How Meditation and Mindfulness Can Impact Your Life for the Better
It was 2007 and I was living in Springfield, Illinois. My parents had recently divorced. My grandma, who I was close to, had passed away. I was living 150 miles away from family and friends, had a high stress job as an attorney, and very little social support.
Only sleeping about 2-3 hours a night left me fatigued during the day. I trudged along with vampire pale skin and dark under eye circles. I looked and felt like a zombie and was slowly going crazy.
I was about to lose it.
I was either going to a) quit my job and move in with my mom, b) stay and embrace the insanity, or c) write a kickass country song. That’s when I knew I had to do something. I ended up choosing option b and here’s how I did it.
Falling Apart to Get It Together
There I was on the verge of a breakdown and had to act fast before I became 100% zombie with a hankering for human brains. I had always experimented with natural remedies and teas, adding foods to my diet for different ailments, and avoiding medications whenever possible.
In keeping with my bias of natural remedies, meditation was one of the first techniques I tried. At first, I had practiced meditation on my own and didn’t like it. I could never get my thoughts to focus and be clear, and didn’t know if I was doing it right. For some weird reason, there was fear involved in sitting alone with myself. What made things even more difficult was the frustration and judgment that I faced when I couldn’t control my mind.
Often, I was in pain during meditation. Not that the sitting was painful but that it was making me aware of pain that was already there. I wasn’t sure I was ready to confront what was actually going on in my life, body, mind, and spirit.
My Journey Into Meditation Class
A couple months after into meditating and getting frustrated, I came across an 8-week intro to meditation class. I remember thinking, “YES! This is it.” It was exactly what I was looking for.
The classes themselves were stressful to get to, given the little time I had to travel there after work. Once I was there though, I felt at ease. Based upon mindfulness, the workshop incorporated stress-relieving tips based on Buddhist philosophy and tradition. We learned meditation and yoga and techniques to implement when feeling stressed.
The class was a motley crew of stay-at-home parents and professionals. As it progressed, we got to know each other in a way you usually don’t experience in adult education. Participating in the workshop impacted my life and health so positively that it continues to resonate to this day.
Benefits I Got From Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation
On the days I manage to meditate, I feel more peaceful, calm, and focused. With disconnecting from all of life’s distractions (looking at you, Smartphone), I’m able to reconnect with what’s really going on. Because of these effects I also sleep more restfully.
If something is really bothering me, it influences my day and meditation practice. If a thought, person, or conversation hangs on me and won’t shake off in meditation, it helps to meditate anyway. It forces me to deal with it right now and allows me to take action afterwards if necessary.
Since that workshop, meditation has played a key role in my self-care regimen. Through the years, I’ve fluctuated from practicing everyday for 30 minutes to 1-2 times/week for ten minutes. Now I practice sitting meditation 4-5 days/week for 10 minutes.
“Mental floss” is what my meditation instructor calls it. Whatever you want to call it, it definitely clears the mind and refocuses your attention.
One of my favorite meditation quotes is: “I meditate everyday for 30 minutes except when I’m busy. Then, I meditate for an hour.” Everyone has time to squeeze in some mindfulness and meditation each day. In fact, you’ve probably meditated but you didn’t even know it. Bringing a formal practice to your life, that is doing a sitting, standing, or walking meditation, kicks things up a notch and really helps you feel the benefits faster.
No doubt you’ve heard about the many benefits of meditation, but I’d recommend practicing meditation (if you don’t already) to see for yourself.
Want to try meditation right now? Watch this short video for a guided meditation (no sitting required!):
How to Do Walking Meditation in 3 Simple Steps
First, preparing the space. Find a quiet place and silence your phone. Remove your socks and shoes and if you want, your jewelry. Clear the space, if need be.
Second, stand in mountain pose. Feet facing forward hips’ distance apart. Soft knees and belly. Shoulders down and head held high. Imagine a string pulling you up from the center of your body. This helps you practice good posture.
Third, slowly step forward one foot at a time. The focus of this meditation is on your feet. The goal is to come back to the present moment and connect with the ground. Do not worry about having thoughts. It’s ok that they’re there!
If you get distracted, simply return to mountain pose. Take a breath and return to the here and now. When you’re ready, start again.
If you run out of space, all you do is turn around and keep going. At the end of your practice, I invite you to stand in mountain pose and take 3 relaxing breaths. These breaths (like corpse pose in yoga) help reinforce the benefits of the meditation you did.
I recommend doing walking meditation 3x’s/week, 1-2 minutes for beginners and 5-10 minutes for more advanced practitioners. An easy way to keep track of the time is before you start deciding how many laps you plan to do. This way you don’t have to set an alarm or watch the clock.
Walking meditation can be practiced indoors, outdoors, and even on stairs. Good luck with your practice and thanks for practicing with me!
Meditation for Beginners
For a beginner I recommend anything by Thich Naht Hahn or Deepak Chopra. They are excellent guides and offer a wealth of information in publication and on the web. If you do better with one-on-one training, I recommend a local meditation center which typically offers a Meditation 101 class. In Oak Park, IL there is the Zen Life Meditation Center.
Everyone has their preferences for learning and there is certainly no shortage of resources out there on the subject.
Lynn Palmgren is the founder and co-owner of Palmgren Acupuncture in Oak Park, Illinois. She is a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist and loves helping people increase the quality of their lives and feel good again. You can find Lynn at Google+ and Twitter.