I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to run without pain or discomfort again. That fear began a journey into health and wellness that led me to unexpected places to find relief. It wasn’t until I was running one wintry morning with my friend and physical therapist, Kristin, that I really put the pieces together. As I bounded through the snow, she asked me about my journey—a journey that led me to meditation and its unexpected gifts. My “aha” moment happened when I read that my pain had created a vicious cycle in my mind and body: I was afraid of the pain, and that fear was keeping me trapped in my pain.
This realization was the result of what felt like a never-ending quest to not only get rid of the pain in my body, but to truly thrive in all areas of my life. To find what I was looking for, I knew I’d have to go beyond conventional methods. What does it mean to thrive? I made a list of what I wanted:
1. Free of physical pain. This seems obvious, but even beyond the physical pain, I wanted increased stamina and strength. This wasn’t some abstract goal; It was personal. I wanted to be able to keep up with my son and be a physically active participant in his life.
2. Increased mental health and well-being. Multitasking is a fact in many of our lives. My goal was to be able to develop the capacity to remain present regardless of the multitude of tasks or responsibilities I was juggling.
3. Increased performance. Being a voracious and ambitious learner brings me a great deal of pleasure. Was it possible to increase my ability to absorb and assimilate new information? I wanted to be able to set and meet ambitious goals well before deadlines without stressing my mind and body.
Kristin looked at my list. “You shoot for the stars!” she joked as she wondered if there was a modality or practice that would meet my expectations. My gut told me there was and that once I found it, it would also unlock answers inside me—an insight I had glimpsed in the past. I didn’t want to settle. I knew that whatever I found would connect my mind and body, allow me to go beyond healing to thriving physically and mentally, and be scientifically based while also aligning with the values of my mother and family.
I researched everything from Ayurveda to homeopathy to yoga and meditation. Today, I blend many of these practices, but ultimately, the modality that was transformative was meditation. The power of meditation allowed me to live in the present moment more frequently and be aware of my thoughts and feelings in the process. Did this mean that uncomfortable emotions, fears, and pain went away overnight or at all? Not necessarily, but it meant that my relationship to these challenges changed. I became aware of my personal blocks, and instead of reacting, I was able to observe the situations as they arose and choose a healthier response.
In terms of my physical pain (which was touched on in an earlier article titled “Motivating through Injury”), I saw that pain was also just a sensation and I could observe it as well, thereby eliminating the added anxiety and fear. The result was greater calm and better sleep.
Science is beginning to catch up with the benefits of meditation. No longer considered fringe, researchers from multiple disciplines are now studying its impact on pain, depression, and even conditions such as IBS. Its all-encompassing benefits are being discussed in podcasts, articles, and books such as Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson’s book, Altered Traits.
Meditation apps are one of my favorite ways to plug in. You can use an app to learn about the science behind it or just do a quick practice on the fly. Even Kristin, who can be put off by the often “woo-woo” conversations around meditation, is drawn to their practical guidance and the fun ways they can be shared with children.
There is a full range of options depending on what you are looking for. Here are a few I recommend:
1. Healthy Minds offers a better understanding of the science behind meditation and a variety of practices to engage with deeply. The vignettes that describe the science and the whys behind the practice are also amazing—even for my 11-year-old son.
2. Insight Timer is a great resource to get to know a variety of perspectives and teachers. I suggest finding a teacher that suits your particular purpose. Some of my favorites: David Gandelman for his casual storytelling approach, Sarah Blondin for her poetry, and Masters like Thich Nhat Hanh for their eternal wisdom.
3. Curable is specifically designed for chronic pain. I have truly enjoyed learning the science and experiencing a change in my relationship with pain.
4. Calm, Headspace, and Happify are also popular apps, which I have not had an opportunity to experience.
5. The Science of Happiness is a podcast by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. They ventured into fun experiments asking people to try one practice for a period of time and report back their experience!
6. Last 8% morning, a podcast series by JP Pawliw-Fry, has given me the gift of setting my day right with a walk! JP blends his motivational style with his experience in creating meaningful shifts in the mind to help his listeners make each day count!!
As I described the different apps to Kristin, she started to feel excited. There was a road map, and it was approachable and effective. She was beginning to understand why I had become so excited about my journey.
Meditation is literally a gift that keeps on giving. Its impact goes far beyond what many of us typically settle for with conventional medicine (though that has its place). What is your meditation journey? What has helped you along the way? What practices, books, and apps do you use? Are you just beginning? Let us know! Together, we can grow our community strong.