By Kim Tannas
We’ve all heard about the benefits of meditation—an ancient practice said to train our attention and awareness and help us achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. People have told me it helped them to stay more focused, manage their anxiety or improve their overall well-being. One friend even said it was life-changing and one of the best things he had ever done for himself.
That was a pretty powerful statement and, although I’ve tried meditating before, I never fully devoted myself to the practice for a set amount of time. I wondered what would happen if I challenged myself to meditating daily for several days in a row. How would it benefit me? Would it help me live my best life? I was determined to find out.
Day one (Sunday)
First, I needed to figure out what technique I was going to use. I wanted to keep it very simple and, although I’d done a guided meditation using an app on my phone in the past, I wanted to try a technology-free approach this time. I decided to meditate for five to 10 minutes a day because that seemed manageable to fit into my busy lifestyle.
As an Alberta Blue Cross® group plan member, I have access to the Employee Family Assistance Plan (EFAP), which offers services such as short-term counselling, support resources and confidential assessments for employees and their families. EFAP is also offering a new program called Stress Solutions, which provides coaching with a registered counsellor or clinician to help you learn techniques to manage stress. It also provides resources on a variety of stress management techniques such as meditation and other relaxation techniques. Through this program, I was able to access some excellent resources to get me started on my meditation journey.
In the morning, I found a quiet place, got into a comfortable seated position, set my timer for five minutes and closed my eyes. Then I focused on taking deep, slow breaths and filling up my body with a sense of calm. From what I’d read, you can add a mantra or a calming word to your practice, or even a sound. The idea is to provide an object of focus to help remove all of your other jumbled thoughts. The deep reverberating sound of a bell seemed to do the trick for me, so I focused on that.
Every time my mind wandered, I tried to bring it gently back to the sound of the bell. I have to admit, those five minutes felt like an eternity, but I managed to complete my first session.
Day two (Monday)
In the rush to get out of the house in the morning, I missed the opportunity to squeeze in a meditation session, so it had to wait until later. I finally found some time in the evening to meditate. After a busy day at work, it seemed more challenging than the day before to slow down my mind and get into a relaxing state, but once I managed to reach that state, it was a very satisfying feeling.
One interesting observation from the night before was that I able to fall asleep much more quickly than usual. Often on Sunday nights, I’m in bed wide awake until 2 or 3 a.m. with my mind in overdrive, thinking about the week ahead and growing increasingly anxious as it gets later and later. This tends to make for some very exhausting Mondays. Sometimes this pattern repeats itself later in the week as well.
But last night, I was able clear my mind of distractions and focus as I had done in my meditation session, and I drifted off effortlessly.
Day three (Tuesday)
I woke up at 6 a.m. before my alarm even went off. The night before, I fell asleep almost instantly at about 11 p.m. This almost never happens! I Googled “sleep and meditation” to find out more about this connection. There are many claims that meditation helps with insomnia but I was looking for something a little more concrete. One study found that people who meditated for 20 minutes daily had less insomnia, fatigue and depression at the end of six sessions compared to a group that went through “sleep education” sessions.
The implications in my own life were significant. If I could sleep better, I would probably have more energy and be more productive. I knew lack of sleep affected my immune system, so by sleeping better, I would probably stay healthier. I would also be less prone to mood swings that often come along with sleep deprivation.
I completed my usual meditation session—five minutes in the evening—and realize I’m making improvements in my ability to focus. Five minutes doesn’t some nearly as long as it did my first session. Maybe it’s time to extend my meditation time to 10 minutes.
Day four (Wednesday)
I was more than halfway there and feeling encouraged by my progress. However, stress levels at work were higher than usual this day, with me covering for one of my co-workers, and I was feeling the pressure. Instead of waiting for after work to meditate, I decide to do a 10-minute session over my lunch break. It seemed to help a lot as I felt calmer and more confident in my ability to handle my workload in the afternoon.
Days five and six (Thursday and Friday)
I continued to mediate in the evenings, now for 10 minutes instead of five. It doesn’t feel like a chore at all. It feels like a wise investment of my time. By meditating now, I’ll likely sleep better and be more productive throughout the day. I feel more in control of my own thoughts and this seems like a powerful thing. I’m aware of how often I’m overthinking or worrying about things that are out of my control instead of being present in the moment. It’s a welcome relief to be able to consciously slow things down and choose to focus on one thing and calm my mind.
I continued to have no problems falling asleep at night, which makes me more alert and energetic during the daytime.
Day seven (Saturday)
The weekend had arrived, which meant I could try another morning meditation session. It seemed like a good way to start the day in the right frame of mind and, ideally, I would like to try to shift my schedule to meditate in the mornings on a regular basis.
I think seven days is probably too soon to see any dramatic changes, but I’ve definitely seen improvements in some areas of my life. In addition to sleeping better and being more focused, it’s a technique I can use to calm my mind when I’m feeling particularly stressed out or overwhelmed, and I know it works! I may have reached my goal of meditating for seven days in a row, but this feels more like the beginning of something than the end, because I plan to continue on this meditation journey and see where it takes me.
This blog was written in partnership with Kim Tannas, Edmonton based photographer. To see more of her work, visit Kim’s Instagram.