I was first exposed to meditation's power when I was 21 years old. I showed up to an introductory workshop flustered from my NYC internship and furious that my online payment hadn't been processed correctly — one hour later, I would feel like I had just returned from a two-week vacation. Once the class was settled and seated, my teacher Gabrielle Bernstein turned down the lights, turned up the '90s anthem "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve, and told us to start breathing deeply. Whatever I had found in Savasana during yoga class paled in comparison to the full-body buzz I experienced during this rock-and-roll meditation.
Flash forward to one year later: I'm sitting in an ashram's small temple in San Francisco's Mission district. It's 7 a.m., and I want to be in bed. Like many yoga students who take part in an intensive, silent meditation was a fundamental aspect of my teacher training, but I found this morning meditation practice stressful and oppressive. I could not sink into the experience, and my mind was racing a hundred miles a minute. I upset with my teacher for making me do it, mad at my peers who looked like they were getting something out of it, and worst of all, I was livid with myself for not doing it "right."
I'd like to say that toward the end of my teacher training I saw the light and have sat in silence for 30 minutes every morning ever since, but I would be lying (and that's not good karma). I tried to will myself into this specific meditation practice for a few days after my intensive ended, but eventually I gave myself a break. I stopped being concerned about what real, serious meditation looked like for real, serious yogis, and I returned to my much-loved soothing soundtracks and shorter guided meditations. And I'm so glad I did, since even five to 10 minutes a day can offer healthy benefits.
These days, whether my practice is five minutes or 30 minutes, any time I spend actively meditating still helps. It's not always easy, and my brain is not not always cooperative, but I've finally learned that that's OK. Regardless of the "quality" of my experience, when I make time to meditate, I am calmer, kinder, and clearer all day long. My hypervigilant mind is not as reactive when a conflict arises, and things don't crawl under my skin as easily. It transforms my day when I do it, and I feel different when I don't. This may sound like some hippie bullsh*t to you — but I've got science on my side.
Studies have shown a correlation between meditation and reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, the region connected to anxiety and emotional regulation. Meditation has been shown to lengthen your attention span and improve stress levels in a high-pressure work environment. And when people are less stressed, they sleep better; meditation has also been shown to decrease insomnia by 42 percent. It may not erase your financial struggles, health issues, or childhood traumas, but meditation literally changes your brain chemistry, making you more resilient when difficult situations arise.
I am no longer in my early 20s, I am not living in an ashram, and I have responsibilities and stressors that are more intense than anything my 22-year-old mind could have fathomed. But in spite of everything that has so drastically changed, meditation remains, and more importantly, it works.