As a homeschooling mom of two very free-spirited and strong-willed young men, a freelancer, and the girlfriend of a guy who likes to have spur of the moment dates, being able to relax and go with the flow is important. Unfortunately, if I’m not careful, I can let myself get overwhelmed, and then I need schedules, checklists and control to feel normal again. And that just doesn’t work with my life. Schedules, checklists and control have their place, but when I’m overwhelmed, it goes too far the other direction.
Being able to relax, let things happen, and not feel overwhelmed is critical. Meditating and yoga helps me with that in many ways.
Meditating helps me focus
When I don’t start my day with meditation and yoga, I’m distracted all day. I can’t decide where to start when it comes to working. I don’t pay attention when my kids talk to me. I can’t decide what to make for dinner.
But when I start my day the right way, it gives me the motivation to concentrate and get things done. I may still find myself being indecisive, unmotivated, distracted, or otherwise not “all there,” but it’s an occasional occurrence, rather than the standard for my day.
I’m less irritable
This is one that I’ve been able to easily track and realize the difference between a day when I did what I needed to do and a day that I didn’t. When I don’t meditate and practice yoga, I get annoyed by things that would not bother me otherwise. And things that would bother me? Those things really get under my skin and make me want to explode.
When I’m able to make myself “zen” before the day even starts, though, it’s like I’ve gone to a well of patience and calm and filled the bucket that is me with both of those things. I can let go of the little things that don’t matter. I still get irritated by the bigger things, but I’m able to do so in a way that makes sense. I can articulate what’s upsetting me and try to find a resolution, rather than just rant and get nowhere.
My body feels better
I attribute this one directly to yoga, rather than meditating. It’s physical activity which partially counters the fact that my work keeps me seated most of the day. Plus, stretching just plain feels good. Without it, I feel tight and tense all day.
I’ve also found, though there isn’t a lot of research to back up the theory, that my sugar cravings have decreased considerably since taking up yoga. I also don’t feel the urge to eat when I’m stressed.
It increases my energy levels, too. This is a particularly important factor for me because I am not a morning person. I would sleep in every day if I could, and even after sleeping in, I’m still slow to fully wake up and don’t like lots of chatting right away. Sometimes I even sit after meditating and have to motivate myself to roll out my yoga mat because I just feel too tired to do it. But once I start my practice, I immediately begin to feel more energized, and by the time I’m done, I feel amazing.
My mind is happier
I have dealt with depression in the past. Over the years and through some research, I’ve come to conclude that it was situational depression rather than clinical, though my doctor would disagree. Regardless of the official diagnosis, what I know is that the two times I was diagnosed, I was prescribed antidepressants. They helped, but I didn’t like being on them. I didn’t like the thought of being dependent on a drug to feel happy — to feel anything — for the rest of my life (which is how long I’d need the meds, according to my doctor).
I still get bummed at times. When my grandfather passed away nearly two years ago, when my grandmother was recently hospitalized and given a significant health diagnosis, when my best friend moved away, I felt depressed in all of these situations. But who wouldn’t? I also feel down when my boyfriend and I disagree, when work isn’t going well, and when my plans don’t work out.
But I feel like my daily routine of meditation and yoga keeps me at a healthy level of sadness. I feel down at appropriate times and bounce back from them. My routine staves off the possibility of slipping back into a deeper depression.
Of course, that’s not to say that everyone can avoid depression simply by meditating and practicing yoga. That’s not a reasonable thing to expect. I would recommend that anyone dealing with depression, situational or otherwise, talk to their doctor. But meditation and yoga can’t hurt, either.
So, what do I do for my daily meditation and yoga routine? It varies from day to day:
- I meditate first every day. Depending on the meditation I do (guided, silent, etc.), I meditate for 5–30 minutes. The meditation I choose is based on my mood, the kind of day I had before, the day I expect ahead of me, and how much time I have based on the day ahead of me. I love using the Simple Habit app on my phone for guided meditations. There’s tons of variety and lots of multi-day series meditations to choose from so you can really go deep. The Mindfulness App is another useful app for guided meditations. I’ve heard good things about Calm, as well, but I found it rather limited for me. Kris Carr also has some outstanding meditations for sale on her site.
- I do yoga after meditating. I’m a huge fan of the sequences in Jessamyn Stanley’s book, Every Body Yoga. Her sequences are the perfect length, with great images, and tons of pages breaking down how to do the poses, both supported and unsupported. She makes it really accessible for everyone and gives you lots of variety in the sequences. I also have a couple of books by Cyndi Lee, but the stick figure drawings and limited instruction on how to do the poses make it feel a little frustrating for me. I also have a bunch of yoga videos for streaming from YouTube or Amazon Prime, and I have the Down Dog app on my phone. Depending on my day, I spend 10–45 minutes doing yoga.
- If it’s been a particularly rough day, I’ll meditate a second time before bed. This one is usually short, between 5–15 minutes, and I typically do a guided, stress reduction meditation. Typically, I only do this if I’ve been particularly stressed out that day. At one time, I tried to make twice a day meditation a daily habit, but I found that made it too stressful in general and limited the benefits.
There are tons of benefits to both meditation and yoga, separately and together. I don’t need all the research to tell me how good it is for me, though. I feel it in the difference between me when I’ve done it and me when I haven’t. It’s a palpable difference, and though there are still days when one or both might get skipped because I have no choice, that difference is enough to ensure that I do everything in my power to make sure skip days are few and far between.
What about you? Do you meditate or practice yoga? Who’s your favorite yoga personality? What’s your favorite meditation? I’m always exploring new choices, so share your favorites with me in the comments!
**A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.com.