Meditation Experiment

My experience after a month-long experiment in mindfulness meditation

by FI Designer

Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body. Mindfulness techniques can vary, but in general, mindfulness meditation involves a breathing practice and awareness of body and mind.

I was intrigued by meditation and mindfulness because it seemed to be described as a superpower. The ability to improve memory, enhance focus, lower blood pressure and anxiety. And last but not least slow down a racing mind. Engineers are problem solvers to the core, and my wife would argue to the detriment of our marriage it is a trait that I cannot shut off even when I come home from work.

The purpose of this post is to describe my experiences after a month-long practice of mindfulness meditation, and how it measured up to my expectations. I will not attempt to teach mindfulness meditation in this post. Please see the links below for resources that I found to be most valuable.

My first exposure to mindfulness meditation was during a one-hour wellness seminar provided by my employer. The seminar was a 101 level introduction but it whetted my appetite to seek out even more information. The next resource I found was on the Choose FI podcast, Episode 061, interviewing Cory Muscara. Cory teaches mindfulness at the University of Pennsylvania and he runs the Long Island Center of Mindfulness. His story blew my mind and I could relate to his intense all-or-nothing mentality. He felt so good meditating 15 minutes a day that he wondered what would happen if he meditated 15 hours a day. That led him down the path of being temporarily ordained as a Burmese monk for 6 months. Cory’s recommendation for realizing the benefits of meditation was committing to a 15-minute daily practice over 30 days.

First yoga
My first experiment with meditation was in yoga. I chose yoga for two reasons. First, it had the lowest barrier of entry because my gym offered yoga classes that were included with my gym membership. Second, it involved exercise and physically doing something. I like to think of it as meditation for people who cannot sit still. I started yoga in April 2019 when I had just completed a stressful series of deadlines at work, topped by a presentation for a structural engineering trade association. That point seemed to serve as an excellent baseline to test the benefits of yoga, and to recoup after months of stress overload.

Yoga experience
I was nervous prior to my first class, but YouTube videos of yoga for beginners gave me enough knowledge of the basic pose names and built my confidence. Over the course of 6 months, I attended yoga classes one night a week. One night may not seem like much but I was already weight training 5 days a week in the mornings, and my wife and I agreed that any more time at the gym would be strenuous on our family. The benefits of yoga were almost instantaneous. After each class, my stress levels were noticeably lower and my average blood pressure in the first two months was down by 9% over the previous 5 months. An additional benefit was the evening exercise, on top of my regular morning training, made me noticeably leaner.

Start meditating
I finally gave mindfulness meditation an honest try during quarantine in March 2020 of the coronavirus pandemic. I committed to 15 minutes of daily meditation over 30 days as recommended by Cory Muscara. As a newbie to the practice, I strictly used guided meditation recordings from Tara Brach, the Insight Timer app, and Cory Muscara. My meditations were in the morning before my family woke to avoid disruption. I was able to meditate 28 times for an average of 19 minutes over a 42 day period.

Meditation experience
By the second week, I was feeling more comfortable in the practice and could feel parts of my body relaxing like my forehead that I cannot recall ever before being unclinched. Generally, it was a great way to start the day. However, I do not feel like I experienced the transformative benefits that I expected. My blood pressure during the month of meditation was actually higher than the previous 6 months. But in full honesty, it is not a fair comparison of pre-pandemic blood pressure to that during coronavirus quarantine. After the 42-day meditation experiment, I quit practicing.

My takeaway from meditation
I think I started meditation with the wrong expectations. I had hoped it would give me greater clarity, enhanced focus, and maybe leap over a building or two in a single bound. But the benefits for me were much more subtle than that. I believe there is something to it but I cannot put my finger on it yet. All I can say is that I feel I was in a better headspace during the first 42 days of quarantine than I am now and I miss it. I plan to reintroduce mindfulness meditation back into my life, possibly 1 day a week.

Yoga vs meditation
Yoga and meditation can be useful in my life, but for different reasons. Yoga provided better results for me in stress reduction and overall health, while meditation provided relaxation and improved sleep. The sleep benefits of the Headspace app and the Insight Timer app will be the topic of a future post.  And spoiler alert, it is a superpower. I also found a 2-minute relaxation meditation was useful in decompressing at the end of work each day when working from home during quarantine. That quick meditation was doing the same thing as the drive home to unwind before seeing my family.

Take action
Please do not stop here. If meditation or yoga appeals to you please check out the resources in and linked to this post.

Links & recommendations

  • Tara Brach provides many free downloadable guided meditations and were the best resources I found.
  • Choose FI podcast, Episode 061, with Cory Muscara.
  • Free mindfulness resources are available from Cory Muscara by texting your email address to 631-759-8601. He will email you a 7-page mindfulness starter kit with links for 10 free guided meditations.
  • The Insight Timer app was the best free app I found for guided meditations.
  • The headspace app is very popular but I was not satisfied after the free trial expired. I found the most benefit out of their “Sleepcasts” for winding down and quickly falling asleep.

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