I started practicing mindfulness this week. Mindfulness is a lot like meditation, in many ways they’re synonymous, and is a somewhat new movement that encourages awareness of the present moment.
This week wasn’t my first experience with mindfulness, but in the past I’ve never been very enthused about it. In high school, the IB program tried to implement mindfulness in our classroom by assembling a group of teenagers and having them close their eyes and do a body scan (which is essentially just ‘be aware of your feet on the ground and your toes, and now your knees’ and so on moving up the body.) While body scans can be really interesting and successful, attempting it in a room full of uninterested 10th graders did not go over so well.
My other experiences with mindfulness have been in the context of cognitive behavioral therapy – the primary form of therapy I worked on in high school. This mostly meant trying to calm myself down when my emotions peaked, and taking brief moments out of my day if I felt distressed or overly anxious.
In the new year, while not a resolution per se, I’ve decided I would like to try and participate in a little daily mindfulness. I’ve joked with my friend that my intention is to “calm down” since I’m high strung and terribly intense about ‘everything‘ (which is fair) but I also recognize that mindfulness can be very valuable day to day and could help me focus a little better (my mind wanders no matter what I’m trying to work on, it takes me ages to completely anything.) On top of this, I want to focus a little more on myself and keeping myself healthy post-therapy. Given recent events, the stress of my first semester of university, and the quiet month ahead of me, I figured this would be a good time to start.
So I’m using an app called Relax Meditation. I went ahead and paid a flat fee for a lifetime access to all their meditations (their app Relax Melodies has a lot of the same features, and in the past I’ve also used Calm and Simple Habits and enjoyed those) and so this week I did their 5-Day Introductory series and also played with some of the sound options each day, I’m still settling on a soundscape I like.
Day 1 was Wednesday and the meditation was ten minutes. It introduced the idea of mindfulness and how it can be helpful, how to sit, etc. The meditation itself was maybe seven of the ten minutes. I felt a little impatient about halfway through, and found myself constantly tilting my head toward the door to my room. I was afraid someone was going to come in and find me sitting with a straight back, squared feet, hands on my knees and eyes closed. I turned off the white light in my room so it was all soft/yellow light. It meant the atmosphere was relaxing, but the idea of getting ‘caught’ so to speak made it hard to focus.
For the most part though, I enjoyed the meditation. It was nice to be alone – not in a flourescent-lit classroom full of disgruntled 10th graders – and to slow down and focus on my breathing. My mind wandered a little but I’m sure that’s very normal, no one is going to meditate perfectly the first time. The meditation itself also reminded me that every day meditation and focus will be a little different, and not to get down on how I think I’m doing.
I texted my friend afterward that I felt ‘light, calm, and airy’ and gave Day 1 an 8/10.
Day 2 was Thursday. My alarm didn’t get me up in the morning so I decided to go ahead and do it before bed that night. Day 2 was seventeen minutes (which did feel pretty long, but I avoided glancing at the timer and actually set my phone a ways off from me so I wouldn’t be looking at it.)
Day 2 was a body scan, as described above. I found it difficult to get my shoulders to relax and after sitting straight for so long my lower back became very sore. I think perhaps if I lose a little weight in my chest and stomach my back won’t hurt so much, I also think I might try a pillow on my lower back to provide better support.
Despite how long the meditation was, I never found myself very impatient or itching to leave and do something else. With the soft music and lights, and my family already in bed so I wasn’t distracted, I enjoyed the body scan well enough. My thoughts wandered quite a bit, but not exactly to my personal life. The truth is I was two days in and, while it might have been a placebo, I was already starting to feel calm and significantly less worried and distracted about thoughts that I’d been struggling to deal with lately.
However, my back really did hurt quite a bit so Day 2 was given a 6/10.
While I want to say I was getting up and meditating while watching the sunrise this week, I wasn’t. I suck at getting up in the morning. Part of the hope with this mindfulness practice is that it would make waking up less awful, but I think to do that I actually need to get up when my alarm goes off. I used to be a lot better at that, since university started I really push the limits of what will make me late.
So Day 3 I once again did not get up with my alarm and, once again, did my meditation in the evening instead of the morning. Day 3 was back to ten minutes, and I found myself a little worried about what I am going to do when I get back to school in February, where I have less privacy. It will be difficult to get up in the morning and meditate with my roommate just there and a university campus isn’t exactly the place to go find privacy, like, anywhere. Unfortunately, this distraction meant I didn’t focus super well during the mindfulness because while I was meant to be focused on the present moment, I was worried about how I was going to continue to work on that focus on the present moment when I went back to school in a month.
The truth is, I don’t think my roommate will have any problem with me meditating ten minutes a day, but it might be a little weird to do with someone in the room. But I do want to continue practicing when I get back to school, as I’ve liked the first few days and I get the sense it will be most valuable when I’m in the throes of academic pressure.
So I guess one of the big things about mindfulness is to let the future worry about itself. In the meantime, I need to be more in the present moment.
Day 3 I found myself too distracted, so while it was definitely my own fault it still got pegged: 4/10. Sorry Day 3, nothing to do with the mindfulness itself. This one’s on me.
Day 4 was a little over ten minutes and I did it in the evening. Just as I sat down and opened the app, I received a series of texts from a friend of mine. I resisted the urge to check them, silenced my phone, and tried to relax. But I was already peeved, I suspected those texts were going to occupy my mind the entire ten minutes until I could check them. I was especially irritated because this friend was a big part of the reason I was practicing mindfulness.
However, the texts ended up being something of a blessing. While my mind did focus on them the majority of the meditation, the focus of Day 4 was to be aware of overwhelming or distracting thoughts, but to approach them without judgement or decision. So while my head buzzed with worst-case scenarios of what those texts said, I listened to the guided meditation and let them float by, aware of my concerns and thoughts but not fixating on them. The texts turned out to be nothing of import, and actually provided a valuable tool during my mindfulness.
To be honest, I could use a lot more of that type of meditation. Day 4: 7/10.
I was determined that on Day 5 of my intro program I would get up and do my mindfulness first thing in the morning. So naturally I snoozed my alarm, slept in, did the mindfulness in the evening again. Which is too bad but I will do a morning meditation one of these days, I swear.
So Day 5, 12 minutes.
This actually went really well, as far as I could tell. I had several really great moments of in-the-present-mindfulness. It’s hard to describe what exactly made me think it felt right, but my arms felt rather heavy and my mind very much at ease, undistracted if at least for a short time.
I didn’t go 12 straight minutes like this, but I haven’t gone through any of these five days ‘flawlessly’, I just got through them. Day 5: 8/10.
All five of my meditations included explanations in the beginning about what exactly mindfulness could do for me and why I was doing it. Below, I’ve paraphrased what this was for Day 5:
It is like our mind is constantly searching the past in order to coordinate our future, which can leave our present empty or muddled, or not actually working toward what we desire.
I’ve enjoyed my week – well, five days – of mindfulness and I look forward to continuing the process. The next series is on relationships – romantic and non – which I’m looking forward to because I’m pretty sure I need help in basically every relationship in my life (being a writer with social anxiety will do that to you.)
If in the next few months I fall off and no longer do my daily meditation? That will probably be alright, but I hope I keep up with it at least a little bit. The last five days have been a wonderful test. But even if I know I can’t keep a new year’s resolution, at least I know I know I stuck to my week’s resolution.
-Grace T, January 2018