I’ll admit, at times I can be a bona fide scatterbrain. While I wouldn’t classify myself as a full–blown mess, my thoughts tend to get a bit disorganized. These occasional bouts of flightiness are usually harmless. However, after I both locked my keys in my car and cracked an egg straight into the trash instead of into a pan in the span of ten minutes this morning, I decided that perhaps it was time to work on my mindfulness. And what better way to practice mindfulness than with some good old–fashioned meditation?
With some archaeologists dating meditation back to as early as 5,000 BCE, the practice has become an integral part of many cultures since its ancient origins. Often associated with religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese Taoism, meditation has long been hailed as a pillar of spiritual development. In more recent history, however, meditation has been re–imagined in popular culture as more of a health practice in the same realm as activities like yoga or tai chi.
Thousands of studies have shown that practicing mindfulness meditation can provide a number of benefits, from reducing stress to improving focus to curbing anxiety. Even celebrities have taken to the internet to sing meditation’s praises—Bill Gates, Katy Perry, and Oprah have all cited daily meditation as one of the keys to their success.
Bottom line, meditation sounded like a practice worth exploring. Curious to see whether or not the experience lived up to the hype, I challenged myself to meditate every day for a week.
Considering that the last time I took a stab at meditation was in seventh grade as part of a history lesson on Buddhism, I decided to consult Google for some tips before embarking on my mindfulness journey. Clicking through the search results, I came across several helpful pieces of advice for first–time meditation. Per my research, I made my way to a calm and quiet room and put on a five–minute guided meditation from Headspace.
Five minutes: sounds like an easy starting point, right? Hardly. As the video played, I was overwhelmed by an uncomfortable feeling of restlessness—a phenomenon that many people struggle with when first incorporating meditation into their routine. Despite my intention to remain focused on my breathing as the video instructed, my mind continued to wander from one topic to the next: my plans for dinner that night, if I should paint my nails blue or red for the Fourth, how I was going to write this article if I couldn’t sit still for five minutes, so on and so forth.
As the final bell rang to signal the end of the meditation, I reflected on my underwhelming first attempt at mindfulness. While I may have felt that I was somehow doing it wrong the entire time, I was hopeful that my skills could improve and resolved to try again with a new video tomorrow. Good things never come easy, and I suppose that mindfulness is no different.
I went into my Tuesday meditation feeling relaxed and ready to conquer the five–minute meditation. Scrolling through videos on YouTube, I turned the lights off in my room, adjusted my posture, and put on a video from Goodful.
Despite my initial fears that this attempt at meditation would be another flop, I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. The feeling of restlessness somewhat subsided, allowing me to immerse myself in the practice. And while a few trivial thoughts did manage to pop up over the course of the meditation, I got into the practice of acknowledging them and then choosing to return my focus to my breath per the meditation leader’s advice. I also appreciated how this video asked listeners to reflect on something that they were grateful for and to think of one good thing that they could do for themselves in the rest of their day.
I came out of the experience feeling both refreshed and determined to incorporate some positive action into my afternoon, which I counted as a win.
Feeling confident that I had mastered the five–minute meditation, I decided to up the ante with a ten–minute–long video courtesy of Mindful. A longer practice, the video explored meditation posture and breathing techniques, as well as strategies for working with thoughts and emotions as they surfaced during mindfulness exercises.
The meditation leader used an analogy to explain these strategies that I found very helpful: while practicing mindfulness, one should allow oneself to “touch” the thoughts that enter the mind before “bouncing off of them,” choosing to return to what grounds you instead of letting these thoughts consume you. The video included one to two minute intervals of silence where I was expected to practice mindfulness solo and to put this tactic to use. Strengthening this ability, the guide explained, is a key part of meditation as it gives us more liberty to choose what we devote our brain space to.
Of course, staying focused for the entire ten minutes did prove difficult at times, but I could feel my skills improving. I could sense that devoting those ten minutes to myself helped me tackle the rest of my day in a better state of mind.
I opted to take it easy on Thursday with another ten–minute meditation, this time from goop. The video was intended to be watched first thing in the morning, and seeing as this would be the time of day that I would most likely choose to meditate if I incorporated it into my daily routine, I figured it was worth a try.
Of the videos that I have used so far, this one was my favorite—I even have “Really liked this one!” scribbled in my notes on the session. The guide used a visualization of a golden ball of light traveling up and down your spine to help listeners stay centered and focused on their breathing, which I found beneficial.
To my surprise, I found myself wishing that the meditation had lasted for longer once the ten minutes had passed. Taking the time to center myself and to envision my aspirations for the coming day was a welcome addition to my morning.
I ended my day on Friday with Mindful’s 15–minute meditation, a practice that explores sitting in meditation for extended periods of time. The leader of the meditation broke up periods of silent meditation with insightful advice about mindfulness practice, emphasizing the importance of remaining grounded in the present. And while the experience may not always be pleasant, continuing to practice meditation lessens the control that our thoughts have over us–in other words, by making peace with them, we no longer have to fight them.
On Saturday, I found another video produced by Goodful that was intended to boost self–love and self–confidence. Throughout the meditation, I was asked to focus on specific areas of my body and to notice any judgments that I had of these areas before breathing love and appreciation into them.
The video described self–love in a way that I had never thought of before. It characterized self–love as loving the parts of ourselves that we previously held in judgement. When we judge parts of ourselves, we hold them separate from our being; however, we must accept them in order to feel whole. Through meditation, the video explained, you are able to acknowledge any judgements you have made of yourself and let them go, offering yourself forgiveness as you know that you are doing the best you can.
For my last meditation of the week, I took on the dreaded 30–minute self–guided meditation. With no video to keep me on track, I set a timer for half an hour and resolved to spend it truly alone with my thoughts.
Luckily, my week of meditation practice prepared me well for this challenge–whenever I felt my focus begin to slip, I recalled the advice I had gleaned from past guided meditations. I did my best to touch and push away from all of the superfluous distractions that entered my mind, and when that didn’t work I conjured up visualizations à la goop to re–center.
Sitting in silence for thirty minutes proved to be difficult, but I pushed through to the end. As the timer went off and I returned to reality, I found myself reflecting not only on the meditation experience that I had just had but also on every practice that I had done in the past week. As challenging as it was at times, I could see the subtle ways in which exercising mindfulness enriched the rest of my day—whether it was with a necessary mood boost, a surge in self–confidence, or a sense of clarity that provided a welcome reprieve from the usual chaos that my mind operates under.
You don’t need to be a meditation pro to reap the benefits of practicing mindfulness. All it takes is a little bit of resolve and a few minutes out of your day.