When I first started meditating, I had already been practicing yoga for six years. I had experienced small doses of meditation in my classes and teacher training but nothing along the lines of a disciplined daily practice.
Practicing yoga was one thing, but teaching was another—and when I became a full-time yoga teacher, I found myself constantly drained by the demands of teaching all day. My body was tired and my energy was low, so I decided to embark on a seven-day meditation challenge. I decided to meditate for 11 minutes every single day.
Even though I knew meditation was good for me, I found myself resisting making time for this practice and would sometimes have to carve out time in my schedule to meditate. What I experienced over the course of those seven days was life-changing. Here's what happened:
1. I became more aware of my thoughts.
I can remember my first meditation like it was yesterday. I spent 11 minutes chatting away in my mind, rehearsing events from the past and acting out conversations to come. I found myself overanalyzing every situation and trying to make sense of my environment until my mind, around minute eight, finally got tired and came to a grinding halt.
It was in that moment that I started to hear the sounds of the trees around me, the birds chirping away, and the ocean waves crashing against the shore. I felt a serene sense of presence that washed away all of those repetitious thoughts and cleared the way for my mind to come into the present moment.
2. I released negative thought patterns.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Swami Kripalu: "The highest form of spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment." When I really started to embody this act of watching my thoughts and actions from a place of inquiry rather than judgment, I was able to clear away the ones that were no longer serving me.
You can feel which thoughts raise your vibration and which ones diminish your light. It's not about your ability to steer clear of negativity, self-doubt, and judgment but rather how quickly you’re able to catch it and replace it with an empowering thought.
When we transform our thoughts in this way, we begin to lead with positivity. We start to give ourselves the opportunity to thrive and others the ability to shine. It’s a remarkable place to be and every time I notice myself falling back into the spiral of criticizing behavior, I ask spirit to show me the way back to my true essence: love.
3. I became more in tune with my body's natural rhythm.
Are you someone who forgets to eat? Doesn’t get enough sleep? How about never taking enough time to rest and recover between workouts? I'm certainly someone who can neglect my body in order to stay more productive at work. I would avoid using the bathroom if it meant I was going to miss a call and skip meals to get more work done before the clock struck 5 p.m.
My health deteriorated over time and I became extremely indecisive. Someone would ask me, "What do you want to eat?" or "What do you like to do?" and I wouldn’t know how to respond. I was so detached that I would enter into a critical thinking process to determine what I thought was the "right" response. It took years of checking in with my body and innate desires to start to make decisions based upon what was good for my body rather than falling into the trap of needing to be right.
Our bodies are extremely intuitive and if we can learn to listen rather than control our responses then we will be in greater harmony and alignment with our physical needs.
4. I felt empowered in my decisions.
After you complete the process of clearing away what is no longer serving you, you open up a channel to the greater good within. You slip into what Deepak Chopra calls, "the gap," and from that place you can receive words of wisdom from a small voice inside of you that always has your back.
I think back to those days when I was struggling as a new teacher and trying to find ways to cover my expenses. I realized the more I meditated, followed the guidance of my heart, and trusted that I would be supported during the process, the more abundance and prosperity I called into my life. Clearing the negativity and making way for positivity allowed me to connect with the right people so my career could thrive.
5. I slept better.
One of the main reasons doctors prescribe meditation is to help people sleep. A calmer mind allows you to "turn off" at the end of the night and stay asleep in between sleep cycles. When you allow your mind and body to rest, you increase your recovery rate and can produce more efficiently during the day. When your body is constantly strapped for rest, then you remain in a state of fatigue, which stimulates the fight-or-flight response in your nervous system.
I would highly recommend a short meditation at the end of the day to relax the mind and reduce tension in the body. If you find yourself with constant headaches, that could be a sign that there is an abundance of stress in your system and you need to balance it out with relaxing, mindful practices. I would even recommend a quick meditation in the middle of the afternoon instead of reaching for a second cup of coffee or sweet treat to boost your energy.
6. I felt better throughout the day.
When you meditate, the chemical makeup of your mind changes. Alpha brain-wave activity increases; the gray matter becomes denser in specific areas such as the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning and memory; and you stimulate the rest or relaxation response in the nervous system. This allows you to be more at ease with your environment. When the mind is able to concentrate and focus, then you can be more awake, aware, and productive.
I remember feeling so refreshed and revitalized after those first few meditations, to the point where I would spring up from my seat and complete tasks that had been on my to-do list for weeks. Almost instantly I started making better choices and my overall well-being improved.
7. I became more present with my surroundings.
Most of us have an innate ability to multitask. After a few days of meditation, I found myself not only giving my full attention to certain responsibilities but actually completing them so they didn’t continue to plague my mind. Have you ever found yourself immersed in nature or even in a conversation only to discover that you were thinking about something else the whole time?
When you meditate, you are practicing the art of becoming more aware of your surroundings. The practice of Pratyahara is commonly known as "withdrawal of the senses," but I tend to lean on the side of believing it means becoming aware of your senses without the need to react to stimuli. Yoga is the art of directing your mind to the present. When we direct our thoughts to the here and now, we release the need to repeat the past or anticipate the future.
It's the little things in life that add up to monumental change. When we settle for quick fixes or one-stop shops, we oftentimes find temporary solutions when the real answer could be just the slightest change to your daily lifestyle. If you haven’t tried meditation, give it a go.