In the past, I’ve felt kind of foolish meditating. I kind of tried to keep with a regular practice but it just wasn’t working for me. As a busy New Yorker who wears her schedule on her wrist via Apple Watch, it’s hard for me to set aside my to-do list and make time specifically to, well, breathe.
In the last few years, meditation has kind of gone mainstream—with good reason: Meditating actually changes your brain, and with it, how your body responds to stress. This powerful practice can help ease depression and anxiety, and it is gaining serious traction for its mental health benefits. Celebrities and athletes, like Misty Copeland, keep regular practices, and there are loads of new guided meditation apps and posh meditation studios, like MNDFL, that have opened recently in cities such as New York City.
With all these tools to make meditating easier than ever, it felt like now was as good a time as any to give meditation another whirl—and no half-assing it this time. Things have also been super hectic at the office lately, and with my marathon training ramping up, I’ve felt extra tense. Not only that, but the stress has been affecting my workouts. The TCS New York City Marathon is only six weeks away, and I need to be on my game.
Going into it, I knew two things: I need a morning meditation and I need it to be quick.
I’m more alert in the morning, and prone to crashing the moment I walk into my apartment at the end of a busy day, so waking up a few extra minutes early is the better fit for my lifestyle. And in order to make this new practice a habit, I need it to be convenient. While I am attracted to the benefits of meditation, I’m not yet at the point where I want to dedicate chunks of time to finding my Zen.
I reached out to Ralph De La Rosa, a meditation expert and instructor at MNDFL. (FYI, MNDFL will be leading sessions at SELF’s UpNOut Studio event in October, and it’s going to be great— When chatting with De La Rosa, I mentioned that I’m in the process of training for a marathon and tend to log my miles in the morning. So, he crafted a simple routine that’s aimed at taking advantage of that A.M. energy (and energizing my mood even more!), as well as improving my athletic performance. “Meditation and great workouts go hand in hand because our bodies and minds work in tandem with one another,” he explained to me. “While the body needs consistent movement in order to be healthy, the mind thrives with regular doses of stillness.”
Courtesy of Emily Abbate
Here is my no-frills, five-minute, at-home mindful meditation practice:
First, I have to set the scene. De La Rosa instructed me to sit comfortably at the edge of my bed with my feet resting on the ground, eyes closed. This position, he explained, will allow me to focus more deeply on my diaphragm during the slow and methodical inhales and exhales. (More on that in a second.) Also: I aim to create a quiet (silent if possible) environment—this will allow me to be the most present with how I am feeling and breathing.
Then, I simply breathe deeply for five minutes. To keep this morning meditation simple, all I needed to do was focus on pausing at the end of each exhale. “To do this, simply let your exhales exit the body in a relaxed manner. Don’t worry if the exhale is short or long, let it be how it is,” De La Rosa explains. “Then, allow there to be a relaxed gap at the end of exhale and stay present for it. It might be half a second, it might be a few seconds, just let it be.” Allow the next inhale to “start on its own, almost as a surprise.” Allow the breath to find its own rhythm, he explains, and honor the pauses between each breath. Continue this pattern for the full five minutes—set a timer of your choice to signify when it’s time to conclude the session.
It didn’t take long for my morning meditation to start having noticeable effects.
Armed with my instructions, I decided to try meditating first thing in the morning every day before work.
The first day I set my alarm 10 minutes earlier to meditate, I giggled when I woke up thinking about the fact I was about to focus on breathing, something I had been doing subconsciously for my entire life. De La Rosa suggested sitting on the edge of my bed, so I made mine and prepared to get to work. Before I even started I felt claustrophobic facing my dresser so I took the practice to my couch where there’s more open space. Although I tried to set the mood, I still had trouble escaping my own thoughts, and it was difficult to block out the occasional street honk or truck drive-by. My mind was racing about what I was going to do as soon as I was finished. I pushed through it, but I don’t think I “was doing it right.” De La Rosa had warned me that this feeling is something that a lot of first-timers experience. When my timer when off, I felt a sense of relief—I did it, even if I didn’t do it properly.
For the next four days in a row, I woke up, went to my couch, and breathed following De La Rosa’s guidelines. On day two, I noticed I felt less stressed after my meditation stint. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the laundry list of tasks ahead of me, things felt attainable.
After the mini meditation session on day three, I headed out for the long run that was on my marathon training program. Mile eight is typically when I hit a “why am I doing this,” moment, and today I felt more prepared for whatever mental roadblock, or hill, came my way. I was seeing—and feeling—the payoff, and that’s when it started to click—meditation was something worth making time for.
By day four, I kind of craved that bout of “me” time before hitting the shower, turning on the Keurig, and starting my day. I actually stopped, dropped, and meditated (for a second time!) after putting away three bags of groceries that evening.
Courtesy of Emily Abbate
After just a matter of days, my new meditation habit has become something I look forward to.
One thing that I’ve come to appreciate about meditation is that it needs to be something you make a conscious effort to do—you need to want to make the time for it. This is especially important for newbies like myself to remember. Making it part of my start-of-day routine was crucial to my success. Mornings are when I have time to focus on me, before my mind becomes bogged down with action items and calendar reminders. Since taking those few minutes for myself in the morning, I’ve noticed that I feel more chipper and I’ve been enjoying my runs more, too. Plus, I’m doing something, if only for five minutes, that makes me better for the entire day. Five minutes to a better me? Of course I have time for that.
SELF – Fitness