Taking a new Habit of morning meditation

I started this 30 days Challenge on Meditation after reading John Stepper’s post on a similar experience he did. This was on June 27th, I started on July 1rst to be aligned with a month and to make sure I was ready.

My topic here is more about sharing what I learned from the experience than to guide you into meditation which is a very personal choice. it’s a little long with some details I marked with blue italic so that can be skipped.

My experience of meditation

I’m not good at meditating, but I feel there is something to gain on me here, leading to an ultimate win for me.
My first contact with meditation was in India, back in 1978. I met people meditating for hours in meditation places or in temples. It was part of Yogic life, sadhus or Buddhist monks rituals. We talk here of hours of meditation in a row. For some of them it’s a major part of their day. Really not something engaging and motivating for the 18y old westerner of me.

As I started Yoga in 2007, in India, meditation was also part of the process. Courses started with a short 5’ meditation. It is like a corridor, a way to calm down, isolate from the external world, of our thoughts of the day. The thoughts of the night or the day before really because Yoga took place at 6 AM. You sit down, shut up and meditate. Doing it on my own, with no special explanation it was doomed but I was able to stay quiet.

Meditation is present in Indian’s lifestyle. It’s common in schools, for a conference, a talk or a course to start with a brief meditation. Same benefits as for Yoga course it isolates oneself from instant concerns, become present in the moment, create a transition, turn ourselves inside in.

Back in 2013, in a monastery, a guy, sharing the room with me, was waking up in silence every night at 4 AM to meditate 3 hours until 7 AM. A presence silent and totally still in the dark. FYI I like monasteries and I’m welcome in some places but I’m not a follower of any religion.

As I increased my practice of Yoga in India, longer meditations came into play. 30′ before, 30′ after and as a goal of Yoga. Hatha yoga stage #7, Dhyana, is precisely meditation.

Meditation in the West is more an activity on its own. Something you start almost any time in the day, possibly with the use of an app.
Meditation is also becoming a popular topic among the people I follow on twitter: Helen, Lisa, John mentioned meditation. I suggested to mention it in the Periodic Table of Knowledge as the still process (I’m a Math guy, I like to have Neutral Element in sets). So Meditation is now a western topic as well.

I decided to stick with the manual traditional meditation, the more so that I wish to retain the capability to do it with no preconditions, anywhere including while walking in the countryside or during the night and I don’t keep anything with a screen in my sleeping room. I tried to catch up on this and introduce short meditations in my day. I’m not ready for hours of meditation, but short ones (5 to 15′) to focus on being really still mentally, present and enhancing my ability to enter the stage failsafe. It works, but I’m not doing it consistently. I could forget meditation for weeks and suddenly practice twice a day and so one.

I won’t get into defining meditation or supplying links. First because I’m not knowledgeable enough, second because even very experts person I met have not been able to explain much about it, same with books. In my opinion: It’s not a rest, is not being drowsy like just before sleep or when waking up. It’s not being concentrated on thinking of nothing or repeating mantras or fixing pictures. This would imply a strong mental effort while meditation is a relaxed stage, reasons why it can be hold for hours. It has something to do with freeing ourselves from the constant intrusion of new thoughts, or repeating ones, or memories of feelings triggering old memories. Something to do with the Default Mode Network. So it must be practised in a place where one feels safe, with some quietness. I try to follow my breath via the coolness it cause in my nostrils, when something comes to my mind (and it happens) I imagine I have like a little conveyor in front of me and I place the thoughts there to go away.

A 30 days challenge to try to turn it into a habit

Last occasion this came to my mind was when I read this post by John Stepper and I was amused to catch-up the idea. An occasion to try, for free, to turn it into a habit. An occasion also to test my resistance to adhering to some discipline. I was not ready for 10′ per day, but I tinkered a goal adapted to my habits:

  • Wake up
  • 10’ Mental reconnect with past day, collecting new ideas (I blogged on that).
  • Starting from here I try to get gradually totally mindful in the practice as if meditating.
  • Some movements or postures
  • Sitting on the floor
  • 3’ Forced Abdominal breathing (AKA Vatakram kapalbhati Pranayama) Quite energetic.
  • 3’ Alternate nostril breathing (AKA Bhastrika). Sounds weird but it consists basically in blocking one nostril for a breath for inhale, exhale, then the other one, repeat. It’s done on a quiet rhythm, getting even quieter by introducing longer cycles with pauses with lungs full and empty (AKA Kumbaka).
  • 3’ Meditation. I use my breathe as only support. No music, no picture, no visualisation, no mantras. This is why having reached a quiet breathe is important. I usually face a window, I keep my eyes well open, I watch the wall below the window.

