An Experiment: The Benefits of Meditation

keep calm and breath...

I didn’t mean to put meditation to the test but last January I signed up to an eight-month meditation course and thought I’d better get a head start with some practice.

I’d already done a Vipassana (10-day silent meditation retreat) a few years ago but I thought the lessons were quite unsustainable, extreme and far removed from the realities of the everyday. This new meditation course promised to touch on different techniques so I was looking forward to it.

Also, at the start of the year I remember feeling utterly frazzled from too much work, strung out from a relationship breakup and tired of not getting enough rest.

So I decided to make a change and change my ways.

I decided to commit to a few minutes of meditation every night to get into the swing of things for the course, but also to help my strung out mind. I’d picked up a few basics from my yoga lessons, which are very slow and meditative with a lot of breathing work, so I started with a few basics that I was familiar with.

Every night I committed to a very simple breathing exercise where I’d slow my breath down and then follow it move up and down the spinal pathway for a few minutes. Nothing fancy, just watching my breath from belly to the throat and back down again. I tried to get each breath to be long and slow and my focus was solely on the movement of the breath, nothing else.

To be absolutely honest, I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. But I made a decision to commit so I stuck to it.

I did this simple breathing work for just a few minutes every night, just before lying down to go to sleep (so I’d be in my PJs) sat crossed legged on my bed, lights down low. Choosing to do it then meant I had fewer distractions or excuses.

A few weeks later…

The first thing I noticed, a few weeks later, was I going to bed calmer and having a solid night’s sleep. For years, I’d gone to bed with 1001 thoughts, worries, to-do lists and anxieties racing around my head. Suddenly, I was able to fall asleep without replaying my problems over and over, and it was quite frankly, absolute bliss.

Feeling encouraged, I kept it up…

After about four weeks, I realised that I was waking up a little earlier and fresher (not like I’d been hit round the head, which was my previous default). This generally meant I was less grumpy but more importantly, it meant I could get odd jobs done in the morning before work and tick things of my to-do list.

This really helped me feel more organised and in control of things. I’ve always been the one running around like a headless chicken but now, for the first time ever, I genuinely didn’t feel like this.

I was adamant to stick to it, mainly as an experiment to see where it would take me, and what else I would feel, but also because I found myself getting addicted to the calmness. There was a quietness I’d experience just before falling asleep and I was genuinely loving this feeling.

I didn’t want to go to sleep without my meditation-fix anymore – I had to have it and even looked forward to going to bed so I could doze off like a baby.

Within a few months I felt like life was running a little more smoothly. Looming deadlines and workload building up no longer filled me with horror, panic or dread. I just got on with things and got them done with far less drama.

What happened next… 

I started to mix up my breathing exercise with another (very simple) breathing exercise, mainly for a bit of variety. This one I could do lying down in bed.

I lie horizontal in bed, as though ready for sleep – but not fall asleep – and do a three-part breathing exercise. It starts with a slow, deep inhalation from the belly, where the belly expands and rises. Then move the breath moves up towards the rib cage and lungs. There, I expand the rib cage and lungs before finally moving the breath up towards the throat or collar bone where I feel a slight pressure in the throat area from the passing breath. Then I move the breath, carefully and mindfully back down to the belly area and start over again.

I would do this three or four times, with the aim of doing ten but always fall asleep before. This breathing exercise, called the complete yogic breath, is so calming and relaxing it’s the best way to nod off, EVER.

I found it so deeply restorative and dare I say, has saved my sanity over the last year or so.

Getting the body into a truly relaxed state just before sleep seems to be the key for a good night’s rest. Sometimes I’m up late working, glued to my phone, iPad or computer (like now!) so tumbling into bed, wired with adrenalin is far from ideal.

Since learning and using the yogic breath, I fall asleep within a few minutes, if not in a flash, almost every night. But most importantly my the breathwork slows my nervous system so it’s no longer still fired up from the day.

One year one… 

I can’t quite believe I’ve kept it up but I’m so pleased I did because I can now say I’ve felt the benefits of meditation ( or at least regular deep, slow and controlled breathing). It’s not just talk.

I still feel the same calming, restorative effects on the physical body and mind as before but now I feel more balanced in other aspects of my life too.

I don’t spend my days in a hectic flap, I don’t worry about trivial things (as much ☺️) and I definitely don’t get stressed as easily as I used to.

I also think it’s had a impact on my positivity; I feel like I’m more tolerant, perhaps a bit more understanding, even a little bit nicer (although I’ve always been perfectly pleasant!) but I don’t snap as quickly or get as frustrated. Everything feels more manageable.

Of course, there have been times when I really can’t be bothered to meditate but I just think of the benefits and persuade myself to do just one or two minutes at least.

Now that it’s past midnight and I’m still writing this, it’s time I wrapped up. I’m looking forward to my few minutes of restoration before sleep where I can switch off from the world and just watch my breath until it’s slowed right down and I’m ready to nod off.

Night all.

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