Meditation: What finally led to my daily practice.

A clay figurine in a strand of ferns.
A shady place to meditate

The first time I tried to meditate, I fell asleep. It was about twenty years ago, when I was still a working mom, and our family was recovering from my son Matthew’s rumble with a brain tumor.

The exact setting escapes me, but I was taking a workshop with about a dozen other people, all of us in work clothes, sitting on hard folding chairs. The setting wasn’t conducive to relaxation, but I was so sleep-deprived, it didn’t take much for me to nod off. Fortunately, I didn’t drool or snore (I don’t think).

I thought falling asleep meant the meditation was effective but unfortunately, you have to stay awake for the full benefit.

You have to stay awake for meditation to be effective.

Other times when I’ve stayed awake during meditation, my mind became a cyclone of random thoughts.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in what time is my doctor’s appointment today. Breathe out. Breathe in I have to get that essay done by Friday. Breathe out. Breathe in darn I said I would call Mom yesterday I wonder if Dad’s feeling better shoot I think I’m out of lettuce what will I have for lunch oh I wonder what I should wear when I get a book deal and have to appear on Good Morning America. Breathe out.

I didn’t know this was normal. Again, my expectations led me to give up.

It’s normal to be barraged with random thoughts during meditation.

Over the past two years, my functional medicine doctor has “prescribed” meditation as one of many healing strategies for my chronic health issues. For a few days following every appointment with her, I’d sit down to meditate, but I never stuck with it. Last year, I got a subscription to Headspace.com, but I still couldn’t get beyond a few days of meditation in a row.

I thought of meditation like taking an aspirin for a headache, expecting the effect to be quick and noticeable. Because I didn’t get that effect, I wasn’t motivated to continue.

Then in January, I took a four-week meditation class, hoping for inspiration. I don’t remember if it was something the instructor said or something my doctor had previously said that finally clicked, but *click* it did.

I realized that, although I had tried many strategies to support my body in healing, the one thing I hadn’t done was to slow my body and mind down on a regular basis, giving my body a chance to heal itself. I realized that my body needed time and space if it had any chance of healing.

Meditation gives my body the time and space it needs to heal.

That was my click moment seven months ago. I started thinking of meditation as less like taking an aspirin, and more like eating vegetables and getting a good night’s sleep—things you (should) do for the longterm health benefits.

Since then, I’ve meditated daily.

Dr. Herbert Benson, Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI), and Mind Body Medicine Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School (how’s that for some impressive credentials?) lends scientific credibility to the benefits of meditation. He coined the phrase “relaxation response.” It’s a state of deep rest—the opposite of the fight or flight response—that can be achieved through some simple meditative steps. In this state, the body’s ability to self-heal is given a chance to work. You can read a good definition and explanation of the relaxation response here.

The relaxation response is a state of deep rest—the opposite of “fight or flight.”

Dr. Benson’s relaxation response is one of my go-to meditation practices. Here’s my favorite video. It’s only ten minutes long, in case you’re interested in giving it a try.

Another meditation practice I enjoy–one that’s recommended for beginners– focuses on the sound and feel of the breath. It uses the mantra So HumSo on the inhale, and Hum on the exhale. These are two Sanskrit words meaning “That” (so) and “I” (hum). Together, the translation means “I Am That.”

Those of you who practice yoga probably understand the significance of “I Am That” more than I. I just know that it’s peaceful and I enjoy it. Here’s my favorite So Hum video, also just ten minutes long.

The more I practice meditation, the better I get.

Something I’ve noticed the more I practice meditation is that I can reach a very relaxed state almost immediately. I don’t need more than a few minutes to receive a benefit. But when I have the time, I don’t stop after ten minutes–I set a timer beforehand and go for twenty. It’s that enjoyable!

Meditation may not heal me completely–I’m not expecting any miracles–but I believe it’s a critical piece of the puzzle. And I feel good just knowing that I’m doing this for myself.

I’m sharing this story because maybe you, too, have tried and failed to commit to meditation or other healthy practices. Maybe you’re hoping something will click for you as it did for me. Maybe sharing my words will make a difference for you. That’s a writer’s dream, y‘know. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

How about you? Do you have a meditation story to share–successful or otherwise?

If you’re reading on a laptop or desktop, the comment box may not show up on this page. But I’d really like to hear from you. So click this link, scroll to the bottom of the page and voila!–an empty comment box waiting just for you.

12 thoughts on “Meditation: What finally led to my daily practice.”

  1. Karen,
    I did not know that you had a consistent meditation practice! I admire that. Great inspiration for me…i have not gotten past 2 weeks.

    1. Thanks for your comment Mary Beth! Yes, I’m so glad it’s finally become part of my day. I do skip occasionally, but even on those days, I manage to get in a few minutes. I’m happy I inspired you 🙂

  2. Karen, your “thought barrage” during your early mediation attempts sounds just like my mind when I do the “Breathe” app on my watch (i’m supposed to focus my thoughts on my breath, and my eyes on the whirling pattern on my watch, while breathing in and out on cue). Well, most of the time, anyway. I would probably do better if I took the meditation exercise as seriously as you do, but, I mean, c’mon… it’s my watch talking to me!

    1. Hey, if your watch works, go for it! I found that I do better not following a cue to breathe in and out, as it’s distracting to try to breathe in sync with anything else. The videos and other recordings I use have just silence. Aaah.

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