What We Learned From Doing A Daily Meditation Challenge

The LD staff decided it was high time we all made health a priority. Enter Wellness Wednesdays, a series of weekly health challenges by LD writers (and editors!) where we commit to seven days of healthy habits and share the results with our readers. This week’s challenge: meditation.

This Week’s Participants: Molly & Jodie

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Molly: I suck at meditation. I even tried to take a few classes once. I fell asleep and fell off of the yoga block I was sitting on. Absolutely as mortifying as it sounds, especially since I was sat at the front. Sleeping beauty moment aside, I usually just end up making mental lists of all the things I should be doing, stressing myself out even more, and cutting my practice short.

However, I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed by a lot of things I have going on in my life right now, from trying to deal with some long-ignored emotional issues, attempting to graduate on time with a major and a minor, working part time, participating in a sport, maintaining a social life, writing for a few online publications, running my own blog and attempting to figure out what in the name of Batman I’m going to do with myself after I (fingers crossed) graduate in the spring. Needless to say, I’ve turned into a sassy little stress ball with issues sleeping at night. I need all the zen I can get.

Jodie: I have to admit that I am an anxious person. This is partly because I’m in a particularly chaotic phase of my lifelast year I got married and applied for a green card, this year I moved to a new city and started an MFA program and a new jobbut also because I don’t challenge myself enough to stop worrying and let it go. I’ve got so used to constant stress that I barely question the fact that I so often wake up feeling tense, usually spend the day agitated, and almost always struggle to fall asleep at night because my mind is racing. I’m a little skeptical that meditation will really cure my anxiety, but at this point I’m willing to try anything.

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Day 1

Molly: I decided to do my meditation practice at night, hoping that 10 minutes of deep breathing before bedtime would help me grab an extra hour of sleep. Courtesy of a delightful cocktail of period hormones and studying for midterms, I’ve had crippling migraines all day, and thus decided to take a Savasana position for today’s mediation. Rolled out my yoga mat, did a few sun salutations, and set a 10 minute timer on my phone. I inhaled, exhaled, and released the tension from to crown of my head all the way to my toes. I cleared my mind, and focused on cleansing my body with each exhale. And then I woke up very befuddled to an agitated phone stopwatch. So I guess this practice was kind of a bustbut I am going to put off the rest of my homework in favor of an early night to take advantage of how chill and floppy I feel right now.

Jodie: I intended to start the challenge with a local meditation class, but failed to anticipate the ridiculously confusing streets of Pittsburgh and ended up being too late to attend. Instead, I headed home and watched an online instruction video by Angie Kane. I guiltily identified with her description of busyness, discontentment and distraction, and how we’re often doing so much we never feel truly satisfied. She says:

“Meditation gives us this mental holiday, this mental strength of mind that allows us to have busy external lives but a very comfortable internal life at the same time. It allows us to experience strength and inner peace, instead of reacting to the external world and then going, Why did I do that?

Ah, Why did I do that? My personal mantra. After watching the video, I decided to jump right in and try to meditate for 10 minutes, sitting cross-legged on my living room floor in partial darkness. I’d been up late the night before, so I yawned like crazy at first, but then I began to relax and develop a rhythm with my breathing. I won’t say my mind ever felt truly clearI kept remembering emails I hadn’t answered and articles I needed to schedule, and there may have been a minute I spent cursing a fuckboy from my past in my head (I’m a writer, I remember this shit)but once I was done, I noticed that I felt much more physically relaxed than beforehand. This will be a good practice to develop before bed, but I’m excited to see what it’s like to do it in the morning, too.

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Day 2

Molly: I decided I would learn from my mistakes and give Savasana a pass. Instead, I opted for a cross-legged seat on my yoga mat. Tuesdays are really busy for me, so needless to say there is a lot of caffeine and anxiety poured into them. Usually, I try to get some reading done for one class or another, or zonk out to a Netflix show I’ve already seen until my brain stops buzzing. Breaking News! Meditation is more effective than television or homework at quieting your mind. While I did fail at keeping a crystal-clear mind, I did slow my heart rate and calm my breath enough to come down from the day, and was 100% ready to go to sleep by the time my 10 minutes was up.

