Admittedly, a three-hour meditation class might have been the wrong choice for a first-time meditator, but given the high-profile push from the likes of Oprah, Madonna and Gwenyth Paltrow, who have praised the mindfulness technique for its slew of health benefits, including decreasing inflammation and strengthening immunity, I was eager to give it a go.
If you’ve kept abreast of the news today, you’ll know there's a lot to be anxious about: from bomb blasts over Ukraine, workplace safety, a climate crisis and the mental health epidemic. Factor in the pressures of a day job and the arms-length list of unpaid work in your home life, it’s no wonder women around the world are burnt out and exhausted.
It’s also not surprising then that given the opportunity to be left alone with our thoughts, a study revealed that 67% of men and 25% of women would rather receive an electric shock.
So here I was, on a Sunday morning, alone with my thoughts.
It was at this point, whilst planning a tactical trip to the bathroom, that the words of our meditation teacher, Carolyne Gowen, brought me back (mindfully) to the room. ‘Back to your breath’, she prompted the class.
As the next hour went by, the dialogue in her head read a little like this:
“I wonder if I have any emails?” ‘Back to your breath.’
“I still haven’t booked in for a cervical cancer screening.” ‘Back to your breath.’
‘I wonder if everyone else is feeling the same as me?’ ‘Back to your breath.’
Truthfully, I never reached a euphoric state of calm that Paltrow had promised. Instead, I felt discomfort. My back ached, my eyes were watering, and I was fidgeting uncontrollably. When we could eventually open our eyes, I felt apologetic that I hadn’t been the best student.
Before I could shuffle defeatedly out of the class, Carolyne interjected that those sensations were normal and that it meant my meditation was working properly. “We can experience a lot of sensations as we unlock the stress and emotional debris that has been stored in our body for years,” she explained.
In the spirit of any good trial, I knew it would take more than a 3-hour intensive meditation class to have me reaping the rewards of a calmer, more productive self. So, for the three weeks following the class, I followed Carolyne's teachings and microdosed meditation every day for 15 minutes. The result: That small window of time each day became a smash room for my thoughts. Deadlines? Smash. My mounting inbox? Crash. ‘Do you have time to time for a quick word?’ Obliterated.
Obviously, meditation couldn’t protect me from the unexpected challenges I was thrown throughout the day, but it certainly helped cushion the fall until I found my feet again.
Before you brush off my new found state of calm as a luxury reserved for those with a free agenda, remember that “If you really want to do something, you will make time for it, if it’s important to you,” encourages Carolyn. “For a 20 minute a day meditation, you may have to get up 5 minutes earlier, watch Netflix 5 minutes later, shave 5 minutes off your social media scrolls and talk on the phone for 5 minutes less a day.”
So how does it work? “Most of us live in a constant state of stress, burn-out and exhaustion as we live in Continual Partial Attention. We are always distracted and can live our lives on auto-pilot whether that be at work or in our personal lives,” explains Carolyne. “For example, did you arrive at work today and didn't really notice how you got there? Or are you working from home, putting on a load of washing and talking to the kids at the same time? When you learn to meditate, you will experience being in the present moment and tackle the stresses of life. It gives us the capacity to see, hear, feel and reflect on what is inside and in front of us.”
I found that it was during my morning meditation that I was finally able to think clearly about the concerns playing on my mind. From navigating a messy friend breakup to structuring my day, rather than starting my day with my usual fit of anxiety, I was able to unjumble my thoughts. “Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. We become aware of our thoughts and feelings which allows us to make a decision or to choose better feeling thoughts and actions,” explains Carolyn. “When you meditate, your body is saying thank you so much for looking after me.”
Carolyn is currently running 1.5hr meditation classes. Visit silenceinthecity.com.au/meditate for more.