My journey with meditation. "Shine your heart forward"
I wanted to write a little something about meditation for a while, so I figured why not now!
About 4 months ago I started to realize that I had really spent a lot of my life developing my physical health via exercise and nutrition, but had done very little outside of work-related health articles and working out to develop my mental acuity. I'd read some great books when I was opening CFJI, but that aspect of life was put on hold for a multitude of excuses (Lame).
Two of my favorite books I'd read before opening the gym were Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Work Week and Four Hour Body. I also knew he had a highly-rated podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show so I figured it was a good place to start. I started binge listening to podcasts like I was watching Game of Thrones all over again. For those of you who don't know the gist of his podcast, Tim Ferriss interviews ultra-successful entrepreneurs, celebrities, authors, humanitarians, and doctors on what they do or have done to make them successful. Ferriss’ commentary and style doesn’t appeal to everyone, but the way he ties together the many similarities between how these people behave on a day-to-day basis is incredibly fascinating. It’s kind of like getting the Cliff Notes on what these people had learned over the course of their lifetimes in just 2-3 hours.
One of my favorite aspects of these longer-duration podcasts is how honest and genuine each interviewee ends up being after the first 30 minutes. You don’t get cookie-cutter answers — you get the real meat and bones of who these people are; the juicy stuff. We live in an awesome time where you can get that information with little to no effort, let alone for free. If you haven’t checked out his latest book Tools for Titans, you need too. It’s literally the Cliff Notes of each one of these podcasts, and it’s invaluable.
In the book, Ferriss observes that over 80% of the people he interviews have some sort of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. I heard a few of these ultra successful interviewees speak about it and thought....meh seems kind of funky. However, this topic continued to come up over and over again ad nauseum. Just like the rule of three in marketing — after i’d heard the same message over and over again I became intrigued.
My curiosity lead to me to watching a multitude of YouTube gurus discussing meditation and best practices. I finally decided to give it a shot. Luckily, I workout in a community with people who like to experiment just as much as I do and my good friend Cedric Hodgeman and I decided we would do it everyday for 30 days. We just wanted to see what would happen. My practice consisted of sitting quietly every day for 10-20 minutes and just concentrating on my breath. My mind was like a fly stuck in a jar and it just raced constantly bouncing off the walls. I often wondered weird thoughts with no real rhyme or reason to the madness. I felt a bit better each day, but never really built any kind of consistent schedule or thought pattern. I missed a few days here and there and it ultimately lead to me stopping after those 30 days.
Even though my meditation journey came to a halt, my podcast obsession continued with ferocity. I began delving into The Joe Rogan Show and came across a few really good interviews with Sam Harris where the same meditation message kept coming back up over and over. I'd also heard about a few apps that been suggested over and over again. Headspace was suggested multiple times and once again that “Rule of the Three” got me to download it. For those of you that are unfamiliar, Headspace is a mobile app that gives guided meditations. I figured that maybe i'd have more luck with an app that keeps me engaged and teaches me how to meditate. Self teaching is fine, but much slower and it can be discouraging if you don't know what you are looking to achieve. The app has a 10-day free trial of 10 minutes per day. There is another app called Calm which is supposedly similar, but I never checked it out. The first few days of Headspace include some very helpful and entertaining animated videos explaining the practice of meditation and how it makes you may feel as a result of the practice. The voice on the app was also very calming and I didn't mind listening to Andy, a former monk and circus entertainer, telling me to return to my breath. Before long I was hooked.
Make no mistake this was not a miracle worker after Day 1. I didn’t walk away in a Nirvana-like state, throw on white robes, and shave my head (it was already shaved I swear!). It took me about a week before I really noticed a difference. Suddenly after about 7-8 days I noticed a general feeling of calmness and quiet during weird times of the day. Ordinarily I was thinking about a gazillion different things when I was at the gym, driving around, or even when people were talking to me. Then it just changed. I found myself more engaged with what I was doing. More focused on being in the moment rather than basically wandering out of the room every time a thought popped into my head. I've never considered myself a very empathetic person in general and always felt some inner guilt about not feeling sorry for people. I noticed I'd become a lot more engaged in my conversations with friends and strangers. I began to look at their situations with a bit more empathy and I could distance my personal opinions to better overall perspective. Sounds kind of cliche but I wouldn't tell you this if it wasn't something I experienced. After 10 days I bought the app for the year and continued to do it daily and learn from my mistakes each day. Below I am going to throw out a few things I've learned to help in case you decide to try this out for yourselves. This was my experience and your's may be different, but I hope it helps. Just like fitness, it is not about the destination, it is about the journey.
- I'd read that lying down may make it easier to relax and focus on the meditation. However, this approach often lead to falling asleep a lot and missing the point of the exercise. I now sit Indian style or with my legs straight. I like propping myself up against my headboard with pillows surrounding me to help take tension off my shoulders and aid in relaxing. It can be distracting if you spend half your time thinking about your upper back being tight or your legs falling asleep.
