I was first introduced to meditation by my mother, who has maintained a 15-minute a day meditation habit for almost forty years. Her brother, my namesake, encouraged her to begin a meditation practice to reduce stress and increase focus. She learned the transcendental meditation technique and has noticed a range of positive effects from her practice.
When I was younger, meditation seemed to be a waste of time. Why sit for extended periods of time not doing anything? It wasn't until college that I became interested in meditation. I'm not sure exactly what led me to it, although I imagine it was a combination of my personal experiences and books I was reading at the time.
I don't recall the first several times that I attempted to meditate, but I do remember inspiring friends and family to meditate with me occasionally. My main sources of information at that time about meditation stemmed from podcasts, books, and YouTube videos.
Pretty soon after I began, I had developed a consistent meditation practice of at least 10 minutes per day. Every once and a while I would meditate for 30 minutes to an hour. Back then I liked to light incense and listen to ambient or relaxing music (Brian Eno, Sigur Rós, STS9, Indian ragas, etc.) during my practice.
My meditation practice deepened further post-college, when I delved into books specifically about meditation and mindfulness. I recall reading Meditation for Dummies, which was actually very helpful for me and introduced many concepts that I still use today. I learned about various meditation techniques such as counting the breath, mantras, visualization, and compassion meditations. Each technique has a different focus and yields a different result.
I realized that after several years of a daily meditation practice, I felt calmer, more focused, more patient, and happier from day to day. It became one of the major focal points in my life, and I coupled that with a foray into yoga as well.
A few years ago my meditation practice dropped off a bit. I was still meditating a couple times a week, but it was no longer a daily practice. Reflecting on that period of time, I understand why it is common to hear that it is better to meditate 10 minutes each day than 70 minutes one day of the week. The benefits of meditation come from a regular practice, not the aggregate time that is put in each week or month. I wasn't seeing the same benefits that I had while sticking to my daily meditation practice. My patience decreased, I became less-focused, I became more anxious, and I my average level of happiness took a dive.
I made a re-commitment to meditation this past New Years Eve, and have been meditating every day since then, even if it is only two minutes per day. Most days I meditate for 10 minutes, but the important thing to me is that I have reestablished the daily practice once again. Even after only four months, I have noticed a definite improvement in my well-being.
I usually count my breaths or recite mantras during my meditations, but lately I have been experimenting with several iPhone apps for meditation. During the most consistent period of my meditation practice, I spent a couple years with the Insight Timer app on my iPad, but eventually stopped using it. I have been using Samsara for nearly a year now, which is a simple timing app that invites a bell to sound at the beginning and end of a meditation session, with an optional interval bell as well. I really enjoy using Samsara because of its simple features and intuitive user interface. Within the past few weeks I have been experimenting with the guided meditation apps Calm and Headspace, which include guided meditations for different situations or goals. These two apps require a paid subscription, and I haven't decided which one I prefer or if I will continue to use them at all after the free trial periods end.
I will continue this discussion about meditation in future posts, with advice on why and how to get started with your own meditation practice, what to do when difficult material enters your mind, posts featuring various meditation techniques, meditation book reviews, and many more posts I haven't thought of yet. I am by no means an advanced meditator, but I believe firmly in the power of a daily meditation practice to transform your life for the better. I hope you enjoyed my story and will consider trying to meditate soon—I promise that if you make it a daily habit you will notice positive changes in your well-being and the way you interact with others. Namaste.