Jodie: I had a really good night’s sleep, then today I meditated shortly after getting out of bed in the morning. Like yesterday, my body feels so much more relaxed, and even now that I’m done, I’m more conscious of my posture and breathing. I still had trouble switching off my mind, though, so I decided to consult a couple of online guides. I thought the goal of meditation was to completely empty the mind, but it turns out that it’s more about focusing on one thing, like sounds around you or your breath. I think it will still be a challenge to remain in the moment rather than contemplating my grocery list or friend drama, but maybe I’ll see an improvement tomorrow.

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Day 3

Molly: I put my meditation off until way too late today. I was running around trying to keep my head above water with homework and errands and such, and kept telling myself, Oh I’ll do it after this. By the time I finally got around to it, I was already nodding off. After five minutes of cleansing breaths, zoning out, and jerking awake, I decided to cut my losses and go to bed.  

Jodie: I meditated for ten minutes first thing the morning, and again last thing at night. I had the same response as the first two days: great physical relaxation, but not much change mentally. I was disappointed. However, when I sat down to work, I found myself much less tempted than usual to check Facebook or load up Spider Solitaire. Plus, I normally experience a lot of anxiety when I’m driving, but when I drove to work that evening I felt at ease on the road.

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Day 4

Molly: Thursdays are also hellishly busy for me. However, after yesterday’s pathetic excuse of a meditation attempt I resolved to not leave it until the last minute again. The perk of being a nanny of a young child is that she still takes one relatively long nap a day. Usually I do homework, tidy up, or try to nab a short nap myself, but today I plonked down on a cushion, cleared my mind, and set my phone timer. I still caught myself making lists and time-blocking the rest of my day, but each time I did I took a breath and tried to imagine I was blowing all my anxiety away with each exhale. This time, when my phone timer went off, I felt weirdly accomplished. I was a little more zen, and still awake. Heck yeah! I’m centered AF. Namaste.

Jodie: Today I made my husband meditate with me. He lay on the couch, I lay on the rug, and together we listened to the sound of each other’s breathing and the whir of the ceiling fan above us. He is approximately 150,000x more chill than I am, but he also enjoyed taking some time out just to be still and contemplative. When you think about it, it really is amazing how little time we set aside to just be compared to how much time we spend rushing around in the name of “being productive.” I’ve noticed I’m in a much better mood than usual, even during the hours I’m not meditating.

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Day 5

Molly: FriYAY. I had friends visiting from out of town today, so I already knew I was going to have to do some major prioritization. After seeing one friend off for her job interview and knocking out the rest of the homework I had due today, I decided to catch up on emails and meditate instead of going to the gym before classes. That way, I would have time to do everything I needed to in the evening and still make dinner. However, I made the mistake of doing my emails before I meditated and spent most of my time fuming over the fact the no one had RSVP’d to the small meeting I’d put together for my internship (despite multiple and increasingly threatening emails about needing to send an attendance sheet to the management team). Oops. Still, I felt calmer and incrementally more positive.

Jodie: I got up early to get ready for my flight to Chicago, so no morning meditation. I considered making an attempt at it in the airport, but decided I would just be worried about someone taking my stuff. Once I got to Chicago, meditation was driven clean from my mind due to the excitement of seeing friends and family and getting ready for a wedding. (Congrats, Andrew and Aimee!) Luckily, I remembered the challenge as I was getting ready for bed, and took five minutes to (tipsily) meditate before I listened to an audiobook and went to sleep. Feeling pretty good! Alcohol + Meditation = Uncharacteristically Chill Jodie.

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Day 6

Molly: Today was (another) one of those days that just got away from me. I’d spent the morning running around to get all my errands and goodbyes done before dashing to the meeting that *surprise* no one bleeping showed up to. Why professionalism seems to be dead to those 28 and under is something I will never quite grasp, but needless to say I was bubbling with aggravation. I definitely carried some of that anger into my meditation, even though I started with a short vinyasa flow to try to let go and focus on movement. I knew clearing my mind was going to be a no-go, so I tried to focus on different places my body where I hold tension. (Joke. My whole body is tension.) Each time I found a new spot, I imagined the stress held in my muscles melting away a little more with each exhale. While it didn’t completely soothe and center me, I no longer felt the need to put someone’s head through a wall.