-I originally committed to meditating every day, rather than at a certain time each day. This was a mistake because as the day goes on things WILL get in the way. It’s almost unavoidable. I began meditating first thing in the morning and it is the only way I start the day now. As soon as I wake up I will grab my phone and not look at anything. No Facebook, no texts, no instagram, I don't give a shit about what is going on in la la land. I open the app and get to it. It makes for an excellent way to start the day. If I wake up late and don't I get to meditate I get super anxious about it, which is the same way I feel about exercising. Your day becomes way more relaxed if you can begin it with clarity and not by running around in a panic.
-Meditating is kind of like our WODS. Some days you have workouts that you just CRUSH and feel great about it. While on other days you just can't believe how unmotivated you were or how badly you performed. I never feel worse after working out. I feel the same about meditating. Even if you can't get your brain to shut-up or you feel anxiety and can't wait for Andy to say open your eyes, you should still feel better afterwards. The best days make me as calm and happy as a Hindu cow. (Name that movie reference)
- Tracking progress is another feature than can be really fulfilling. Headspace let's you know your current run streak (days in a row) and total time meditating. This becomes an addiction and accountability tool that is super helpful and motivating. I've included my own stats to humble brag a little and see if I could get you all intrigued.
- I’ve played around with a few different lengths. Starting with 10 minutes is a perfect amount of time and it usually takes a full 10 minutes for your mind to slow down. After around 30-40 sessions I decided to move to 20 minute sessions. The transition was very difficult and in retrospect I probably should've just gone up to the 15 minute option, but I thought I was a stud. The 1st few sessions seemed endless. Around the 5th session at this length I hit my stride and felt myself enter a zone I'd never been in before. Now I love doing 20 minute sessions. After 10 minutes your brain goes from 100 MPH to 10. Your body also gets incredibly relaxed and almost numb. This has a number of positive hormonal and physical benefits including reducing cortisol levels and dampening stress.
-I was in the zone- Often you hear this in reference to sports, when an athlete just can't seem to miss a shot or can't stop creating plays. In meditation they refer to this as "flow" or a "flow state". It's very difficult to describe without sounding like a crazy person. You are probably thinking those thoughts about me sometimes anyway so I'll do my best to describe it. Everything becomes very calm and at the same time kind of exhilarating. My body would sort of tingle and i'd experience what feels like an enormous amount of space inside my thoughts. Kind of like being in a cardboard box and you open it up to find yourself in an empty auditorium. Another example would be like when you realize you are dreaming and can suddenly make yourself fly, you get really excited about it and can fly around for a second. Once you start to concentrate on it, you either wake up or go crashing into the ground which is typically what happens to me. The same thing happens while meditating, I get really excited and then usually will snap out of it. This has only happened to me a few times in 3 months so don’t expect it to happen often.
-The app offers mindful moments that can be sent to you daily. They are just small reminders that can be sent to you from 1-5 times a day that just give you a quick focus or thought. I get 1 a day sent to me and very often they are just pleasant to see.
-Accountability is key. Find friends that want to start meditating and link up with them on the app to keep each other accountable. I've got two friends that I keep track of via the app and Cedric (a friend not on the app) and I still chat about our sessions very frequently. You can also discuss things like flow without sounding like a nut job.
-Try a flotation tank once you've been at it for a while. Cedric and I went and did this a few weeks ago and outside of a massage, I've never felt so relaxed for days afterwards. It's kind of like meditating, but on steroids. I will be going back in the next few weeks. Google flotation tank or sensory deprivation tank for more info.
-Meditation is like brushing your teeth. Consistency is important. At first it may feel like a chore, but it will become one of your favorite times of day. It will become difficult to get up or go to bed without knocking it out for the day. There are also single meditation sessions on the app like sleeping which will guide you into a sort of meditation before you fall asleep. This would be excellent for self proclaimed insomniacs or my gym moms who have little ones.
-There are a several techniques offered up by headspace in case you don't like just counting breaths. Try them all out. There are also a bunch of different "series" included in the full app that will guide you through working on certain aspects of your life. These include health, happiness, relationships, work, focus, and even more serious issues like cancer if you know someone who this may help. They also have series for kids which schools are now implementing to help with ADD and reduce outbreaks of bad behavior among students. The results have been incredibly positive.
- My last point has been one of my favorite takeaways from meditation. Once you begin to notice the shift in your own calmness and organized thoughts, you begin to see how manic and impulsive other people have become. You develop a much thicker skin. Small trivial issues that would have normally driven you crazy pass by like nothing. It's one of the more powerful realizations you can feel. I'd equate it to the way you feel after cleaning up your diet. Realizing that you used to feel like shit most days and didn't even know it. Almost as if someone took the blinders off.
I hope this helps at least one of you. If you read through this whole thing, make sure to give me a high five tomorrow or shoot me an email so I know my message got through to you. If you don't make it through this article, then you definitely need this because your attention span sucks and you won't get a high five...Burn.
Love you all! Let me know how it goes!
(Click the Picture Below to Check out Head Space)