I’m a starter. I like to start things. Sticking with (some) things is a bit harder. Some of the things I’ve started include: Kayla Itsines 12-week Bikini Body Guide. Waking up early for 21 days. Reading a new book every month. Painting every week. You can guess how those ended. (Hint: They ended.)
It turns out, building healthy habits is hard. Like most people, I’m easily distracted by that newer, shinier workout or book before I finish the one I am on. And for a long time, daily meditation was no different.
I was first exposed to meditation as a child. I watched my parents meditate through religion. (I’m Ismaili Muslim and meditation is an important part of our practice.) They wake up at 4 a.m. to meditate. Good for them. Me? By the time I hit middle school, I was already over mornings.
In college, I joined a meditation group that met weekly with goals of daily practice. But studying, sports and a growing social life felt more important. I meditated irregularly, mainly when I felt like my life was crashing down on me — like when I got a bad grade or was frustrated with a friend (the drama of being 20!). Meditation was for crises, not daily practice.
When I started my first job, a colleague introduced me to Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s 21-day meditations (thank you, Sheila!). If Deepak and Oprah were involved, then I thought I could surely build the habit.
In talking about it with Sheila, I FINALLY realized I couldn’t do this alone. I asked a small group of women to do it with me (a lot like a professional development crew) and we held each other accountable over email because we all lived in different time zones.
While I didn’t make it to daily meditation through Oprah and Deepak’s series, it did help me develop a more regular habit of meditating.
Then in 2015, I found Headspace. I have been using the app religiously for 3+ years. How? Why? Really? First, Headspace co-founder, meditation teacher and app narrator Andy Puddicombe’s voice is soothing. Second, I am a sucker for cute animations, which the app provides to explain visualization concepts. And third, the app let me add “friends” who could hold me accountable (much like my email thread meditation team). I added my mom. I encouraged Sarah to join. I got Steph (from above) on there. These ladies checked in when they noticed I hadn’t meditated in a while and got me back on there. I took comfort in seeing that Sarah had meditated 10 minutes before me (always 10 minutes before me, ha!).
Three years later, I have a daily meditation practice. We can’t all be Deepak Chopra, whose Sunday starts with a two-hour meditation, but I’m proud of where I’m at, and I’d like to eventually increase to 20 or 30 minutes of daily meditation practice. Goals!
Yeah but isn’t meditation kind of BS?
Some people might think that. But the data backs me up. Many researchers show that meditation reduces depression, anxiety and feelings of pain. They even studied meditators’ brains, and results suggested that people who meditate often have better memory and awareness than those who don’t. And it doesn’t take forever to start seeing these benefits, just eight weeks in some instances. Headspace research suggests in just 10 days, you will see reduced anxiety, better sleep habits and improved focus, and be one with the Dalai Lama (OK, not the last one).
Still not convinced? Do it ’cause it’s cool. These famous people are known to meditate daily: Jack Dorsey, Oprah Winfrey, the late Steve Jobs, Gwyneth Paltrow, Arianna Huffington, Katy Perry, Madonna and more.
Why did I stick with it?
At first meditation seemed deeply spiritual, mystical and unattainable. Something Buddhists who sat cross-legged on mountains did. With that image in mind, I strove for a sense of calm and serenity in my life that, as an ambitious young woman with lots of goals and to-do list items, I thought was magical. In college, I became obsessed with peak performance on teams (I played varsity field hockey) and in life. I wanted to be a better athlete, win more, and operate at the highest possible level in everything I did (classes, extracurriculars, friends… everythingggg). I read the Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, and he framed meditation as a way to master one’s inner self and achieve peak performance. Meditation seemed like a way for me to do great things, to achieve more, to win more — it could be the means to a better end, even if perhaps not valuable in and of itself.
My relationship with meditation has changed now that I’ve been at it more consistently. It is less about trying to weather storms or emotional hurdles and more like a protective shield that reminds me that I can handle anything, even if in that moment, I feel overwhelmed or anxious. It’s like carrying around an umbrella with me just in case, as opposed to forgetting it at home and getting drenched. I feel more clarity, less anxious and more centered daily. I keep coming back to meditation because I believe it helps me be the person I want to be, more loving of others, better at my job and better able to juggle the things in my life.
When I let my meditating lapse, I jump at things. I make remarks that I am not proud of. I am more judgmental and less generous. I am focused on myself and not others or my environment. Don’t get me wrong, even when I meditate, I still have moments, but meditating brings me back to some sort of center.
What I’ve learned along the way
If you’re pursuing a daily meditation practice, a few things to keep in mind: you don’t have to do it alone (find friends to help!), and the most important way to make it a habit is to find something (whatever that may be) that works for you. Maybe it’s meditating while you commute because that is your only time to yourself (preferably when commuting by public transportation and not while driving!). Maybe it’s taking an extra two minutes in the bathroom each day to do a breathing exercise, or sneaking into a quiet conference room in the middle of the work day. Or maybe it’s pausing during those first few minutes when you wake up, before the chaos of the day gets going. Maybe Headspace will work for you, or the Calm app. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but if you want to make it work, you can find a way to fit it in.
This article was originally published on The Juggle.