Takeaways from My 30 Days of Meditation
Over the past year, I’ve had at least 10 different people urge me to start a consistent meditation practice. And, try as I might, I’ve never been able to string more than a handful of days together before falling off the meditation bandwagon. I know the research behind meditation and have read everything from Goop articles to scientific research on the benefits of it. But, I have always had some excuse not to start or stick to a practice. After many false starts, I finally committed on March 14, 2020, and just hit my 30th day (as I’m writing this on April 12, 2020) of at least 3 minutes meditating a day. So, the question begs to be asked, is it helping AND am I going to continue? Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 30 days and where I my meditation practice going.
Building a Habit is Hard
When I decided that I was going to commit to 30 days of consistent meditation, I thought I had done the hard part – I had decided it was time and had figured out when I would fit it into my schedule. I knew that my best chance at success was to meditate first thing when I woke up or else I’d allow work and other priorities consume my time and willpower. This was all well and good until I overslept my alarm one day and had to start my day without it. And, as I predicted, it wasn’t until I was lying in bed about to drift off that I realized I hadn’t meditated. Luckily my willpower was still strong enough, and I did it.
It wasn’t a one-time thing – not being able to meditate in the morning – and that is really where having a meditation app (Calm) that tracked my progress came in handy for keeping me accountable. I had told a friend that I was doing this, and I wanted to show her physical proof that I had done what I said I would do. And that helped motivate me – on days that I missed my designated morning time slot, on days that I didn’t feel like it, and on days that I felt like there were more “important” uses of my time.
Also, I was much more flexible than in the past with how long of a meditation I would “count” as having done my practice for the day. Basically, I counted any length of meditation that I could find on the meditation app I was using (Calm). This made the task less daunting because who can’t find 3 minutes in their day to meditate? I mean, seriously, I told myself that, if I could find no other time in my day, then I could meditate while I was in the shower or on the toilet – side note: I always found at least 3 other minutes in my day.
One thing I want to mention about using a meditation app was the interesting effect that it had on me. About 15 days into my meditation streak, I noticed that completing my daily practice was less about the meditation and more about hitting my goal. There was even one day that I realized near the end of my meditation that I was so focused on keeping my streak alive that I had spent the entire 10 minutes congratulating myself for fitting my meditation in rather than actually meditating – which I think means that my practice was “working” since I recognized that. I’m a competitive person who is goal oriented so the app turned out to be both positive and negative for me. Once I understood how it was affecting me, I was able to acknowledge how proud I was of myself for continuing my streak without letting that be my intention for why I continued the practice each day.
It Really Isn't About Not Thinking
One of the reasons that meditation always seemed so daunting to me was that I thought you were supposed to not have any thoughts while you were meditating. Even once I was told (repeatedly by many of those people telling me that I needed to meditate) that meditation wasn’t about not thinking, I still couldn’t fully let go of that idea. I’d start meditating and inevitably end by being pissed off at myself for thinking so much. Let me tell you, this is counter-productive. Nothing kills your desire to meditate like frustration and general annoyance with yourself.
Full transparency: I spent many sessions getting annoyed with myself for having so many thoughts over the 30 days. I mean, how many thoughts can one person have? And why is it so hard to focus on the breath? Also, why do they tell you to focus on the breath, but not to change the breath – is it even possible not to breathe deeper when you are focusing on the breath? So, yeah, clearly lots of thoughts that can quickly drive me bonkers! But, again, the guided meditations worked to help me calm down and not let this frustration rule me/my mind. I emphasize guided because all of the guides on the meditations I listened to reminded me that it was perfectly normal to have thoughts and that I shouldn’t try to stop them. I think those 30 days of constant reminders finally sunk in. I don’t need to not think, just not let myself get consumed by the thoughts.
I’ll repeat that again so it really sticks: You don’t need to not think, just don’t let yourself get consumed by the thoughts. Once I embraced this concept, it allowed me to enjoy my time in meditation more. I honestly still don’t crave meditation like I do yoga or running (or chocolate or pizza), but I don’t dread it either. It’s now become more like brushing my teeth – something I do every day that I feel neutral towards, and I do it because the research and science behind it says that it’s good for me.
It's Important to Try Different Types of Meditation to Find the Right One for You
There are so many different types of meditations out there. (I’m sure if I did some research or even a simple Google search I’d be able to come up with that number, but I didn’t look before writing & posting this.) The style of meditation that we mainly hear about is mindfulness meditation – for many people, it’s an easy and approachable way to meditate. And, even with mindfulness, there are different ways to do that. All of this to say that you should try different styles and techniques for meditating. Don’t write it off because you one time tried to meditate based on advice or a book you read or a guided meditation you listened to, and you didn’t like it. There is more than one way to do this thing. That is why I loved using a meditation app (Calm) because it gave me access to countless guided meditations. There were some that I loved and re-listened to, some that I hated, and some that were just meh. What’s more, many of the guided meditations helped me gain a better understanding of how I can deepen my practice and deepen my understanding of the practice.
Maybe Don't Lie Down to Meditate...But Find a Comfortable Position
Technically you can lie down to meditate – you can also stand or even walk – but I found that to be a bad idea. Perhaps one day I will become strong enough in my practice that I can lie down without drifting off, but I’m nowhere near that. I found that the best thing for me was to sit on my bed with my back against the headboard, a pillow in my lap, and my hands resting on the pillow. Sometimes my legs were straight, sometimes they were crossed, and sometimes one leg was straight and the other was bent – what the legs were doing mattered less than my back and head. What I found to be most important to feeling alert and supported was sitting while having my back and head leaning on something. Finding this out has been a game changer for me. I first meditated when at a yoga retreat and absolutely hated it. Besides not fully understanding what I was supposed to be doing, I could not get comfortable no matter how I tried to sit. Maybe for some pushing through this feeling of being uncomfortable is part of the process, but as a meditation newbie, I think it’s far more important to be comfortable in how you are sitting. It has made me more willing to meditate when I know that I won’t be beating myself up for constantly shifting in my seat.
So, Will I Continue?
Short answer: yes! Long answer: I will continue because I know it is good for me. I’ve read the research, and I can’t ignore it. But I don’t feel different, and I haven’t noticed some big change in me. I believe that there have been changes for me, but they are small. These changes may be more noticeable one day as I continue to meditate. Or, like I’ve found with my CBD routine, I may only be aware of the effects of my practice when I eventually miss a day or two. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m going to continue my streak. I’m up to being able to meditate for 10 minutes – and actually thinking that a 5 minutes meditation is short. For now, I’ll take that as a win.
Shanna's Top 8 Meditation Tips
1. Use a meditation app that tracks your progress – how many days you’ve meditated
2. Designate a meditation time for most days – be flexible when you must, but firm in your commitment to make it happen if you miss your designated time
3. Tell someone of your plan to create a consistent meditation practice
4. Be flexible with how long you are expecting yourself to meditate – some days you may have more time or may want to meditate longer than others, just do what you can and count it as having meditated
5. Use a meditation app with guided meditations when you are first starting out
6. You don’t need to not think, just don’t let yourself get consumed by the thoughts
7. Try different guided meditations and ways to meditate – you won’t like them all, but I guarantee you’ll find at least one type of meditation that you like
8. Find a comfortable seat where you feel supported and aren’t lying down
Want to learn more or try it out yourself? Check out our Ayurveda episode:
Check out our meditation episode: Episode 1: Meditation is a Superpower
Check out our post on meditation for beginners: NoBS Meditation Basics