How good are you at being still? It is most definitely not one of my strong suits! Most of us are aware that taking some time to relax and unwind is beneficial for our sanity, but very few of us are good at it.
It can even make us feel guilty for not using that time for something more productive. What if our half-assed relaxing is hindering our productivity, though? It’s obvious that meditation forces you to take a step back from your busy life and remove yourself from your mind’s focus for a bit, but there are even more advantages to meditation than just that.
Multiple studies have found that the areas of the brain that regulate emotional control, memory, compassion, and focus become more dominant in those who regularly spend time in meditation. Those studies also revealed a decrease of activity in the centers of the brain that signal tension or stress. So, why is it so hard for us to practice a few moments of solitude and silence every day?
A Personal Challenge
I am curious if a more deliberate dedication to slowing down would increase our ability to care for our families, achieve success at our jobs, maintain a regular workout routine, etc. There is no better way to answer curiosities than to get yourself in the middle of it, so I came up with a meditation challenge for myself and my friends. The simple challenge was created from what I have learned in Yoga classes and from what I found when searching for meditation tips. My goal is not to become a skilled meditator, but rather, to just get better at intentionally slowing myself down.
The hardest part of my challenge was just getting myself to start it! It was really difficult for me to pave out even five minutes of my day to sit and be still. I continued to make excuses about chores that I needed to get done or needing to get to sleep. I discovered that step one of getting myself to sit still was to plan an exact time for it instead of hoping that I would come up with time somewhere in my day. Right before bed is the most consistent opportunity for me to schedule time to slow down so I began to require myself to do so before I climbed into bed.
I still wasn’t able to meditate as often as I would have liked, and I did not end up meeting the requirements of the challenge during any of the weeks. I did, however, see a difference in my levels of patience, joy, and energy from the few times that I was able to step aside from the busyness and slow myself down.
I talked to friends that also participated in the challenge. No one had completed every step of the challenge, but some did spend a few times in meditation. One friend said that he had tried to make a habit of doing his quiet time before he began his day. He commented that on the days he did this, he felt like he was more equipped to take on anything that the day had in store for him. Another friend mentioned that it caused her to be a little bit more thankful for the people that she had in her life, and to take care of them just a little bit better instead of cruising through her day as quickly as possible.
So, maybe setting a ‘meditation challenge’ isn’t a sure-fire way to start meditating like a champ. I am, however, going to continue to work on the challenge below. I will show myself grace for the weeks (or months) that I forget to make it a priority, and I will patiently begin from the top as many times as I need to. Maybe having quiet time is more of one of those ‘it’s the climb, not the summit, that counts the most’ types of things.
Sit alone in a quiet room with eyes closed for 5 minutes, two times during the week. Add a candle or essential oil if you feel so inclined. If a stressful thought comes into your mind, try to tell it that you will deal with it later. You do not have to be attempting a meditative state, just be still and remove yourself from any distractions.
Increase meditation to three times throughout the week. Spend 5-10 minutes each session in a quiet space, seated or laying on the floor with eyes closed. Attempt to push any thoughts out of your mind and focus on a word or a phrase that means something positive to you. – I am choosing the word ‘content’ to focus on.
Spend at least 10 minutes, three or more times throughout the week in your quiet space. Focus on the same word or phrase from last week or change it up. Be very intentional about pushing thoughts about yourself (your to-do list, your irritation at your boss, your upcoming party, etc) out of your mind and focus on breathing deeply. Think about pulling positive things toward you with every inhale, and dispelling negativity with every exhale.