Back on the 3rd January, at the start of the year, I set myself a meditation challenge – to see if meditating every day would help me to feel more calm and in control. I set myself this challenge as I have meditated on and off in the past, but let it slip a bit… it is easy to get out of the habit I guess, especially when there are so many other things going on (work, kids, illness, fatigue…). But I also know that when I devote myself to taking the time to meditate I feel so much better. In a life where Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis means that I live with stress, pain and uncertainty everyday, meditation has, in the past, let me take some time out just for me. My body may feel like it is slowly falling apart but meditation makes me feel like my mind isn’t!
So, how did I get on? Well, I am pleased to say that I have been keeping a bit of a running journal for my meditation and I have managed to complete 406 minutes of meditation over the month of January! This was sitting down, focus on your breath meditation, not yoga meditation, which I also did a bit of. Did I do the 20 minutes every day that I initially set out to do? No. Sometimes I did 10, sometimes I did 23, one time I did none. But I did it, and that is all that matters.
Keeping a journal helped me to reflect on what kind of meditation works best for me:
“Day 3: Downloaded the Calm app and completed 23 minutes of meditation. Had the background sound of nature and it helped me to get in the zone, pretending that I was at my sister-in-laws house in France overlooking Mont Blanc. I meditated with just the nature sounds and it took me a few minutes to get into it, but as soon as I started counting my breaths in and out, it helped me to stay focused. I noticed that at the end of the 23 minutes my breath was much slower than when I started and I felt much more calm”
So, what was the outcome? I think the biggest thing that I have noticed is that I feel so much more calm. I am much less likely to fly off the handle if the kids are being little monsters and I keep calm when others are starting to get a bit riled. I have also noticed that it has made me really sensitive to other people arguing/raising their voice/being stressed, almost as if I want to try and keep the equilibrium and encourage everyone to take a deep breath and just calm down!
“Day 13: Completed meditation after work…so tired through. I completed 10 minutes of the Calm app, thunderstorm sounds. I notice that I am a lot calmer with the kids – much less likely to raise my voice and I am much more patient than before”
I have also noticed that I feel so much more mindful – I am really enjoying the time with my kids, savouring the cuddles and taking time to really listen to them. I did this anyway, but I feel that the meditation challenge really helped me to properly appreciate the ‘little things’ even more than I already did. And I catch myself really concentrating during the most mundane activities – like chopping fruit – instead of rushing through, just to get things done as quickly as possible.
“Day 19: I did 15 minutes of meditation today. I noticed when I cuddled the kids at their bed time, I really stopped and enjoyed the cuddle; usually I rush downstairs to start my ‘me time’, but I didn’t feel the need today”
How I Feel the Meditation Challenge Has Helped Me:
- Reduced stress levels
- Increased mindfulness – aware of how I react and really taking in ‘the little things’
- Calmer with the kids – and just calmer in general!
- Improved focus at work and when reading books
- It’s made me really prioritise myself and specifically my mental health
Guided or Unguided Meditation?
For me, I think a bit of a mixture. I definitely felt that guided meditation (where a person talks you through the meditation) had a place on my ‘busy’ days, particularly if I found that I could only find time right before bed – guided sleep countdown was my savior then. But, after a bit of practice, I think that unguided suited me best. Taking the time to truly concentrate on my breathing, without someone else’s voice getting in the way, helped me to really switch off.
Yoga for Meditation?
Yes! I love the way that Yoga with Adriene really focuses on her breath whilst carrying out the poses and I found the perfect meditative yoga practice with her ‘Salve’ yoga; not too tricky with my mobility difficulties and an emphasis on self-care:
Yoga is a great way to get into meditation, I think, if you don’t fancy traditional sitting down meditation.
The two that I tried for this meditation challenge were Headspace and Calm. I loved them both! I had already paid for Headspace, but got out the habit of using it. This time around, I loved their sleep meditation and also incorporated some of their visualisation techniques that they offer in their ‘stress’ meditation into my own unguided meditation. So, for example, I visualised my body slowly filling up with a soft, relaxing, orange light from my feet right up to my head. Headspace offer both guided and unguided meditation, short activities for kids to carry out to encourage relaxation and mindfulness and specific packages for your exact needs e.g. anxiety, anger, relationships and productivity, to name a few.
Calm was a new app for me. I loved the fact that it offered many different sounds to meditate to, if I fancied unguided meditation and, like Headspace, it offers ‘packs’, such as ‘7 days of sleep’ and ‘7 days of happiness’. It also offers ‘sleep stories’ to lull you into a restful sleep and I loved the ‘breath bubble’, which allows you to focus on your breathing in a specific way (e.g. breath in for 5 seconds, hold for 4, out for 4 seconds), to help you feel as calm as possible.
Both Headspace and Calm offer free meditation, but you also have the option to sign up and pay for access to the whole catalogue, so it is definitely worth trying both for free first and seeing which suits you best.
How To Meditate
Here is a post that gives you some ideas on how to meditate. For me, I preferred to sit cross-legged, when it was quiet, with my hands on my lap. I bought a candle, but didn’t use it!
My Top Tips for Meditation
- Have a go!
- Try different mediums – some people like guided, some unguided, some people prefer to take meditative walks, some prefer traditional ‘sitting down’ meditation. I know someone who likes to listen to opera music and someone who doesn’t like any noise at all
- Count your breaths – Headspace advise counting from 1 to 10 and then starting again from 1 – breathe in (count 1) and breathe out (count 2). I continually find myself using this technique to help me to stay focused
- Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stay focused. It is absolutely natural for our minds to wander, the more we meditate the easier it is to bring it back to the breath (but some times are much harder than others!)
- Don’t give up – I definitely had days in my meditation challenge when I truly just couldn’t be bothered. At these times I made myself do it and, you know what? I was so glad I did. I could feel the difference right afterwards in my mood… almost like I was holding on to stress that I didn’t know that I had before I did the meditation! My father in law sent me a brilliant quote:
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour” – Zen proverb
Well, I didn’t quite manage my 20 minutes every day, but I am so proud of what I achieved, can definitely feel a difference and plan to continue and make it a habit.
Did anyone else manage to start to meditate or up their meditation practice? What worked for you? I’m pleased to say that I also have my friend Hayley, from Mission Mindfulness, joining me soon on my blog to discuss mindfulness and how it can help us in our every day lives – keep your eyes posted! Hope everyone has a great rest of the week 😀