I’ll be honest: I think of meditating, and immediately picture Don Draper dressed in white sitting lotus-style on a cliff or a gorgeous Insta-model ommmm-ing her way to bliss. People talk about meditation as life-changing, and I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes.
But hundreds of thousands of people across the globe regularly meditate, and have done so for centuries, for good reason. “Current research shows that meditation can help with stress management, anxiety, sleep disorders, and chronic pain,” explains Cyd Crouse, Co-Founder of Meditation Studio. “Meditation has been shown to increase the brain’s capacity for attention span, focus, and creativity. Recent studies have also shown that meditation can increase our compassion toward others.”
Well, I want literally all of those things in my life, so I decided to devote 30 days to seeing what could happen with regular meditation. Here’s how it went and what I learned.
I download a bunch of meditation apps. My plan: I’m going to meditate every day for 30 minutes, minimum, and evolve into an amazing human being.
I set a meditation alarm on my phone and add the little angel halo face emoji, and feel fairly smug. Meditation can’t be that hard, right?
I start with Aaptiv, a fitness app, which aims to conveniently bring instructor-led studio-type classes, including meditation, straight to your phone for about $10 a month. (Full disclosure: I freelance for Aaptiv, so I do get a free membership.)
Before dinner-time, I listen to a short meditation on balance. Here’s how it goes: I peek through closed eyes to see how much time is left, I think about dinner, I remind myself to return that J.Crew shirt, I’m itching to scroll Instagram. Turns out four minutes is . . . actually kind of long, but I do feel slightly less stressed.
“Stress is said to contribute to roughly 90% of disease, including heart disease and cancer,” says Lynne Goldberg, meditation coach and founder of OMG. I Can Meditate! “Meditation is the antidote to stress. When we meditate, our body releases feel-good hormones, like oxytocin and serotonin, which help to melt stress.” Okay, I’ll buy that.
I also check out Headspace, a popular meditation app known for making mindfulness simple. Like many others, you get a handful of classes for free and then the content is subscriber-based ($13 a month or $420 for a lifetime, which is like a lot of commitment?) I try a free 10-minute meditation for beginners. A man’s voice tells me to sit up straight and keep my eyes “softly” open. Considering I’m laying down on the couch under a blanket on a Saturday morning, I think I’m doing it wrong, but I will NOT let an app judge me.
Lesson: One week in, I don’t feel better at meditation, but I do like the opportunity to slow down and pay attention, and I notice that my brain is like a monkey jumping limb to limb almost all the time, which can’t be good, so I keep at it.
Themes of week two include: why is meditation so hard, I forgot to do it, I’m putting it off until tomorrow but I’ll do it then I swear, I have better things to do, this is boring and I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS. Times one zillion.
Every time I meditate, my brain starts shouting like a pissed off toddler and I want to bolt 30 seconds in. I try to shake, shake it off, T-Swift style: yes, this is hard, but you can do it. Just hang in there. Go back to breathing. Inhale and exhale. In and out. Again. And then I freak the F out again, mentally speaking. UGHHHHH.
Basically, I am the portrait of zen.
If anything, though, I’m definitely learning the “I’m too busy” trap also applies to meditation. I do have time, but I usually don’t want to spend it on meditating even when I know it benefits me. And since I’m new to meditation, it feels extra UGH.
“We all have busy schedules, so it’s important to make the time.” Yunha Kim, CEO and Founder of Simple Habit says. “Even as little as one week of brief, 5-minute meditations each day can bring improvements in attention, energy, and lowered stress.”
Lesson: If I want the benefits, I gotta make the time. Also, stop whining.
I used to think of meditation as something I had to save for the beach on a vacation by myself, but I’m learning how valuable it can be as a tool for, well, the daily annoyances and frustrations of life.
The cool thing about meditating is that you can do it anywhere, anytime – for free. And you don’t need a quiet room with zero distractions.
Case in point: due to a high fever, my son had to be rushed to the emergency room. He’s fine now, but it was beyond terrifying, and in the ambulance, I closed my eyes and focused only on my breath so I wouldn’t cry. It helped keep me stay calm, and hushed my frantic mind. No, I didn’t pull out one of my apps to formally meditate, but practicing a moment of meditation reminded me I could access some peace whenever needed with just a handful of breaths.
Lesson: Guys, I’M SO ZEN. But seriously, I do feel a little more equipped to handle stress when it pops up. And the apps are definitely nice for guidance and accountability purposes, which seems to explain their rise in appeal in recent years.
After experimenting with meditation in the early hours of the morning and right before bedtime, I try introducing it during the day.
I meditate on my lunch break, right before a workout, even in a five minute break between meetings. Though I don’t wanna be that girl who’s like, BRB, gotta meditate, I do like finding small ways to fit it in.
I try more apps for variety, but no matter the source, meditation keeps encouraging me to tune into the small things: how my body feels in a given moment, the background sounds of my surroundings, the feel of blankets on my skin, the smell of lilacs on an evening walk with my husband.
Lesson: Embracing these small moments may feel a little cheesy, but I actually feel better.
- Because I spent most days darting from one thing to the next, I thought meditation would feel like a big waste of time. Instead, I realized how much my mind needs to rest. Meditation, in addition to being a way to tap into spirituality for some, is an opportunity to practice self-care.
- I found it easier to discern which thoughts in my ever-moving mind were valuable vs. just noise. Example: one day, while meditating, I kept dwelling on a convo with my mom. Thoughts of, “Well, I’m right, she should have talked to me first” and “I don’t understand why she’s mad,” were loudly front and center…but by the end of the meditation, I realized the drama was me. I felt left out, and so my ego went haywire to react. Meditation taught me to pause, find some compassion, and then respond in challenging situations.
- Without meditation, I got stressed way more easily and frequently. Consistency matters. On the 31st day, I felt a rush of freedom, like “I’m breaking the rules muahahaha” then quickly realized I missed the ritual of slowing down to clear out the mental clutter.
So: did meditation change my life?
Not necessarily. But it sure helped me find peace during the busy days that can feel endless, and be just a little bit kinder to myself and others.