Meditation is having a moment. Well, several moments strung together to create what’s essentially a movement.
And while it’s still mired in some confusion and woo-woo stigmas that associate meditation with robed monks and coordinated chanting, meditation has reached the mainstream, finding advocates in doctors, scientists and busy CEOs.
I am none of those things, but I was curious to give it a whirl.
Turns out, there are many types of meditation, including spiritual and transcendental practices. But the one form enjoying a particularly bright spotlight these days is mindfulness meditation.
Basically, mindfulness meditation involves focusing solely on the present — your current thoughts, breath and emotions — without concerning yourself with the past or future. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. In most cases, those practicing mindfulness meditation sit in a comfortable, quiet space for a predetermined amount of time, but there are no hard rules to follow. If you’re sitting, breathing and trying to keep a clear mind, you’re off to a great start. And beyond just being a relaxing way to spend 10–15 minutes, science is on your side.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University reviewed thousands of meditation studies and dozens of clinical trials, and found that mindfulness meditation can be utilized to ease anxiety, depression, pain and stress.
Even more exciting, a report published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows mediation can have lasting effects. Researcher Gaëlle Desbordes said: “These results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”
All good things. So with some baseline knowledge of what to do, and a general desire to destress, I sat down to meditate. It went something like this:
OK, here we go. Deep breaths.
In, out. In, out. In, out.
There we go. This is nice. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Concentrate on your breath. In and out. Just like you’ve been doing to keep yourself alive since Day 1. Great. I’m crushing this.
Is that my phone? Oy. Ignore it. In and out. Just keep breathing and let everything else melt away.
Maybe that text was important. Oh well. I’ll look later. Keep breathing. Your mind is a blank slate.
[Thirty seconds of actual, peaceful, mindful meditation. Or something close to it.]
I’m hungry. Soup sounds good. Will it ever stop raining? Oops … back to breathing. In and out. In and out. I think I’ve got some leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge. I really should’ve eaten first …
It went on like that for awhile.
I’m not sure my first attempt was a success. But then again, per the loose parameters surrounding mindfulness meditation, just the fact I was sitting there, breathing and trying to focus on nothing but the present is, in itself, a victory.
Still, I thought I could do better …
OK, back at it. Let’s do this. Breathe deeply. Nothing else matters.
[About one minute of actual, peaceful, mindful meditation before my mind wanders.]
So many deadlines, not enough time in the day. This is probably just a waste of time. I’d be less stressed if I spent more time working and less time meditating.
You don’t mean that.
I’m gonna visualize myself breathing blue smoke. That’ll give me something very simple to concentrate on. Why blue smoke? Did I read about that somewhere? I don’t know. I’m procrastinating. Just breathe the blue smoke already.
Hey, I think it’s working. Does the fact that I’m thinking about it working still count? I’m gonna say yes.
[Two minutes of actual, peaceful, mindful meditation.]
That seemed like an improvement. I began fidgeting about five minutes in, and my mind took off on some strange tangents shortly thereafter, but I sat quietly for 10 minutes, so I’ll call it a moderate success.
The big Day 3. You’re basically a professional meditator now. OK, go!
That didn’t work. You can’t force it. Try again.
[About five minutes of stops and starts. My mind is wandering all over the place. My attention span is that of a puppy who’s just spotted a squirrel. I can’t concentrate for more than a few seconds before getting off track.]
This isn’t going well. But it’s OK. Part of mindfulness meditation is acknowledging when you falter, pushing the distractions aside and trying again, which is exactly what you’re doing, so don’t be discouraged.
Breathe. Keep breathing. Blue smoke. In and out. Watch the smoke trail into the distance. Focus on that. Good.
[Three minutes of actual, peaceful, mindful meditation, give or take. There are no clocks inside my head.]
That third day, I kept at it. I sat on my couch with my eyes closed for a good 30 minutes. I was determined to stay there regardless of how my meditation attempts turned out. Toward the end, I felt more and more relaxed. My mind still wandered, but I was able to recognize those deviations and get back on track more quickly. After those 30 minutes, I felt relaxed. I’m not sure exactly how much of that relaxation was from meditating versus sitting quietly for a half hour on a comfortable couch during the middle of the afternoon. But I liked it.
READ MORE > REAP THE BENEFITS OF A WALKING MEDITATION
And, according to Dan Harris, mindfulness meditation advocate and author of “10% Happier and Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” every time you notice your mind wandering, “it’s actually a win.” He notes most people overlook the fact we have active minds that are always thinking, and too often in negative, judgmental, self-sabotaging ways.
“When we don’t see our mental clamor clearly, it controls us,” says Harris. “If you get distracted, totally cool … every time you start over, it’s like a biceps curl for your brain.”
He sure knows how to make a guy feel better.