Are you someone that struggles with constant negative thoughts? Are you — or do you know — someone who struggles with anxiety of any sort, be it from school, work, or from an anxiety disorder?
Then there’s a fairly good chance that meditation might not help you.
But there’s also an equally good chance that it will help.
When Physical Exercise Isn’t Enough
Last year, I found out that aerobic exercise is one of my best outlets for getting rid of unwanted anger and stress. It allows me to get out of the stew of feelings that keeps me pinned down in one place and move on with a clear head.
However, since that last post, I haven’t been as consistent with my exercise as I would like. New Years and winter break took a toll on me in that department, and because of it, the physical tension that I would have burned off with exercise is slowly starting to creep back. My body feels a smidgen heavier and more sluggish when I do things. My sleep schedule is off. Of course I should start walking again on the treadmill, right?
But then I’d be neglecting one of the most physically important “muscles” in my entire body.
Training the Brain with Mindfulness
In truth, the brain isn’t really a muscle in the same way your tongue, your legs, or your arms are muscles. The brain is a very complex organ with tons of cellular neurons and pathways that allow the human body to do and think amazing things.
But here’s the thing: The brain is like a muscle, and like any other muscle, you can train it. You can learn new attack combos for video games until they become second nature. You can learn to critically analyze literature or debate with someone about a topic. You can learn a new language with a good space repetition system like flash cards (shout out to Tofugu’s WaniKani, which I’m loving right now).
And in addition to all that amazing, incredible stuff, you can train the brain how to think about and process emotions by learning how to be in the present moment.
Mindfulness is by no means a cure-all for every kind of stress and anxiety one will ever experience, but I find that it makes sense to be able to control one’s self before trying to control anything else. It is, to quote Mindful.org, “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
The brain is quite powerful, and it loves to exercise that power whenever it can. When wondering about the past or speculating about the future, the brain supplies limitless amounts of narratives. Sometimes, the narratives can be uplifting and inspiring and push you toward your goals. Maybe one day, as you daydream, you visualize yourself with a medal for completing a marathon. That’s an example of positive visualization. Other times, however, these narratives can be damaging and harmful to your self-esteem. Maybe one of the narratives you tell yourself involves getting in a car accident every time you think about driving anywhere, and therefore perpetuates your fear of driving.
Whatever the chatter in your brain, it can get way out of control at times.
I know it can, because as someone with generalized anxiety disorder, I can be attacked by these negative narratives and be paralyzed by them at any moment. I get controlled by them and limited by them. But what I’ve found sets me free of these narratives is being in the present moment, no matter what I do:
Jaw slack and lungs on autopilot, my mind finally separated from my body. Instead of focusing on my anger, I focused on the steady rhythm of my shoes against the treadmill’s track, my breath leaving me in short, controlled bursts like a well-oiled machine, and my mind being cleansed of the emotional/mental haze that plagued me hours before. It was like I’d been chained to whatever anger I was feeling, and one of the links finally snapped, letting me fly.
When I started exercising, I let go of the anger that was holding me back. I was focused on the present and not the past. I was focused on my feet hitting the treadmill, my breath entering and leaving my lungs.
And. It. Felt. Amazing.
Which is why it’s time for a change.
Or should I say…
The Meditate for 28 Challenge!
Y’all may or may not have noticed the little countdown in the upper right hand corner of this blog I put up three weeks ago.
That countdown was for this.
In the name of a healthy body, mind, and spirit, I declare to you, dear readers, that I will meditate every day for the 28 days of February 2017 (hence, the “Meditate for 28 Challenge). During these 28 days, I’ll be finding out which meditation materials, places, and other specifics about what makes up my best mindfulness practice for a healthier, better, calmer me. This means that I might meditate for three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, or fifteen minutes. It’s all about experimenting and building a new habit. As long as I meditate, it counts.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the Google Sheet where you can track my daily progress right along with me: https://goo.gl/tmjkCc.
Want to join me on a similar challenge? No problem! Let me know in the comments.
And if you’d like to use the chart that I’m using to track your own progress, go right ahead. To make a copy to your drive, click “File” > “Make a copy…” > then choose where you want it on your own Google Drive. You can also download it if you’d like and make changes there.
I’ve been meditating on and off for awhile. I’ve always enjoyed it when I did it, and I definitely want its benefits, especially if one of them involves boosting creativity.
That’s why it’s time to make mindfulness a permanent part of my life.
Speaking of part of my life… it’s time for a little gratitude.
The Fifth Anniversary
On January 22, 2012, I made my very first post to this blog.
On Sunday, January 22, 2017, we hit this blog’s fifth anniversary.
Yes, I mean ‘we.’
Because I can’t keep writing out here without acknowledging the 170+ WordPress followers who’ve been following this blog (and yes, there are more followers via Facebook and Twitter that get posts from here, but still). Seriously, some of you guys have been here since the very beginning in 2012 and, to my knowledge, have not left. if you have seen me at my early stage, you know it was vastly different and sporadic in terms of posting. And I just want to thank you for sticking it out with me. It means a great deal to me.
For those of you who just joined me recently, thank you for being here on this journey with me. I hope you enjoy what’s to come.
Here’s to another year of amazing blogging 🙂 .