I never really gave meditation a chance before. While I tried it once at home, I found it difficult to focus and never went back – that is until recently. While on a health and wellness retreat in Barcelona, I signed myself up for a guided meditation class.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I was optimistic and hopeful I’d learn something.
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Contrary to what people may think, meditation is not about switching off completely. It’s an ancient practice whereby you focus your mind, develop concentration and gain perspective on your thoughts and emotions.
It’s about being present in the moment and training your brain not worry so much. It’s a skill, and like all skills, it takes time and practice to master.
I arrived to class in my stretchy new yoga pants (thanks, hun, Penneys) and nestled onto a green mat in the corner. The room was tranquil, overlooking a water feature in a landscaped courtyard. The lighting was soft, the air was scented with frankincense and soothing instrumentals played from the stereo. I felt good already, and the class hadn’t even started yet.
Then, our guide arrived. She sat cross-legged on the mat in front of the group with a book in one hand and a smile on her face. She was soft-spoken and asked, by a show of hands, who had tried meditation before. I was relieved to see that, of the 15 people in the room, only three had experience.
We began by checking our personal heart rate using the new Fitbit Versa. Considering I suffer from anxiety, I wasn’t surprised to see that mine was high at 116 beats per minute. The aim of the game was to bring that heart rate down by the end of the session. The guide invited us to lie on our yoga mats, and cover ourselves with a large towel to avoid getting cold. I closed my eyes and made myself comfortable. Then she read a passage from her book aloud.
The passage instructed us to focus our minds on various parts of our own bodies. Starting with the left hand, our guide said slowly, “Thumb... First finger... second finger, third, fourth, fifth. Back of the hand... Palm of the hand... Wrist.”
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As she read, each body part was given its own time to relax, and by focusing on one thing at a time, our minds were taken away from our worries and stress. My mind occasionally wandered off, thinking, ‘I can't place where her accent is from’ and ‘I hope my phone is on silent’.
But once I became aware of those thoughts, I brought myself back to the moment and rejoined the class. “Right eyelid... Left eyelid... Tip of the nose. Right nostril... Left nostril. Jaw...”
The class lasted half an hour, and at the end, I sat up feeling calmer than I’d been at the beginning. However, the true test was my heart rate. Checking my Fitbit Versa, I saw that my BPM had dropped to 81.
That’s a decrease of 35 beats – the meditation had worked, my anxiety was lower, and most importantly – I felt happier.
Would I recommend? Most definitely. The guided meditation was far more beneficial to me than the personal meditation I had tried at home. I now know that I work better in a class environment than by myself; its structure is good for people who get distracted easily.
Perhaps, with practice, I'll be able to meditate anywhere – but for now, the class setting is perfect.