How it went

I tried a few days, but it was taking too long to start. I attached a scan of my challenge with remarks I wrote every day (In French). Lack of motivation, resistances and my meditation was tending to be mindless, absent or too rational, too concentrated.

After 4 days, the Sunday, I failed, I missed again the Monday and the next Sunday. The excuse was that on Sunday morning 9:20 AM there is the bread delivery truck. So I must be up and ready for 9AM. With my alarm clock at 9 AM, there’s no time for a wake up ritual. Sunday I typically end very late because I deploy new releases.

I decided to ignore this interruption and resume the challenge, ignoring the failure. The fact that I committed on my comment on John’s blog played as an external motivator :)

I added a small reading after the meditation, to serve as a transition before standing up and getting downstairs for coffee. That proved to be a great addition.

I fixed , for a time, my breathe to be in pear form. I wanted to make sure transitions between lungs full to retaining breathe occur imperceptibly like rounded edges of a rectangular cycle, with no locked being placed. A short retention lungs full, a longer one empty. The opposite of the normal prescription. There was an interesting effect but really eventually a constraint to further deeper meditation. That’s where instead I made my breathing exercises longer and focused more on a vertical breathing (like if air goes through me).

Then I had a week where I could follow the routine but reduced to its bare minimum. On the 14th day, I broke the routine but made it at 6 PM. I was happy that I didn’t miss one but realized I need to take corrective action. I needed changes not only to reach the end of the challenge but mostly to make a habit of it. Something smoothly installed in my routine so that I don’t need to make too many extra efforts. So here I made a great change: I put my alarm clock one hour back. Bye, bye beauty sleep. Consider that I work a lot with North America so I’m often still awake and working until 2 or 3 AM. Waking up at 8 AM means some nights with 5 hours of sleep, only one cycle. So I expected to stop earlier as well, as a natural adaptation. It occurred. Strange enough, I tend to wake up even earlier now: 7:20 AM.

From there, my routine changed. I had a full hour for me. One hour just dedicated to take care of myself, mentally and physically.

I put back an old routine I followed for years: 20 minutes of gym mostly on the back, oriented toward abdominal muscles and back pain prevention. I adapted it based on deviations that happened. Side effect it became a bit longer and more difficult now.

I added a step standing, followed by Surya Namaskar or not depending on my state of mind, but at least some stretches and fixed postures.

Then continue on above routine but changed timing 3 – 4 – 5. So it’s now 5 minutes meditation.

This worked much better. Since I have an hour for me I can make the meditation gradually longer to reach 15’.

Benefits

  • I’m very happy I could arrange a new routine and include meditation. It was a pending goal somewhere neither important or urgent.
  • It increases my eagerness, my appetite to work. I reach the coffee machine in a brilliant state, I barely need the extra push of a coffee. I’ll try to stop with coffee for some time.
  • I don’t need the usual email and Twitter rush of the morning (the adrenaline moment). This little time you check if something new happened while you were away.  I also stopped listening for news during my breakfast so I’m much more serene.
  • I added ability to cool down, stop to almost still at once.

What did I learn

  • Link pranayama and meditation, gradually moving into it. At least for me, it did great.
  • Important and Urgent queues for private matter and work matter should be kept strictly isolated. Otherwise for a self-employed, solo entrepreneur, startup owner there are no limits. Any private goal competes with job related tasks.
  • 30 days allows slight tweaks to be experimented and slowly adapt into something workable and sustainable. It gives the time to re-enter the habit taking with successive slight changes. I compare again with Yoga. When you try some new or challenging postures, you often push toward the limits of your flexibility. while retaining the pause start breathing. Slow, long breaths will have two effects: Large intakes of air acts as a pain reliever, the posture slowly becomes more comfortable. Breathes will let your muscles relax as well and the body will end up fitting into the right posture, the one without forcing or pain. 30 days works a bit the same, as breathing in postures. By allowing some minor and smart changes we gradually evolve between the preconceived naive goal into the smart goal: sustainable, achievable.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria
  • The idea of ritual meets discipline. Something stronger than a routine, a placeholder with hooks for installing habits. The morning routine is more like a ritual, it must take place in a strict order to include all the hooks for habits. I wish to dig into this another time. It’s also important in product design to make them stick.
  • 30 days challenges are not good candidates for Working Out Loud. Holding resolutions is really a discussion with oneself. I felt that by sharing the progress there was a risk of diluting my resolve. I went as far as not reading blog posts mentioning meditation.
  • 30 days don’t forge strong habits, it’s just a leading line. It depends very much in which condition you are at the end. If like for the posture you found your marks it will be easy to continue without thinking, your agenda is now ready for it. If you forced, it will be like releasing the cow head pose.: A huge relief when you stop and you forget it.
  • You can only follow one plan at a time, don’t try to add them because it looks tempting and simple at start. It’s after day 15th that it gets harder when life incidents come into play, special occasions, distractions. I was tempted to start another challenge before the end and I felt it this was a wrong idea.

