In 1993, I was introduced to the sport of triathlon through a race that the YMCA I worked at sponsored and directed. Though I couldn’t even swim a length of the pool, the volunteer race director encouraged me to give it a try (ha!). Fortunately, this was a pool swim, so there was no chance of anything bad happening in the water. I was pretty confident of my cycling and running, but the swim was intimidating, even though it was a short distance (400 meters). I was determined to meet the challenge and complete the swim to the best of my abilities and go on to complete my first triathlon, which I did. The confidence completing that triathlon gave me years of determined fitness and achievements that, to this day, has enhanced my life.
For years I’ve heard about the many benefits of meditation. In college, I remember reading the Relaxation Response, which was a book that demystified meditation, particularly Transcendental Meditation. I practiced for a while. But meditating for 60 minutes without training beyond reading a book, or without someone leading was probably more about me falling asleep than really meditating. After a while, 60 minutes was just a long time to commit to and I stopped. Fast forward and now our watches remind us to take a one-minute mindfulness break and there are innumerable meditation apps that go from 5 mindful breaths to 60 minutes of meditation.
Just like my triathlon challenge from many years ago, I challenged myself to be more mindful and to take some time for myself through meditating for 10-15 minutes per day. Recently, I read Peak Mind, by Amishi Jha, that researched how we can find better focus in our lives through just 12 minutes of meditation per day. Let’s say the average person sleeps 8 hours/day and we commute a total of one hour per day. Doing the math, that leaves approximately 900min/day of time we have to schedule. 12 minutes comes to 1.33% of our day. My study in habit formation tells me to 1) schedule it every day (write it in my daily schedule), 2) try to make it the same time every day, 3) make it easy to fit into my day and 4) reward myself by meditating. I’m not perfect at this but I do try to make time in my morning to do my meditation. It may even be in between cups of coffee, which is also my reward!
So what are the “tri” effects of Meditation? I happen to use the Headspace app which has facilitator-led meditations, along with timed meditations you can do completely on your own. Headspace offers three areas of benefits: 1) Mental Health, 2) Physical benefits and 3) Emotional benefits. When I searched Google for the “benefits of meditation”, Google found 197,000,000 articles on the that subject. I’m sure you can find something that meditation can help you with. Here’s a quick review of the three areas:
Helps ease depression, anxiety and pain related to stress
Increased mental resilience
Increased satisfaction with life
Reduce stress response (release of adrenaline and cortisol)
Lower blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption
Dampens fear, stress and anxiety (prefrontal cortex or “me” center of the brain)
Shrinks the amygdala – fight, flight or freeze response
New positive connections to improving focus and decision-making
Improves planning and problem solving
Increases memory and learning
Reduces aggression and irritability
Increases positive emotions and compassion
All I wanted was to improve my focus and give me tools to sleep better. This list is impressive, and I’ve noticed I can handle situations in my life much better. My compassion is so much better, particularly through the pandemic and we all dealt with those challenges in our own ways. In the end, I am much happier and much more in control of my feelings. My challenge for you is to try to build in 5 minutes per day of meditation. You can do this. It’s like when I had to learn to swim to complete my first triathlon. For some of you the biggest challenge is to be alone with your thoughts for those 5 minutes. It’s ok. We all start somewhere, and, to my knowledge, no one has died or injured themselves by meditating! I was amazed at the many benefits of meditation. I think there’s something for all of us!