A quick note from Steve: You might recall that I've previously had Skylee Robinson do a guest post on the wonders of floating in an isolation tank, and Jim Eaton told us all about his experience during a previous 30-day meditation challenge. So when I announced another meditation challenge during October 2014, I was happy that, once again, readers were interested in telling us about their struggles, challenges and triumphs with mindfulness. First up is Lisa Perkins, a trainer/coach from Wichita, Kansas whom I met this past April at Paleo FX in Austin. Thanks, Lisa!
I am a personal trainer and health coach with a master’s degree in library science and I positively adore research. I listen to podcasts incessantly, subscribe to dozens of blogs, and read peer-reviewed journal articles just for fun. I use resistant starch, brain enhancing nootropics, and a standing workstation as part of my lifelong n=1 experiment. I know an inordinate amount about things like the gut microbiome, triggers for autoimmune disease, and the different ways men and women partition fuel during exercise. You get the picture: To say I love all of this stuff would be a huge understatement.
Enter the proverbial monkey wrench: My increasing awareness of a growing movement amongst health and fitness experts, as well as successful entrepreneurs, emphasizing the key role mindfulness and meditation play in optimizing health, fitness, and mental performance.
Ugh… I mean seriously?? Where did THAT come from?!
A little background: I grew up on an island in Alaska in a predominantly male household. Attributes such as physical agility and mental toughness were highly prized; self-reflection and emoting all over each other were most emphatically not. Having grown up this way, it took me an inordinately long time to get behind the ‘lifestyle’ component of health – optimizing sleep, stress reduction, plenty of low level activity. But I finally did. You know why? Because there is scientific proof that these things play a role in our physiological health. Therefore, I dutifully (if somewhat begrudgingly) don my blue light blocking glasses in the evening, sleep 8+ hours a night in a pitch black room, and take daily leisure walks. These have been tough concessions for a hard-charging ‘sleep when I’m dead’ type of gal but I made them because the science dictates their importance.
With this in mind, imagine how duped I felt when I began to be aware of the groundswell amongst my beloved health and fitness experts espousing the need for everyone to sit down and ‘get quiet.' I felt like I’d been blind-sided. Seriously. Ben Greenfield, a bastion of tips on cold thermogenesis and foam rolling techniques, now starts his day with a five-minute gratitude journal. Mark Sisson, my go-to guy on all things Primal, now cites meditation as one of the best ways to increase heart rate variability. Lifestyle entrepreneur Lewis Howes, credits his mindfulness practice for enhancing his success and quality of life. Even Men’s Fitness has jumped on the bandwagon, stating that, ‘from stress reduction and weight loss to increased energy and enhanced sleep, meditation could be your most powerful prescription to date.'
It sounds facetious to say, but anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I have gone through the five stages of grief on this issue, spending most of my time in Denial-land. Thanks to Steve Kirsch’s 30-day meditation challenge, I’ve finally reached the final step: Acceptance.
Before I made the decision to take up this challenge, I did what any biohacker worth their salt would do; delved into the research. I needed to understand the science before I could fully embrace the process. Based on my research, I’ve come (with a moderate amount of kicking and screaming) to the conclusion that there is ample scientific evidence to support the direct impact a mindfulness practice can have on physiological health (examples here, here, and here).
Ok, no more procrastinating. Time to get started….
I’m not going to sugarcoat this. This has been hard for me - probably harder than anything I’ve ever done. I have NO problem obliterating myself in the gym but sitting down and focusing on box breathing was excruciating, particularly at the outset. I wiggled, I wriggled, I heard every ambient sound within a city block. However, thanks to the Meditation for Dummies Cheat Sheet, I was able to develop my own unique approach for establishing focus; first for less than a minute and now for at least ten. The benefits I’ve experienced over the 30-day period? Enormous.
According to Mindful Fitness, a company that incorporates mindfulness into traditional fitness practices, ‘Paying attention to the present moment without judgment or attachment allows you to live in the moment and awaken to experience. It nurtures clarity and enhances growth and transformation in all aspects of life, including health and fitness.'
I’ve certainly found this to be the case. While I haven’t meditated every day as I intended, I’ve done it enough during this 30-day challenge to experience noticeable improvements in my capacity to cope with stressful situations, quiet my overactive brain, and feel more calm and centered overall. My kids have noted a change in me. Where before I would’ve flown off the handle about something silly like a pile of wet towels, I now am able to take a minute to process before reacting. That is empowering and, dare I say it, life altering.
Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, author of A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit, states in an article on Mindful.org that 'Mindfulness can be a great opportunity for us as a country, for all of us to develop this skill in some way, improve our performance… but there’s some fundamental things that are essential to that, and it’s the ability to concentrate, to relax, to be aware, and to cultivate and develop these skills; they’re going to improve your performance, regardless of what you are trying to do.'
I am now a believer. I will continue to fine-tune my mindfulness practice, tweaking it to fit my individual needs and quirks (i.e., I recently had knee surgery so can’t sit in a lotus position). I can’t see myself ever going back to my non self-reflective days as I believe I have just glimpsed the possibilities that can come from getting quiet and letting my mind Just Be. Acceptance: It’s a beautiful thing and I am grateful.