In one of my favorite movies, Hoosiers, the basketball coach was battling heart disease. When the main character Norman enters his new boss’s office, Cletus is sitting in meditation. He said he was “floating”. His doctor had told him he had to manage his blood pressure, and meditation was his choice of medicine. In 1986 I knew nothing of meditation, but the scene stuck with me. Who would think some Indiana coach would be meditating? Wasn’t that just for yogis and girls?
Since then, I’ve become more interested in self-care, met many world-class athletes who use meditation for enhancing performance, and I have experienced the spiritual and physiological benefits of a regular yoga practice. I have, of course, from time to time meditated after a yoga class or practiced yoga nidra when I’m under a lot of stress or suffering from insomnia.
In 2007, I was experiencing high anxiety and relentless insomnia for months while under a stress from a failing marriage. I had never meditated regularly, but I was trying all of the herbal treatments I could find. Regular exercise and my yoga practice alone were not working. I read that meditation might work. I sat in meditation for 15 minutes every night. After only about a week of doing this, my insomnia abated. I slept. There is nothing more powerful than sleeping after a long stretch of sleepless nights. I continued the practice until I got out of the worst of the stress and then I forgot about it. Necessity is certainly the best motivator.
I started meditating in April with the Calm App. Several friends mentioned it to me in a short period of time as a panacea for the stress they were feeling. When three people mention something to me in a short amount of time, I take it to be a message from my Higher Power. My rule is I have to try it whether I want to or not. Well, I got hooked immediately. Even the short 10-minute meditations that I used in the beginning started to make a difference to me, and they contained great learning content on how to live mindfully.
I’m three months into this journey, and I feel like a different person. Well, I take that back. I still feel like the same person, but I feel like a lovable, grounded, well-rested, and valuable person. That is a very different experience than my previously insecure, frazzled, exhausted and somewhat confused experience of life. I know there is lots of science to back up the power of meditation, but what motivates me is how different I feel. I am now meditating 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening most days of the week. It’s the best investment of time I’ve made in awhile.
I recently found a podcast made by my former college classmate Robin Roberts called Everybody’s Got Something. The first one I listened to was a chat with two of her colleagues from Good Morning America who talked about their life struggles and what they learned from them. Dan Harris was an anxious, adrenalin-seeking recreational drug using journalist who had an embarrassing panic attach on the air. He started meditating, and it literally changed his life and career. In addition to his journalism career, he is now a crusader for meditation. He has his own podcast and website called 10% Happier which has a short course on meditation, meditations for all kinds of situations and teachings from master teachers of meditation.
Yesterday, on the 10% Happier podcast, Dan interviewed a Democratic congressman (Tom Ryan, podcast #87) who holds meditation sessions in D.C. that are attended by bi-partisan staffers regularly. In fact, in his opinion, meditation is a pretty conservative activity. It is a “help yourself” solution, no cost and wildly effective in changing your life.
If you are struggling with stress or insomnia or would otherwise just like to strengthen your brain “muscle”, you should open your mind a little and try meditation. Meditation is the new black, and, if just 25% of the population started meditating and seeing results that bring out the best in themselves, just think of how we could change the world. Athletes have known for a long time that meditation helps their performance. Their job is to perform, so they aren’t going to waste time on BS.
Cletus modeled meditation for us back in 1986 – long before I even knew what it was. His doctor knew that meditation lowered blood pressure and reduced stress. He probably got better sleep as a result. I suspect Norm could have benefited from meditation with his flashy temper and anger issue. Those things make for good drama but they don’t make for a good life. Like Dan Harris says, it won’t solve all of your problems, but it may make you 10% happier.