Yesterday marked an anniversary for me - one whole year of daily meditation.
For the past 365 days, I have taken time to sit down and pay attention to my experience. What started out as a 90 day experiment, has become a profoundly important part of my life.
I have been practicing yoga for a little over 10 years, and meditating semi-regularly since 2008. In all this time, consistent home practice eluded me. I would have weeks were I could find time to sit each day, and occasional longer weekend sessions using a guided meditation, but it never became part of my routine. I suppose I wasn’t ready, didn’t want to bother trying to add another ‘to do’ item to my daily list. This is probably why, despite all that I had read about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation I couldn’t say I had experienced any of them for more than a few minutes at a time.
Last year as part of Sarah Power’s Insight Yoga training, we meditated each day together for at least 15 minutes, usually closer to half an hour. I loved the stillness, the way my mind felt refreshed by the practice and the occasional glimpses of deep relaxed peace I experienced. These sessions guided by Sarah finally gave me the foundation I needed to practice with confidence on my own.
Once the training ended I accepted Sarah’s challenge and committed to practice vipassana (mindfulness) meditation for a further 90 days on my own at home.
Pic from earlier today, my 1st of 90 days of meditation. After the training with Sarah I am ready and determined. Posting this as a public commitment, 12 mins of practice each day minimum for 90 days. Let's do this. Featured here are a few of the things that inspire me, and a journal to record my thoughts after each session. Not pictured is the Insight Yoga book, which is a must read for sure :-) #meditation #change #dailypractice #mindfulness #yoga #yinyoga #insightyoga #90daysofmeditation
It wasn’t easy. Some days were a struggle to find 12 minutes before a full day of anatomy lectures and labs. Once I only managed to sit for 3 minutes in the evening, and twice more I had to set the time for 6 minutes instead of 12. Amazingly though, apart from these three occasions I managed to create the habit of getting onto the cushion for at least 12 minutes every single morning.
After three months of regular practice, meditation began to feel like a natural and normal part of my routine. I chose to keep going. I could already begin to see the fruits of practice - there was a little less anxiety, a fraction more room to breathe in stressful situations, and a definite improvement in my ability to focus my mind. All of these were subtle shifts, but I knew I would continue.
This weekend I reached a milestone - 90days of meditation. Never thought I'd say this, but honestly can't imagine not sitting in the morning now. It hasn't dramatically changed my life, given me some airy sounding bliss, but I feel better after I sit. Refreshed somehow, softer even. I intend to keep going, and have promised myself another 90days, for a little longer each day now. So grateful I committed in January. Intend to reflect again in another 90days. #meditation #mindfulness #zen #zazen #dailypractice #vipassana #90daysofmeditation #grateful
I signed up for a daylong retreat, tried a few different local meditation groups and experimented with the length and form my practice took each day. Inspired, I also created and ran my first online meditation course and launched this blog.
The daily practice of just 15 minutes a day slowly started to change me. Friends noticed, my husband noticed, even my Grandma asked me to teach her because she hasn’t seen me this happy in years!
Here we are, one year on from the start of the 90 day experiment. Still me, still anxious and unsure about many things but also different, and confident that this practice has been good for me.
⭐ 365 days ⭐ 1 year of daily meditation today ❤ I have learned so much sitting on this cushion by the bookshelf each morning ⭐ these 12months of mindfulness have left me feeling a little calmer, a little lighter & absolutely certain that I will continue with the practice. Sharing my thoughts on the blog this afternoon. So grateful that I have been able to do this. 🙏
After 12 months of meditation, I have learned a lot about myself, my mind and relationships with those around me. I could waffle on for ages about it, but instead I want to share with you 7 key takeaways from my experience.
Change is possible. This was my biggest lesson. It is absolutely possible to shift the way you feel, think and act. We absolutely can create new habits or let unhelpful ones drop away. If I can do it, I honestly believe anyone can. These techniques have the power to change your brain, and thus your mind and your life. That sounds dramatic, but I know it to be true now.
Short, consistent practice is better than occasional long sessions. In the past I used to sit a couple of times a week. On the weekends I would listen to a 30 or 40 minute guided meditation if there was time. These sessions left me feeling nice and relaxed, but the power lies in repetition. It is better to sit for 5 minutes every day than 35 minutes once a week. With gradual, consistent practice we can slowly create new ways of thinking, new habits, new neural connections.
It isn’t all bliss, relaxation and happy thoughts. Meditation can be hard work, which is something you don’t hear very often! I want to be honest though, there were days where I checked the time every minute or so, willing it to be over. There were moments when I felt like my head might explode or my knee might fall off before I finished sitting. I have felt bored, restless, doubtful, pissed off, upset and extremely sleepy during meditation.
Meditation can leave you feeling instantly really good. In contrast, there were some mornings when the timer went and I didn’t want to stop. These sessions left me feeling relaxed, refreshed, content, peaceful and incredibly grateful. Some days it felt as if my practice turned the brightness, or vibrancy, up on life - I could see more beauty in the world around me, as corny as that sounds. These sessions kept me coming back for more, until the longer term benefits became clear.
Support is essential. Througout the year I attended a few different meditation groups, a daylong retreat and eventually I found a teacher and mentor who has offered me support via Skype for the past 6 months. I have also read widely, bookmarked blogs like On Being and Tricycle and subscribed to podcasts. This isn’t because I am ‘Buddhist’ now, or that this is a new identity for me. It is simple because this practice can be quite profound, and bring up questions, and it is incredible helpful to see that others have been here before you. If you decide to try daily practice, I highly recommend looking for a comminuty group, finding a yoga studio and connecting with like-minded people on apps or online.
My mind has relaxed, a little. This is a biggie. The spacious feeling meditation and mindfulness have given me is hard to articulate eloquently. Meditation has strengthened my ability to pause in the space between thoughts, the space between thought and action. To simply sit, aware of the thoughts, emotions and how the body feels in this moment, and to respond from this place. Not always, and certainly not necessarily for a long period of time, but this little gap has allowed me to feel anxiety rising but step back from a full blown panic attack on more than one occasion this year. I can’t tell you how big this is for me.
Compassion for myself and others. Over time, awareness has lead me to the profound knowledge that I am not my thoughts. Recognising this has allowed me to be kinder towards myself, and others. None of us are our thoughts or instant reactions. Another tricky concept to tease out in one bullet point of a blog post! I’ll give you an example - road rage. I used to get seriously angry behind the wheel of the car - which wasn’t safe or healthy for me or anyone else. Now, if someone cuts me off I might be annoyed, but I am much more likely to stop, take a deep breath and consider who is behind the wheel of the car in front. Maybe they have had a terrible day, they could be upset after just losing their job, or perhaps rushing home to help a loved one. I cannot know, and definitely cannot change them - I can only control my own reaction. This is a big topic, and deserves its own post some day, but for now - this practice has softened me.
All in all, meditation has changed me. I’m as surprised as anyone else.
I started this experiment hoping it might help me sleep soundly, and focus well when I was studying. While I think it helped both of those things, the effects have been profoundly deeper than this.
Today I sat for 20 minutes. After 6 months of 12 minutes and 6 months of 15, this extra 5 might take some time to get used to, but I know it is possible to change what is normal now.
This is the biggest gift adding the habit of meditation has given me - the knowledge that change is absolutely possible. We can pick up new habits, drop old ones, change the way we think and the way we feel.
If I can do this, anyone can.
This blog will tell the story of my journey from here. I intend to keep going, I feel like I have so much more to learn about myself, the mind and the space that exists between our thoughts. I hope you’ll join me.