Relaxing is seriously not my thing. I am so go-go-go that sometimes I forget to eat. However, when I undertook a challenge to meditate every single day for a month, I learned that some much needed mental relaxation is a welcome side effect. I'm a pretty anxious person in general, so when friends first started suggesting meditation to me as a way to reduce my anxiety, I brushed them off. I couldn't imagine anything more anxiety inducing than sitting still for a long period of time trying to quiet my mind.
Even while I'm in the midst of conversation with people, my brain is a non-stop reel of gibberish, kind of like when Lorelai Gilmore iconically said, "I’m wearing a green dress, I wish I was wearing my blue dress, my blue dress is at the cleaners." The struggle is real, and I know myself well enough to be certain that a sitting meditation was not going to be my jam.
However, a friend introduced me to a pranayama breathing meditation, which is an active meditation that involves so much focus on a particular breathing pattern that it actually makes my mind shut up. During the month of November, four friends and I committed to doing this breathwork meditation for 30 minutes every day, and we checked in each night via Facebook to hold each other accountable. Here's what happened during my month-long commitment to meditation.
1. Small Things Stopped Bothering Me
OK, first I will admit that I am not feeling super chill right now because I have an upper-respiratory infection, and I have not been able to meditate for the past two days — and seriously, I can already feel the difference. Before the meditation challenge, little things would cause me to burst into tears, like too much traffic or the pharmacy running out of my prescription. About three weeks into the challenge, I flew to Arizona for Thanksgiving where a series of "little things" that might have previously caused me to devolve into a weeping puddle resulted in nothing more than my feeling mildly annoyed.
On my first flight, the pilot said we couldn't take off because the check engine light for the plane was on. Instead of becoming irritated AF, I just pulled out my book. While in Arizona I was driving an electric car, a Chevy Bolt EV, for the first time. The car doesn't even feel like it's on while you're driving, and it can go from zero to 60 in five seconds, which is clearly how it got its name. I got pulled over for going way over the speed limit. Because of some bad experiences with the cops during my misspent youth, any interaction with the police usually makes me cry, but I made it through the experience without blubbering.
Finally, on my flight home from my trip, the pilot announced that we were unable to take off because he legally didn't have enough flying hours logged to land a plane in fog. This one rattled me the most because I thought I might have to spend the night in the airport, but the expected meltdown never came.
2. I Had More Patience
In addition to being bad at relaxing, I can also be pretty impatient. But, as I began to get more meditation days under my belt, waiting became less bothersome to me. However, the real test for me was the grocery store, which I detest because they tend to be full of slow walkers and people who push their carts right down the middle of the aisle so no one else can get by. But, I was assigned to go to the store to pick up our Thanksgiving meal the day before the holiday. Total nightmare, right?
First they couldn't find the order, then they couldn't figure out how to ring it up. Plus I had the cart with the broken wheel, and I had to run to my cousin's house, put the food in the fridge, and make it to an appointment in 20 minutes. In the past, this would have caused both crying and panic. Neither happened. The problems were calmly resolved, and I made it to my appointment on time. One thing meditation has taught me is that no matter what happens, I actually do have the power to decide how I am going to respond to each situation. And, crying and getting worked up isn't good for anyone, especially me
I also excused myself from family and friends each day for 30 minutes to meditate, and it helped improve my mood and made me more patient in social situations where — as a hardcore introvert — I would have previously become annoyed. According to Headspace, what happened to me is a common positive side effect of regular meditation.
"I can identify my emotions when they’re happening and not just latch onto them and let them drag me down the street," Ryan O’Donoghue, who also embarked on a month-long meditation challenge, told Headspace. "I’m able to recognize [them], note it, and then almost have a grin about it, have a lightness about it, instead of letting [my emotions] derail me, which, historically, would be my tendency."
3. I Felt Less Depressed
Happy is not a word most people would use to describe me. Intense and moody, yes. Happy, no. I struggle with depression on a daily basis, but when I started meditating every day some of the doom and gloom fog that normally surrounds my brain seemed to lift. Maria Stenvinkel wrote for Mind Body Green that when she stopped her daily meditation practice after three years, that negative fog began to come back.
"I don’t know about you, but my mind tends to drift to negative, fearful thoughts. Without proper supervision, it takes the time to turn itself into a victim and notice all the obstacles instead of opportunities. Instead of seeing this for what it was, a scared little monkey fighting for its survival (that’s how I tend to look at my ego), I was running around with it," Stenvinkel wrote. "As my ego pointed out things that went wrong, I pointed out even more things. I was first in line to join its pity parties. Without utilizing the secret weapon of my awareness, I got caught up in the many fearful stories my mind tells me."
This is how I have lived most of my life. And while I'm not swinging from the chandeliers since I started meditating, I have noticed that I feel like less of a walking storm cloud. Progress, not perfection.
4. I Slept Better
Aside from being impatient, anxious, and moody, I'm also not a good sleeper. I have tried almost everything to try to get to sleep, and I eventually just accepted that I might live my entire life and never sleep through the night. However, one thing I didn't expect when I started the meditation challenge was improved sleep quality. Once I began meditating regularly I began to go to bed earlier and sleep more deeply, which is a huge bonus for someone who's been chasing sleep their entire life. One article published by Harvard Medical School noted that meditation is proven to help people sleep better.
While you might think meditation is for new age-y people who spend their weekends shopping for crystals, people like me who are more resistant to meditation are actually the ones who need it the most. "In this fast-moving, ever-changing society, we need to slow down now more than before," Stenvinkel explained. "If not, it’s very easy to get overworked, caught up in problems, and to burn the candle at both ends. Meditation isn’t about controlling your thoughts; it’s about stopping them from controlling you. As they say: Master your mind and you’ll master your world."
If you're not convinced, no one is a bigger skeptic than me, but don't take my word for it. Try meditating for a month for yourself and see what happens. If you need some inspiration to get started this is a seven-minute version of the pranayama breathing meditation that I do, or check out these meditation apps for inspiration. There's also a new community meditation app called Nightlight that allows you meditate with others from the comfort of your own home.
My only regret is that I didn't do this sooner. And, P.S., someone tell Lorelai Gilmore about meditation. Because, it doesn't always have to be like, "Bicycle, unicycle, unitard. Hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey, monkey, underpants!"