When it comes to meditation, I’ve always been more casual toe-dipper than dedicated deep-diver. Dabbled here and there but it’s never stuck.
There’s something so appealing and accessible about the idea of taking a moment to sit, breathe and be present – a practice with roots in Eastern traditions – and there’s a wealth of evidence on its benefits for stress, anxiety and depression.
But while calm and mindfulness are big priorities for me, like lots of people, sitting still too long and rigid routines are things I tend to push against. Plus, meditation’s had a popularity boom in recent years – and nothing puts me off something more than everyone saying I should do it!
Lately though, I’ve been curious: is daily meditation something I could explore a bit more? Ahead of World Meditation Day (May 21), I decided to try for 10 days…
Naturally, day one starts with procrastinating. My plan to meditate first thing doesn’t happen. Eventually I get outside late afternoon (decided to do it at the park). I’m starting with the new Just Breathe app (from £8.99 a month and you can download for a free seven-day trial, plus medical practitioners can prescribe it for free by registering with the Just Breath RX programme online justbreatheproject.com/rx-programme).
Like lots of apps, it’s aimed at making things easy. There’s a daily eight-minute meditation, plus a big library you can access whenever with different categories (‘Guided Meditations’, ‘Sleep and Rest’, ‘Words to Live By’, ‘Breathing Practice’, etc). Today’s is a guided meditation called ‘friendship’, with surprisingly upbeat music and lots of talking about cherished connections. All I have to do is listen and I’m even invited to think about my own friendships. Eight minutes goes quickly and I’m energised and full of warmth.
After yesterday’s win, I wake up looking forward to meditating again and, after a couple hours’ work, head to the park. Another guided meditation with music and talking – but this one feels more ‘traditional’, about connecting with your senses and noticing where your body’s holding tension. The last few minutes guide me through some slow breathing. Eight minutes goes fast again. Quick loop of the park before heading back to my desk feeling good and refreshed.
Busy desk-tied morning. Skyping a friend tonight and want to fit in a swim first. Coordinating work schedule and slots at the pool means I end up not getting outdoors until late afternoon and I’m grouchy. The sun’s gone down by the time I sit (on the sofa) and open the app. Really not feeling it. It’s a ‘Stress and Anxiety’ meditation with long slow breathing. Turns out, it’s just what I need.
Today runs away even more. I’m irritable. Head to gym after work but feel super sluggish. Decide what I need is a walk, so head to the park after dinner and phone a friend. She’s launching a business and the call leaves me excited and happy. Stay in the park a little longer then play today’s meditation in bed. Not sure this counts as I’m hardly taking it in, but it’s soothing and I sleep well.
Day 5 and 6 – the weekend
Slow Saturday morning pottering around before cracking through chores then heading to meet my friend, with vague plan to ‘meditate later’. Later ends up being bedtime, by which time I’ve had two glasses of wine and a cocktail and far too much excitement. Hit play and am fast asleep before the eight minutes is up. Repeat on Sunday (minus the booze!).
Early start for work before rushing across town for first vaccine. Buzzing afterwards! Zero side-effects, aside from very sore arm/shoulder so no gym or swim. Do meditation on the sofa after work. Slight worry sore arm will keep me awake all night. It doesn’t.
Switch to the Calm app for the last few days (from £28.99 a year, also available for free seven-day trial). Arm still sore. Decide to take more walk breaks instead of a workout and switch meditations back to the park. The Calm app also has a big menu of different types of meditations and themes. I jump in with the 10-minute ‘Daily Calm’. The soundtracks seem more gentle and floaty, and there are quiet stretches where my mind starts to drift off and legs get agitated. Evening feels mega long with no gym or swim, but I’m oddly relaxed.
Day 9 and 10
The last couple of days are pretty much the same. Decide to wait until my arm’s better before doing proper exercise, so it’s walks instead and meditations in the park. I do have to push myself a bit to do them, and my focus at work’s dropped. But by the time evening rolls around, I’m feeling good.
Did I stick to a set daily routine? No. Did I enter some deep, suffering-filled path to enlightenment? No. Does that matter? No! Looking back at the 10 days, a few things have surprised me. Firstly, sleep – falling asleep quickly hasn’t been the norm for me so I’m proper chuffed. Secondly, I can get really anxious when I don’t exercise, but I coped with that well, and I actually feel more refreshed than I have in a long while. I’m not saying that’s all down to the meditation, but it’s certainly felt helpful.
I have zero regrets about cheating a bit at the weekend (it was a great weekend!), and having flexibility and a mix of formats with the apps was great; the more talky ones felt like energising and comforting pep talks, while the breathing ones really helped on more rushed grouchy days. This has shown me it doesn’t have to be perfect, or feel really hard or cost loads of money. It’s how you feel that counts, and I’m pretty pleased with that.