Clear Your Mind

Even though the advantages of meditation are numerous and scientifically proven, and even though I can list the benefits to mental and physical health, I never made a conscious habit of meditating until I had to.

I’ve dabbled. I tried meditation once in awhile. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t disciplined about it. In my day-to-day life, I was “too busy” to carve out that kind of time to have a daily practice. Sure, if I happen to have a rare pocket of extra time and no one needed me, meditation would’ve been an ideal way to spend that time, but between answering emails, scrolling through my phone, or getting a head start on dinner, my time was always up before I knew it. Oops, I forgot to meditate again. I have forgotten to meditate for 20 years.

Let’s be honest—meditation feels a little self indulgent, right? “Sorry, kids, I can’t make you dinner right now even though you are hungry. I know you need help with your homework. I have to go meditate. I’ll be back in 20 minutes. Please be silent.”

So I didn’t do it.

I went through a period in my life of heightened stress, however, which caused chronic, daily tension headaches—pain and tightness in the top of my head, neck, and back that was debilitating. Over-the-counter pain medicine did nothing. Drinking a lot of water didn’t help. Hot showers gave me relief, but only for about a half an hour after. When you are in pain for weeks on end, you get serious about finding a fix. The one thing that actually gave me relief? You guessed it. Meditation.

I carry my stress in my shoulders and neck, and can literally point to the pain and tightness between my shoulder blades. The tension that was causing my headaches gave me not only a reason to meditate, it gave me a meditation strategy. Meditating “correctly” can be intimidating. We imagine sitting in lotus position in a beautiful sun-lit studio while incense burns and soft music plays. We think those who meditate reach a transcendent state during each session. It can be overwhelming to “stay mindful” or “clear your mind” or “dismiss your thoughts” while trying to meditate. Instead of finding inner peace, what I usually ended up doing was making grocery lists in my head until the timer went off.

Because of those chronic headaches, I became motivated to really give meditation a try. I decided to just do my best. I didn’t chant “Om” or get into any fancy position or worry too much about my surroundings. Now, when I meditate, I just concentrate on my breathing and relax my muscles, and spend 20 minutes releasing the tightness. I close my eyes. I drop my shoulders. I imagine each breath expelling tension from my body and into the world away from me. I make sure my head is sitting right on top of my spine so that my neck muscles aren’t working hard. I make my head feel as if it is floating. I unclench my jaw.

I found that if I didn’t worry so much about thinking the “right” thoughts, but just focused on my body and my breath, that the mental clarity came too. I was feeling less stress, more calm. I was staying absolutely present for 20 solid minutes. That is pretty remarkable for me, for any of us.

Sometimes I don’t have a full 20 minutes, so I take 10, or even five. Sometimes I don’t have the benefit of being on my living room floor while everyone else is sleeping, so I close my eyes and meditate in the car while waiting for one of my kids to finish practice. I may even meditate while walking, thinking about my breath and head position, dropping my shoulders and imagining the tension releasing up and away from me. I can feel my headaches lessening even after a minute or two of this conscious attention. Over time, I have indeed found relief; I have had less intense and then fewer headaches.

If you’ve been considering trying meditation, don’t wait until your head hurts. Maybe you can avoid the tension that causes the eventual headaches in the first place. Other benefits of meditation include: improved concentration, self-awareness and happiness; decreased stress and tension; slowing of the aging process. Even typing that list makes my head feel better.

I am not surprised by any of my findings, because as I said, I knew all of the benefits of meditation before I actually tried to incorporate it into my life. Physical pain can certainly motivate us to make changes in our lives. My need became more immediate than it had been. Before, I believed it was a good idea. Now, I depend on it to function, and I don’t think that’s self-indulgent.

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