At the beginning of the year, the university system where I work provided a six-week health promotion challenge for all employees. My colleagues and I decided to create a team to kick some butt as we are all fitness professionals who move constantly….and are slightly competitive. Once we decided on our team name and registered, we found out how the challenge worked. To earn points, every day you had to record your steps/workouts with the goal of 10,000 steps per day. No problem! All of us on the team work out one to several hours per day with our own workouts plus planning, choreographing, and filming workouts for our clients. We also had to record the number of hours that we slept each night with the goal of 7-9 hours per night – easy for three of us on the team, not so easy for two of our team members as they are both new moms. And finally, the challenge gave you points for meditating for 10 minutes for day. I began to panic! Meditation has never been my thing. Stillness has not really been my thing. I would take a yoga class and enjoy the poses but I would get very antsy during savasana (corpse pose) as my mind would start to wander to my long list of things to do. How the heck am I going to meditate every day for six weeks?!
I took a deep breath, exhaled, and then committed to meditating every day. I am a very goal-oriented person - if I write it on my daily list of to do’s that means it will get done. But I wasn’t sure how to meditate so I texted my team members for help... specifically is there an app for this? I got several suggestions back. I decided to start with Calm on YouTube as I didn’t want to purchase the app until I was sure I could stick with it.
My first day, I sat on the floor, closed my eyes, and followed along to a very calming voice. I was instructed on my breathing and how it was natural for the mind to wander, which was a relief to me! My mind definitely wandered and I had to work to bring it back to the task of mediating and then about halfway through I feel a big wet tongue from my chin to my forehead….ugh! I’ve been kissed by a dog! Of course, I had to open my eyes, wipe off the droll, and give Mini a big kiss back.
On my second day, I once again sat on the floor, closed my eyes, took a breath…. and then I feel Mini curl up between my legs…65 lbs. pounds of softness, I will admit she did make me feel more calm and centered. As the days went by, I can be honest and say that these 10-minute sessions were not easy at times. My mind would wander to really random thoughts and it would take all of my restraint to not jump up and write down the brilliant idea that popped into my mind but I stayed seated and worked to bring my attention back to my breathing. The days that I could really turn my attention inward I felt a heaviness in my body and a calmness to my mind where my thoughts would quiet and I would just be.
Now being a researcher, and as my husband says - a skeptical person, I needed to understand the science behind meditation. What are the benefits provided by this sedentary activity? Meditation has been shown to reduce depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Khusid & Vythilingam, 2016), anxiety (Montero-Marin et al. 2019) and stress (Juul et al. 2020) as well as cortisol levels, blood pressure, and other physiologic markers of stress (Pascoe et al. 2017). Sleep may also be positively affected by meditation practice (Zheng et al. 2020). So how long does it take to start seeing these benefits? It seems as though the longer you have practiced, the greater the benefits, but individuals with no experience who practiced meditation for 8 weeks found that their mental status improved (Chu, 2010).
So where am I now along my meditation journey? I finished the six weeks of daily 10-minute meditation and am happy to report that I did not miss one single day, but it is no longer a task on my to do list so the practice has diminished. I did learn a lot during those six weeks such as meditation can help to calm the mind and enhance awareness of ourselves, our mind, and our environment but it is also perfectly acceptable
for my monkey mind to hop from thought to thought. When I find my mind wandering and losing concentration on the task at hand, I turn to my breathing. I focus on taking a breath in and slowly releasing the breath which allows me once again to focus my attention back to my work. I have found this technique to be the best thing to come out of my journey…well, maybe snuggles from Mini was the best!
Chu, L (2010). The Benefits of Meditation Vis-à-Vis Emotional Intelligence, Perceived Stress and Negative Mental Health. Stress and Health 26, 169-180.
Juul L, Pallesen KJ, Bjerggaard M, Nielsen C, Fjorback LO (2020). A pilot randomised trial comparing a mindfulness- based stress reduction course, a locally-developed stress reduction intervention and a waiting list control group in a real-life municipal health care setting. BMC Public Health 20 (1), 409.
Khusid MA, Vythilingam M (2016). The emerging role of mindfulness meditation as effective self-management strategy, Part 1: clinical implications for depression, post- traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. Military Medicine 181 (9), 961–968.
Montero-Marin J, Garcia-Campayo J, Pérez-Yus MC, Zabaleta-Del-Olmo E, Cuijpers P (2019). Meditation techniques. Psychological Medicine 49 (13), 2118–2133.
Pascoe MC, Thompson DR, Jenkins ZM, Ski CF (2017). Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research 95, 156–178.
Zheng M, Yao J, Narayanan J (2020). Mindfulness buffers the impact of COVID-19 outbreak information on sleep duration (https://psyarxiv.com/wuh94/). Pre-print published 20 March 2020.