I first tried meditation in my office about three years ago, when a group of colleagues met in a conference room for a quick guided session.
I remember that first simple meditation so well: After about 10 minutes of sitting with my eyes closed, in a circle of plastic chairs, I felt like I’d been in a spa for hours. My mind was quiet and my body moved slowly. I walked back to my desk bleary-eyed and relaxed, like I had just consumed a glass of wine.
What was this, magic? I was hooked.
Meditation, in its simplest form, is the practice of observing your breath. It can reshape behavior, change brain composition and permanently boost your ability to regulate emotions. Studies have also shown meditation reduces inflammation in the brain, thus lowering your risk for cancer and other diseases. Additionally, it sets you up to feel awe, relieves pain and protects the brain from aging. Meditation can help with anxiety, depression, insomnia and fatigue. It’s no wonder the humble practice has grown into a billion-dollar industry.
Despite the benefits, I hadn’t continued to meditate on my own outside of those office sessions. So I decided to try it out for a month. I set a modest goal to meditate for five minutes, three times per day.
I failed miserably. On average, I’d say I meditated for five minutes only once per day. But I still noticed results. They’re by no means scientific and just my personal experience. However, if I feel that I’ve changed this much from a relatively small dose of meditation, then just imagine what a consistent practice could accomplish.
Here’s how my month of meditation made a mark on my life:
I talk more like a podcast host.
Since starting my meditation experiment, it feels like my brain works more slowly and rationally. This becomes most apparent when I’m speaking. You know how podcast hosts soothingly enunciate every word and outline their thoughts deliberately? That’s how I talk now.
It also helped me stay more aware in the moment. I used to struggle with staying focused in conversations. While my mouth moved, my brain would wander to my to-do list or fall into cyclical thoughts about upcoming plans. Since learning to live in the present with meditation, those issues don’t crop up as often.
Experts say meditation can help you become more self-aware of your thoughts as they come, which I’ve found to be true. I feel like I inherently know what’s important to me and what I should focus on in a given moment or conversation. And I’m better at letting those other random thoughts go.
Freeways don’t make me sweat anymore.
Situations that used to make my face burn with anxiety (traffic jams, tightly-packed elevators and time crunches, just to name a few) don’t fluster me as much since I started meditating. Without even needing to remind myself, I feel my attention drift toward my breath and it becomes an anchor that keeps me calm until the frustrating event ends.
Yes, I’m aware this sounds like mindfulness mumbo-jumbo, and I wouldn’t have believed it could happen a mere month ago. But it has. And it’s backed by science: Research has continually shown that mindfulness can ease stress.
I fell in love with yoga.
Now that I know meditation improves my mental state, I’m hyper-interested in any activity that can spark that feeling. Yoga is one of those practices.
I find it easier to stay focused in a yoga class than when I’m meditating alone, because it’s guided and other people are there to keep me on task. It’s longer than a typical five-minute meditation session, so my brain feels calmer afterward. I can also write it off as my workout for the day: Research shows it certainly is a healthy form of physical activity. Win, win, win.
“Productivity” has a whole new meaning.
I’ve learned that taking time to “just be” is not only permissible, it’s necessary if I want to feel my best. I don’t need to constantly be doing something, going somewhere or achieving some goal in order to feel like I’m spending my time wisely.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that five minutes of forgetting about my to-do list is more productive than five minutes of working on it. But after I take a meditation break, the tasks simply don’t feel as urgent or stressful anymore. I’ve realized that “just being” is an okay place to be.
Those five minutes are a small investment that pays off in big ways.