“Five minutes,” she said. “Just give me five minutes.”
I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes several years ago when my yoga teacher and ayervedic consultant, Kara Aubin, suggested meditation as “medicine” for my high-intensity lifestyle. She said meditation would help lower stress. I was skeptical.
Being someone who rarely backs down from a challenge (obvi), I complied. I started beginning my day by sitting up in bed, crossing my legs and doing five minutes of breath-watching meditation before I did anything else for the day. Doing the meditation practice sitting up in bed felt at first like I was getting away with some very clever trick. But, an even funnier thing happened — I lost track of time sitting in the dark with just my breath and body. Five minutes turned into 10 or 20 … occasionally even 30 minutes. I started setting the timer on my phone to keep me from being late. “Deep meditation session” is not usually an acceptable excuse for being late to a meeting.
Meditation, as it turned out, was a better way to start the day than my habit of running, biking or even a physical yoga practice. Even after just a few weeks, I started my day calmer and more centered.
Fast forward five years — Each day I wake up and, most often, my mind turns not to the work I need to do that day, but rather to what kind of meditation practice I need. That shift to spending 30 minutes on what I need before I turn to the demands of work or the needs of others is life changing. What could be seen as a selfish time actually enables me to more often approach the people with whom I interact with kindness and compassion. I am less prone to jump to frustration or anger when things do not go my way. It is pretty miraculous.
I noticed on my meditation app a few weeks ago that I was about to hit the 365 days in a row mark. I have now surpassed that. What has happened to me — someone who used to prefer jumping out of bed and into my running shoes or diving headlong into my task list? I’m not exactly sure what it means, but I can tell you about how it makes me feel. This past year has been a roller coaster, especially professionally — I transitioned to doing entirely short-term and contract work while also working on a 300-hour advanced yoga teacher training. Juggling multiple projects, people and teams is mentally stressful to say the least. The inconsistent work has strained me financially. I’ve even lost out on several new job opportunities that I thought I might stand a chance of getting. Those disappointments have left me to wrestle like Jacob with the angel — triggering the deep questions about my sense of purpose and call that I have not had since I felt called to seminary and ordained Christian ministry almost 20 years ago.
This disappointing, roller coaster year would have made me a harried ball of insomniac stress five or more years ago. The consistent mediation practice (plus the added benefit of so much time spent training at the yoga studio) has kept me from completely losing it. More than once I have thought, “I should really be more anxious about all this.” But, I’m honestly not. At least not most of the time.Nicole Havelka
This disappointing, roller coaster year would have made me a harried ball of insomniac stress five or more years ago. The consistent mediation practice (plus the added benefit of so much time spent training at the yoga studio) has kept me from completely losing it. More than once I have thought, “I should really be more anxious about all this.” But, I’m honestly not. At least not most of the time.
Research I’ve read recently in Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson confirms what I know anecdotally and from my yoga teachers like Kara: Meditation lowers cortisol (stress hormone), heart and respiration rates, and even inflammation. Long-term meditation practice helps your brain make new connections that changes your body’s default stress response. (The one that helps you respond appropriately to real danger or threats. The response that the modern world triggers far too often with our constantly harried schedules and stress-filled lives.) Some research cited in this book even found that the genes responsible for these stress responses become inactive in very long-term meditators.
This year of meditation — and wrestling with God’s purpose for my life — has made one thing clear — teaching and training yoga, meditation and mindfulness will be a more prominent part of my work. Anxiety is the enemy of creativity. I’ve seen it over and over again in my own life and the lives of leaders facing massive personal, professional and organizational change. This culture-wide epidemic of stress blocks us from drawing on our God-given gifts that help us build anew the kind of lives, families, organizations and faith communities that we truly want. We default only to fight or flight — throwing us either into destructive conflict or painful isolation. I want to teach people tools for getting out of those habits.
If you could reduce your anxiety by even 5 or 10 percent, what might that help you do? What creative risk might you take? What brave step might help you live your purpose in the world?