I sit with my legs crossed, palms resting on my knees, spine long and strong, and eyes closed, while a deep voice projecting from the front of the room guides me through a series of breath cues, visualizations, and mantras. I analyze his cueing, tone of voice, and the rate of my breath. And finally, at the end of the meditation, when everyone else in the room is filled with peace, my first thought is, “This is a mistake.”
You see, even in a classroom filled with meditation enthusiasts and guided by a world-renowned meditation teacher, I still couldn’t quiet my mind. I felt panic set in. I was in trouble. How would I survive in a three-day meditation teacher training if I couldn’t meditate myself?
I had signed up for the training the week prior to learn new ways to teach my clients. But I have to admit, my own practice has been waning. The excuses for not fitting in a 5- to 20-minute meditation are extensive, but in the end, I know the only excuse is not choosing to make the time. I am a strong advocate in practicing what I preach, walking the walk, and every other cliché that means something similar. So this training was just as much for me.
After that unsuccessful meditation, my teacher said, “I would assume that everyone is here today because they believe in the power of meditation. But it is the doing that brings change—not the believing.” With those simple words, I knew I was in the right place. I do believe. I know consistent meditation decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and breath rate, and increases function of the digestive and reproductive organs. As YL Expert Laura Merkel explains in her article, Meditation 101, “[Meditation] directly counteracts the physical response to feelings of worry and fear, making meditation an especially useful tool for those experiencing chronic or occasional stress, pain, anxiety, depression and any related digestive or reproductive conditions.” I’ve seen these effects, firsthand, in my clients. Studies further show meditation actually changes the structure of the brain—strengthening the learning, memory, self-awareness, introspection, and compassion part of the brain (hippocampus) and conversely, weakening the stress and anxiety part of the brain (amygdala).
All these Western studies seek to convince us of the neurological and biological benefits of meditation. But from a yogic and Eastern philosophy perspective, meditation’s aim is to purify consciousness so you can experience yourself as whole and connect to your greater intelligence, or your intuition. The personal and professional benefits of connecting to your intuition are vast. To learn more about how to access and take advantage of your intuition, check out YL Expert Courtney Bauer’s article, Discover Your Intuition.
Both the Eastern and Western list of benefits are clearly profound. And one of the perks of adding meditation to your wellness practice is that there are so many ways to practice. A friend recently told me that for him, practicing meditation was a practice in pain tolerance; sitting cross-legged hurt his knees and lower back. You should choose the practice that works best for you—if meditation causes you pain, explore a different form.
So, it is clear that I believe and hopefully there is a part of you that believes too. The question is, how can we shift from believing to doing? For me, my teacher training did the trick. By the end of the long weekend, I felt inspired, clearer, and ready to continue my practice on my own with a fresh mindset. But you don’t have to attend a three-day training. Meditating several times a day for three days while surrounded by supportive teachers and students worked for me, but there are easier ways to get inspired. Try a meditation class at a yoga studio, or even explore apps like Headspace and Calm and simple techniques to try on your own, which are described in our Meditation 101 article. Decide what is best for you and start slowly. With practice you’ll learn what strategies help you focus, and just remember that even a seasoned meditation practitioner can struggle to get in “the zone.” Commit to a class, app, or personal practice once a week, and see what kind of magic the art of meditation can add to your life.