and the best way to begin is through guided meditation (sure).
Equipped with my new knowledge and game plan, I set my alarm for fifteen minutes earlier than usual. As I was feeling pretty fragile, I kept the lights off in my room and sat upright on my bed, with the covers pulled up to my waist to keep away the early morning cold. Sitting cross-legged with a hand on each knee and my back up straight against a pillow, as per the Internet's instructions, I pressed play on a 10-minute recording of a guided meditation. A woman's soothing voice began to instruct me on how "to be present" in this moment and space. Quickly, however, I learned the most difficult part of meditation was quieting the mind, especially if you're a writer, and especially if you're a writer planning to write about meditation. After the initial practice of elongated inhales and exhales, my mind began to wander to what I was going to do that day.
To get my mind back on track, I tried repeating the mantra, "You are here, just here."
Unsurprisingly, my first single 10-minute meditation session was a bit of a challenge and i didn't suddenly feel more mindful, or even necessarily relaxed. Though ironically, I feel a bit more relaxed now in this moment, reflecting on my meditation than I did while I was actually meditating.
I woke up early again, took a similar posture as the day before, and set up a guided meditation recording. Pretty immediately, however, my mind wandered to my apparent inability to schedule an appointment with a chiropractor. If the point of meditation is to focus on my personal failings, I think I may be a prodigy.
Of course, I know it's not, so I eased (read: forced) myself to come back to "the present," repeating, "You are here, right here." The phrase did help me stay more present, as did picturing myself sitting in my room, in an effort to raise awareness of my spatial being.
Using this combination of words and images, I did a pretty good job keeping focused, though I did sense myself becoming bored in the last few minutes of this 10-minute meditation. I could feel my normal thoughts waiting in the wings of my consciousness, ready to take center stage as soon as the three bells signaling the end of the guided meditation rang. Oh well, old habits die hard.
Still, even though I had difficulty focusing on my clearing my mind, I did feel more relaxed and even a bit optimistic for the next few hours after I finished meditating.
I'm gonna be #real with you guys, when I woke up on this day I was extremely tired — substituting my usual (energizing) morning workout with meditation was not exactly an easy switch. The last thing I wanted to do was meditate. OK, technically, the last thing I wanted to do was actually wake up, but the second to last thing I wanted to do was meditate once I woke up. But I powered through my fatigue, keeping my vow of commitment to this meditation experiment for at least a week.
It was this commitment that fueled me through a 10-minute meditation even as I was tempted to do a four-minute guided meditation instead. One thing I will say is that, despite my fatigue, or perhaps because of it, I was better able to focus on being present.
Afterwards, I didn't suddenly feel energized or anything transformative, but clearing my mind did help me make a fresh start for the day. I honestly don't think I would have been able to do that as effectively if I hadn't meditated, so despite my initial reluctance, setting aside just ten minutes felt worth it.
I decided to mix it up and try a meditation app called Headspace. (Disclaimer: Headspace has no idea I'm writing this article and has no affiliation with A Plus and certainly no endorsement of me. But they should maybe at least think about it because I'm about to say some pretty nice things.) Having vaguely heard of Headspace, I downloaded it and began its introductory guided meditation, which also lasted 10 minutes.
One of the immediate advantages of this guided meditation was the soothing and attractive-sounding British/Australian/New Zealand man voice. (Look, I'm not good at guessing accent origins, OK?)
Another feature of this meditation that worked well for me was counting my inhales and exhales from one to ten. Basically, I inhaled on odd numbers and then exhaled on even numbers, repeating the process from one to ten before returning to one. By giving me a concentrated activity with a clear goal, I was able to fully immerse myself in the method itself. While counting, I imagined stacking my inhales and exhales as bricks on top of each other until I reached 10. Then, I would start over at the bottom of my imaginary wall with the number one.
I could see myself using this technique to recenter myself whenever I happen to feel overwhelmed or anxious. Going into this guided meditation experiment, I never thought I'd consider inserting some of these aspects into other areas of my regular life, but you know what they say, "Miracles happen, once in a while, if you believe."
Another morning, another meditation, another moment with my imaginary boyfriend whispering sweet instructions in my ear. Again, I repeated the same posture set-up and process from the day before. This time, however, I found myself actually enjoying the meditation, not just "being present" but being pleasantly present.
While I can't say this is something I will fit into my schedule every day, I do think it's something I'd like to implement into my morning routine more regularly, perhaps every other day.
And though it's still too early to discern any long-term effects, I will say that for the first hour or so after meditating, I have felt a positive shift in my concentration and mood. Not to mention, chronicling my adventure has been unexpectedly fun, too.
This day happened to fall on Easter Sunday, which meant I was at my parents' house for the weekend. It also meant I had to be at mass at the ungodly hour of 7 am. (See what I did there? Yeah, I know, a lightning bolt is just waiting to smite me. It's fine.) Due to this egg-citing turn of events, I didn't have the time or, frankly, energy to meditate as soon as I woke up. However, I read that you can basically meditate any time of the day, except right before bed because it will too closely resemble the falling-asleep process. So I opted for a mid-afternoon meditation.
Because my family was in a bit of frenzy preparing our house and backyard for a large extended family party, it was nice to take just 10 minutes for myself. By taking some time to quiet my mind and focus on the moment, when I returned to helping my family, I felt better able to contribute and actually get things done in an efficient way.
While meditation isn't some sort of magic spell that, with the wave of a wand, can fix everything in either my inner or outer life, I believe being more mindful and self-aware has begun to benefit my personal outlook.
To pull off my grand finale, I got a little help from my friend, Isaac Saul. Many moons ago, he invited Paula Tursi, founder and director of Reflections Yoga, onto his Facebook Live show, Grain of Saul. Following along their guided meditation together, I felt calm, though not as focused or centered as I did with my personal Headspace guided meditation.
However, I did enjoy how she encouraged Isaac and the viewers to enter a "feeling space," rather than our normal "thinking space." Their ensuing discussion shed further light on a concept I had struggled with throughout my week of meditation: the idea of letting whatever thoughts come up exist, without judgment. Perhaps most importantly, Tursi spoke to my own reluctance to meditate because I didn't consider it a valuable use of my time. Her argument was that there's no better use of our time than to be with ourselves which, after having done that for the past seven days, I have to say I agree. Will I always make good on this agreement? Probably not. I'm only human after all, and sometimes I really just want to use those extra 15 minutes to sleep.
Still, I told myself I was going to try — just as soon I finished watching their Facebook Live. After it ended, I tried to incorporate everything I'd just learned into my Headspace meditation. Normally, I never would've taken the time to meditate not just once but twice in one day, but I'm glad I did.
I think if I can make the conscious effort to meditate for 10 minutes every other day, or even just use some of meditation's techniques as off-the-cuff calming strategies, well, I should be one step closer to getting my own daytime talk show. Just kidding, but I might become just a little bit of a better person.
So what difference did a week make? Well, more than I honestly thought it would. Though none of the positive benefits — reduced stress, increased focus, and overall mindfulness — lasted more than a few hours after each meditation session, that was still a noticeable, positive change. Most importantly, I was able to experience enough of these benefits that I feel motivated to continue meditating whenever I can, because I know this will eventually make those benefits stick in a more fundamental and meaningful way.
Long story short, if you're anything like me and don't trust yourself to keep up a longtime meditation practice, try it for just one week. Who knows, you might be surprised by the results and feel a newfound motivation to keep it going.