Conclusion

Meditation is pure willpower. There is no external pressure, no social pressure, no short term benefits in your work, You need internal motivation to go for it, to start, to find the time and to keep it focused. Adding new habits can be a challenge, achievable but challenging. To adopt this one, it took me to change my schedule by 1h. My next challenge may impact my schedule even more but with a clear, measurable benefit in term of business.

Next plans:

Precisely my next challenge is to write every day: I’m starting a new plan to get into the habit of writing daily. As you canwill see the sheet is almost empty. See what I did here :) It’s my first post of my new challenge I started on August 1rst.

Continue reading about my 30 days writing challenge.

Final routine

  • Wake up
  • 10’ Mental reconnect with last day, collecting new ideas (I blogged on that).
  • 20’ gym (abdominals, back pain prevention)
  • Starting from here I try to get gradually totally into the practice, as if meditating.
  • Some movements or postures, standing, stretches.
  • 3’ Forced Abdominal breathing
  • 4’ Alternate nostril breathing
  • 5’ Meditation. Will try to reach 15′.
  • Reading on Yoga, Meditation or Self development.
  • Start the day
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  • http://activatelearning.com.au/ Helen Blunden

    Thanks so much for this post Bruno as you explained some of the questions I had around meditation. I’ve been doing it now for close to 12 days in a row now and already, I’m noticing some differences and I like them. My mind isn’t as scattered. I think I came to the realisation of this when I was making shortbread over the weekend and my mind was so zoned into the task, that I didn’t think of anything else and I really enjoyed being in the moment. I have been thinking of now starting yoga and getting into that over time (I have been doing it on and off for years) but it has never been consistent. Thanks for posting your comments and experiences as well as your morning routine. I love the idea of the 30 day challenge. I guess the meditation is the one I’m doing (the course calls it Top 50 – we must do 50 consecutive daily meditations to make it a life long habit). So far so good!

    • http://kneaver.com/bruno BrunoWinck

      Top 50 sounds a good bet to make a habit, 30 days is slightly short.

      My practice of Yoga is very personal. I learned some postures, some good practices and I do it on my own, at my rhythm. There is also a weekly course that I attend, but it’s really more for the social experience. I really do progress when I can start again and again the same posture until I get the right feelings.

      I learn also while I am in India. Not in regular courses but by joining groups who practise yoga. It’s more the ambiance you would have in a coworking space. Each of us practices but in the same time we look what others are doing and we receive feedbacks and advice.

      From a back-pain point of view it’s ideal because it increase the awareness of how we stand, maintain ourselves. It’s nice when you eventually get the knowledge of which posture to practise when you feel you stressed too much a particular muscle. That’s what I try to reach. More like a continuous self-cure and prevention.

  • indyjoyg

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and being honest enough to admit to your struggles with keeping to the routine. It can be all too easy to let one lapse be the excuse to give up. I’m impressed you kept going. I’ve been interested in meditation and have started and stopped several times. I appreciate your example because maybe I too just need to figure out the best time that will work for me.

    • http://kneaver.com/bruno BrunoWinck

      Hi Joyce, thank you for taking the time to read. I’ve still a long way to go but I start from very far behind. I have ups and downs, Weeks were I can get into it at once, days where I can’t stop thinking. My philosophy today is that everything counts. If we are mindful of why we stop, why we don’t take the time or what keeps buzzing in our heads it’s already a benefit.

      I start to use meditation as a deliberate way to stop overthinking on useless concerns. A typical use case in our domain is conversations not ending well. 3 minutes meditation does it’s magic..