Jodie: Turns out it’s much harder to make meditation a daily habit if you go away for the weekend! I spent the day writing and socializing and not much time focused on my breathing. I finally sneaked in a five minute meditation session while I was waiting for my friend Eric, who lives in Chicago, to pick me up. My mind was half-listening out for a text or phone call, which was a little distracting, but I was still glad I made the time. I felt relaxed when I went out, and less inclined to weep on my friend about all my drama and deadlines. (For the most part. Sorry Eric!) I’m realizing my anxiety is not going to magically disappear, but meditation makes me feel like I’m finally addressing it, even in a small way.

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Day 7

Molly: Last day! And I started it off with a boxing session to really expel some negative emotions before I got on with my day. Since this was the final day, I really wanted to step it up a level, so I downloaded Headspace, a meditation app that I’d heard good things about. And it was wonderful. Part of me wishes that I’d done this from the get go, but the other part of me doubts I would have appreciated the guided meditation as much without a week of experimenting with my practice on my own. Not only was it comforting to hear it reaffirmed that it is OK if your mind wanders off or gets busy during your mediation, but it was soothing to have someone guide me and help me to recenter myself. While I still caught myself making lists of everything I should be doing and starting to work myself up, I would say that in my mind this was my most successful session yet. My body felt warm (in a fuzzy way, not in a clammy way), and I felt focused.

Jodie: I’m sad to say this, but on the last day I just could not get my head in the game. By the time I’d survived the nightmare-brought-to-life that is Chicago O’Hare Airport and made it back to my Pittsburgh home, I was so exhausted. I tried to listen to some beautiful music and relax, but my mind wanted to race around thinking about all the lovely people I’d spent the weekend with, and all the work I now had to catch up on. The final meditation session was kind of a bust, and made me realize that I should not see it as something to just fit in during the day. If I want more out of meditation, I have to give more to it, as well.

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In Conclusion…

Molly: I tried to use my experience in yoga and meditation classes as my guide for most of the week, which, I won’t lie, was really difficult. I’ve been out of the habit of a regular yoga practice for too long, and forgot how tightly I tend to wind myself up. While I wouldn’t say I feel more zen since the beginning of this challenge, I am much more aware of how I really do need to start prioritizing some time for myself that isn’t hitting the gym or going to the barn or doing something. I need to check in with myself regularly, since I do have a habit of shoving everything under the metaphorical rug and continuing on like it’s all hunky dory (then wondering why I’m getting sick and not sleeping well). So I definitely plan to continue my meditation practice, and using the Headspace app.

If you’re someone with a jam-packed schedule and an aversion to just taking a minute, I’d highly recommend starting a meditation practice. 10 minutes isn’t a lot of time when you think about itespecially compared to the 30 minutes we all spend scrolling mindlessly through Facebook. We are becoming more and more aware that stress and mental health are no joke, and it is my opinion that a short period of daily meditation is an easy step everyone can take to look after their own.

Jodie: Since the challenge ended, I’ve continued to meditate every day. Like Molly, I don’t feel like I’ve suddenly changed into a totally zen personif anything, I’m aware of just how much work I have to do if I want to combat my anxiety. All this self-reflective downtime has made me realize that it is crucial that I learn to forgive myself and stop worrying so much about my mistakes. I can ask myself, Why did I do that? But I should really try to answer fairly, not say, “Because you are an idiot.” Looking back, I got a lot out of my first week of meditation. But it really was just the first week. I’m looking forward to seeing what it brings to my life from here on out.

Check out last week’s challenge on keeping a journal. How do you make time for self-reflection and general wellness? Tweet us @LitDarling!

Jodie

Jodie grew up near London, but has spent most of her twenties in the American South. Currently an M.F.A. candidate in Fiction at Warren Wilson College, she also holds an M.A. in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi and a B.A. in American & English Literature from the University of East Anglia, which included a year abroad at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jodie enjoys tea, cake, painting, running, and forcing teenagers to write poetry.
Jodie
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