Meditation and happiness?

Confession time--I had never practiced any form of true meditation prior to three weeks ago. The closest I have ever come to practicing meditation in any such form was my daily devotional and doing yoga classes. Each day, I start with a daily devotional from FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). These devotionals are purposeful in that there is reading, reflecting, and time for prayer; it is not just a check the box type of activity, I really do enjoy my day beginning with five to ten minutes of quiet time. There is something missing from this time, I realize that now. As far as yoga is concerned, I view this practice as a workout, nothing more and nothing less. I have friends that find meditation in yoga, I do not. I need fast-paced moving, upbeat music, and an energetic instructor. If one of those three elements is missing my brain checks out and into the next activity for the day. A lot of people truly enjoy corpse pose at the end of a yoga class, but that is not me; I am not somebody who can lay motionless other than for when I am asleep.

I was given the assignment in my graduate work to practice meditation. It was not a choice, it was an assignment with a grade attached. Up to this point in my Positive Psychology class I have enjoyed every lesson, so I went into my weekly readings, videos, and writing assignment with an open mind. I have been focusing on being more mindful the past two weeks, and I really do want to be more mindful. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of different forms of meditation; I found myself instantly gravitating to two forms--breathing and walking. As an endurance coach for kids and adults, I am always encouraging my clients to practice diaphragmatic breathing. This practice helps my clients learn how to use their diaphragm to completely fill their lungs during exercise. I have practiced diaphragmatic breathing a bit myself, but not to the extent I believe I should. I am a physical creature, I love to be outside and my primary form of exercise is running. I have aged a bit and my body has thirty seven years of running miles on the engine. What I once considered a waste of time, walking, I have now come to realize can be quite beneficial. We have had a brutal winter in Iowa, trying to practice walking meditation on a treadmill has no appeal for me. Bring on springtime!

Session #1 My first attempt at breathing meditation took place at my place of work. I spend a lot of time at my gym, so I thought this would be a perfect place to start. I started my meditation shortly after noon on Friday. I had already been up for seven hours and knew I had another solid nine to ten hours left in my day. My gym is quiet on Fridays, so I closed the door to my office, sat in the sun that was shining in through the window, and got myself into a ready mindset. My first thought before laying down on my back was how do I know when twenty minutes has passed? Or should I just go as long as I can? I set a timer on my watch and started breathing; I focused on just breathing, being natural, not forcing my inhale or my exhale. As hard as I tried not to think about the past (or what still was ahead) my mind did drift. I could feel myself pulling my thought back into my breath, and while it was clunky and cumbersome, it worked. Twenty minutes went by rather quickly. Not perfect but I did enjoy some forced quiet time before what was next up, a hill workout with my high school track team. Most times I do not participate in hard workouts with the girls, but today was different; I felt energized so I decided to join the fun. Our conversations seem to have a flow, I felt more engaged with the girls as I felt like there was a purpose other than just another great workout. Outdoor exercise always helps my sleep, and that night I slept well. I am not sure if the solid sleep was a result of the exercise or the meditation.

Session #2 I wanted this session to be at a different time and different place so I chose 4pm at my home office. Saturdays start early with clients at my gym, and next were some inside  home projects and shoveling snow. I was not necessarily tired but I had been extremely active at this point for the day; my step counter read over 17,000 steps. Similar to my first session I laid on my back in the quiet room, and sun was shining through the window. This time I did not start a timer but I wore my heart rate monitor. I was more focused on my breath and I was not as distracted as the previous day. I found focus in my breath. My hands felt my belly reach up with every inhale and lower with each exhale. Some breaths were deeper than others, none felt labored, I felt like I was in breathing naturally. What I thought was about twenty minutes actually turned out to be closer to twenty five minutes. My heart rate ranged from a low of forty-two to a high of fifty-four beats per minute; those numbers are fairly close to my sleeping heart rate. After a quick shower, it was time to head off to church, and finally dinner with some friends. My friend asked how school was going for me, I was excited to share all my recent learnings including my recent practice of meditation. I tried hard to practice conversational meditation without it looking or feeling awkward. I intently listened before responding, I felt less distracted even though we were in a loud Mexican restaurant. Sleep went great; normally I get up at least once a night, but I did not last night.

Session #3 Same setting as Saturday’s meditation practice. I had not done an early morning meditation practice so I chose Sunday at 7:15am. I slept great the prior night, and I felt an extra boost of energy this morning. I knew I had another full day of house projects, so I decided to get this practice started. I did not set a timer, but I did wear my heart rate monitor again. I had difficulty getting focused this morning as it was the day we listed our house for sale. We have been in this house for fifteen wonderful years, and it will be a little sad to move.  I am not worried about the house selling, we do not need to move, this is a choice we have made in order to down-size. What makes me truly anxious about trying to sell our house is the fact that we have two large dogs and an eighteen year old diabetic cat. My mind kept racing to the fact that every time that an agent wants to show our house, it will require additional planning and work on our part. Coming home, taking the dogs somewhere, making sure the cat is not wandering around in a insulin-induced blind spell... I really wanted this meditation practice to be better than the previous two, but I am sad to say that I was just going through the motions during this session. What I thought was twenty minutes ended up being only twelve minutes; I forced myself to finish out the full twenty minutes. My heart rate on average was higher than yesterday. If meditation practices received letter grades, today was an “A” for intention but a “C” result.

Reflecting on what I learned from my first attempts at meditation, I feel like I can make the following conclusions:

  1. I did enjoy breathing meditation. My days are full of activity and action, this form of meditation allows me to lay down for a period of time. I know I will need to incorporate other types of meditation practices to ward off staleness. Something I do everyday is eat, so I would like to try meal meditation. I talk to people everyday as well, so I would like to continue trying conversation meditation.

  2. This will require consistency. I use a daily calendar to drive my schedule. I can either schedule meditation time or take time when time presents itself, regardless of whether or not it is five or twenty five minutes.

  3. I know that I will need outside help to learn more about meditation. I have researched various meditation apps.

  4. I can have fun with meditation. This is not a pass or fail type of event. It takes 10,000 hours to master a craft, I am now at one hour.

  5. What I am missing from my daily devotional time is actual meditation. I read, reflect, and pray in a too little amount of time. I know it is more about the quality than the quantity of time, but what I am missing is the focus on mindfulness. It is okay for other thoughts to enter my head as I have found that those thoughts can enhance the experience.

  6. The best piece of advice I received was this…as you practice meditation think of your thoughts as a train heading down a set of railroad tracks. It is ok for those thoughts (train) to enter your brain, some thoughts do not require a stop (reflection time) at the station, some thoughts do require a brief stop at the station, while other thoughts require a longer stop. You can choose which thoughts get a stop and how long those stops can be.