I’m finally, after years of dabbling, committed to meditating. It’s now a non-negotiable. I’ll negotiate on pretty much all my other practices I use to change my physiology such as yoga (I’m beyond devoted to this, but doesn't have to be daily) dancing, and other forms of exercise.
If you don't meditate regularly or at all, I get it 1000 percent. I was you, up until December. Over the years I’ve had so many excuses such as “moving my body is my meditation” (which it is, but I promise is not the same which I’ll explain) “It doesn't work”, “I don’t have time” “I’ll do it later”. I’ve given myself meditation “challenges” where I’d meditate for 30 days straight, but then didn't continue with it. I’ve spent money to study with a meditation master and even received my own mantra to work with. Again, that helped give me a framework, but still I never got truly hooked. So what changed?
Well. Two reasons. The second one was more important, but it needed reason #1’s support.
Reason #1: The scientific data that proves it’s efficacy is overwhelming. Meditation bio-chemically changes our entire nervous and endocrine systems, making us calmer in the face of adversity, more focused hence leading to higher performance, better sleepers, and simply put: happier. The stereotype of a frolicking hippy roaming California poppy fields eating plants and slamming down kombucha and bong hits is outdated. So is the yoga teacher adorned with mala beads and patchouli exploring the depths of India. They MAY be meditators, but you’d be surprised how many are not. The modern meditator is you. And me. It’s the 58 year old CEO of a billion dollar company, it’s the sales rep at Verizon. Simply put, the data is on fire and it’s spreading fast.
Reason #2: We get so used to stress that we sometimes don't feel it surfacely. That was me. I was focusing on a lot of ‘what if’s’ and it was wearing me down. Then I got sick and felt disproportionately exhausted to the mild cold I had. I was getting headaches and felt disconnected and unfocused. I was overwhelmed, and it had zero to do with circumstances. Then something legitimately circumstantial occurred, and I thought to myself: “I’ve got to do something or I’ll crack”. Then it was the holidays. I took some time off and seized the moment.
So here I am 3 months later, and I’ve learned some things I honestly never expected to learn from meditating every day. Here they are:
1. You must know your WHY. It’s not enough to know the data, and it’s never going to work if you keep telling yourself that you “should” meditate. Of course you should. Everyone should. But that means not a whole lot. For you to commit to ANYTHING in life, you have to have a why that is compelling enough to motivate you to start, and inspire you to continue. My why is my health and my performance as a human being. Things unravel slowly and insidiously if I don’t.
2. The noise in your head will often get louder when you meditate - especially in the beginning. I must debunk the myth that meditation is not meditation if you’re thinking. Even if A LOT. It does NOT mean it’s not working. It means that there are some stressors in your life that are rising to the surface, ready to be released. Let them rise and burn off, then rise and burn off again. EXPECT your head to get louder in the beginning. Believe it or not, your parasympathetic nervous system is still responding even with your thoughts. You will still reap the benefits.
3. Exercise before you meditate. This is the best hack for the “noisy head” meditations. For a new habit to take hold, we need to know that our actions matter. Which is why so many people give up when they think their thinking ruins meditation. Exercising first will give you the results you need, faster. This could mean 10 jumping jacks. It doesn't have to be an entire yoga class or a trip the the gym. Or it could. Moving your body primes your nervous system to be still and more ‘head - quiet’.
4. Congruence with identity and values. Yoga is very much the study of the mind, and we use the body as a vehicle through which to understand it, master it, and transcend it. As a yoga teacher, I value this. I stand for it, it is part of my identity. Adding meditation to my life makes me feel more in alignment with what I stand for, what I project to others, and what I value. As a coach, I’m keenly aware of this truth: living in alignment with your values is a critical component of experiencing a more fulfilling life. If you value peace, or joy, or patience, or focus, or performance, or productivity in any way, meditating will align you with those values and in turn, you will feel better about you.
5. Meditation builds self-esteem. Precisely for the reasons stated above. When you live congruently with what truly matters to you; ie, with the identity you wish to project, protect and build, your self worth will increase. A lot.
6. Meditation connects me to my body and refines my instincts. Stress is a dissociative state. In deep stress, we go into reptilian response where fight, flight or freeze takes over. This can go on for months, at which point the cord between our head and body severs, leaving us trapped in our heads, and divorced from our wiser hearts. No good decision can made under stress, because we need our brains, hearts, and instincts to be working in concert with one another. (I’m not talking about the healthier stress of a time constraint which can be very beneficial at times for decision-making). Meditation rebuilds the connective tissue between your head and your intuition. This is critical as your body never lies.
7. Meditation gave me control. Even if you're the most go-with-the-flow person on the planet, you still need to feel that you have control of your inner universe. A lot of crap came to a head before I threw in the towel and decided I was going to meditate forever. Of course I hoped it would help, but I had no idea just how much it would. I didn't go to a doctor, or a healer. I didn't take a pill or some herbs. I didn't go on vacation. I did it all on my own by being still for at least 30 minutes a day. This led to a belief that my actions DO matter, and that I can impact MYSELF through right ACTION. Now that feels good.
8. It reinvigorated my desire to give back and contribute. We have to be able to let go of the things that no longer work in order to return to what we hold sacred. Meditation helped me return to WHY I do what I do for a living. It re- pumped blood back into my contribution muscle and has in turn, made waking up in the morning so much better.
9. Sitting to meditate is not the same as moving your body to gain a meditative state. Ok this was an important revelation. I’ve been an avid yoga practitioner for 18 years and before that I was a dance-clubber, before that a gym rat, and before that a swimmer. Moving my body is my religion. I’ve experienced deep meditative states from all of it. And movement does indeed burn off stress, in fact I literally prescribe it to clients. HOWEVER: It’s the not doing of meditation that restores our systems from stresses that’ve been dwelling in our bodies for years and decades. This is key. Don't stop moving, but I promise there are deeper, darker and muddier soils within you that yearn to come up for air. To dry up in the light, then turn to dust so it can be carried off into ether with a breeze.
Here’s to de-stressing.