Many years ago I had a series of panic attacks. I didn’t know what they were at first. For some time, I was afraid I was having some kind of cardiac event, because my heart would repeatedly skip beats during the attacks. Eventually they became severe enough, and I became frightened enough, that I went to the emergency room. In the initial exam, they took my blood pressure, looked at the results, and decided to take it a second time because it couldn’t possibly be that high in a person my age. It wasn’t a mistake. They checked me in, ran a bunch of tests, and gave me Valium and a magnesium drip for a deficiency I didn’t know I had. They ran EKGs, but couldn’t document the irregular heartbeat I was experiencing. They gave me a few more Valium and a Xanax prescription, a referral for a follow-up appointment, and after a few hours, sent me home.
Over the next several weeks I had a series of appointments and tests – more EKGs, a 24 hour heart rate monitor, an ultrasound of my heart, and an MRI. All of this did not improve my anxiety levels, though the Xanax seemed to help. In the end, the cardiac issue turned out to be inconsequential, maybe related to the magnesium deficiency. The panic attacks eventually morphed into Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and while the Xanax helped, I wanted to be sure I was doing everything in my own power to feel better as well. I started running, I got a new, less stressful job, stopped taking the Xanax, and eventually tried meditation.
Like a lot of people, I started meditating with an app, ten minutes a day, and within just a couple of months, I began to see changes in my awareness and reactivity throughout the day. I’d notice my thoughts more frequently, which gave me more opportunities to redirect my thinking when I was headed down an anxiety-producing path. The more I meditated, the more curious I became. I started reading about Buddhism and different kinds of meditation. I tried mindfulness, mantra, and loving-kindness meditations. I attended intro classes at American Meditation Institute and the Shambhala Center of Albany.
In April of 2019 I attended a week-long Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training course taught by Cyndi Lee at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. I went mostly to deepen my own practice, but also to better inform the small ways I had been trying to incorporate mindfulness into my professional life. I left that training ready to do more, and I just recently received approval to teach a weekly lunch-time drop-in class where I work!
My personal practice now consists of a twenty minute silent mindfulness meditation each morning, usually after yoga, and occasional shorter sessions during the day as needed. That same practice is different every day. On some days, I am more focused and better able to notice my thinking and redirect my attention to my breath. On other days, thoughts or feelings are more insistent, and it takes me longer to notice that my mind has wandered. Neither of those experiences is better than the other. Mindfulness meditation is not about emptying your mind. It’s about being present with what is – noticing your thoughts and feelings, noticing your body, and redirecting your attention to your breath (or another focal point, but I typically practice with breath). I think a lot of people try meditation and get frustrated by how intrusive their thoughts are, when that’s actually the point – to be present with our minds as they are, to become more familiar with them, to get to know ourselves better, and in doing that, to develop greater understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.
I thought rather than describe my process to you, I’d offer a brief guided meditation audio track instead.
That’s it! Simple, thought not always easy. Hope you enjoyed.