I'd Never Been Able To Meditate. Here's What Finally Worked For Me
Is it possible for literally everything to go wrong in one day? I thought to myself as I angrily laced up my sneakers.
It was a Tuesday, and I'd slept through my morning yoga class. A mere 45 minutes later, I spilled hot coffee all over my white pants. I got chewed out by a co-worker before lunch, and at 2 p.m. I realized I had a major typo in one of my article headlines. To make matters worse, my computer decided to completely stop working. On my way home, my water bottle spilled in my bag, and by the time I finally made it through the door of my apartment I was definitely in tears.
So I did what I always do when anything is bothering me: I went for a run. It was a hot evening, but I didn't care. The sun was setting, my feet were rhythmically pounding the pavement, my breath was even, and suddenly all my troubles seemed to melt away.
Every little thing I had been obsessing over didn't seem like such a big deal. Tomorrow was a new day. I got lost in more positive thoughts, and soon I wasn't thinking at all—until I heard a faraway voice and quickly noticed a biker was scowling at me.
"Watch where you're going! You should be paying more attention!" she shouted.
I tried to apologize, but she had already pedaled away. What had happened? I didn't even have headphones in. I'd totally lost touch with my bad day and reality, apparently.
Then I suddenly realized something: I'd been meditating. Kind of.
I've been into yoga since college, so friends often refer to me as being "Zen." I used to laugh it off, saying, "You'd be surprised. I can't meditate to save my life!"
Recently, though, I decided to truly dedicate myself to a daily meditation practice. The concept of sitting still for even a few minutes is still incredibly difficult for me, but it isn't quite as difficult as I'd anticipated—because I've done before.
Every time I went for a run and got lost in my thoughts, I was meditating.
So, what's so meditative about running?
Running forces you to focus on your breath.
Although there are tons of different ways to meditate, I'm a huge fan of focusing on my breath and repeating the words "Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out."
Here's the thing about running: You have no choice but to focus on your breath, because otherwise you'll pass out. It's as simple as that. When I'm stressed out, I tend to hold my breath for long periods of time (which many a yoga teacher has pointed out).
As you probably know, breathing is one of the most important things you can do when you're stressed out or upset about anything—taking control of your breath delivers oxygen to the brain and lowers stress levels.
That rhythmic pavement-pounding works wonders.
In my experience, there's something really empowering about putting one foot in front of the other even when you don't want to. And when I'm doing that while running, I get lost in the rhythm of it.
On a long run, my feet are hitting the pavement, I'm breathing, and I'm concentrating. I'm pushing my body to its limits, and there's no room for the negative thoughts that have a tendency to creep in at the most inconvenient times.
From a scientific perspective, running is a natural cure for depression.
I'm specifically talking about the combination of running and meditation.
A small study that came out in March found that a short meditation session before running was extremely effective in treating study participants who suffered from depression, even if they found it impossible to clear their minds while meditating.
Although researchers aren't exactly sure why this is, they think the combination could help people form new brain cells, or that meditating before running makes people more mindful and makes them enjoy it more.
So if you struggle with meditation despite your best efforts, I encourage you to move. Running is my favorite form of meditative movement, but maybe for you it's swimming or walking. Just experiment a little.
It may not be easy, but breathing and clearing your mind is really, really good for you. Make it happen!