For the most part, I’ve been living in a glow of happiness and healthiness since my kidney transplant. But this week, stress crept back into my life.
First, my kidney doctor thinks I’ve been pushing too fast with exercise and wants me to slow down. So I’m walking more, running less and avoiding weights altogether. I’ve lost an important stress reliever.
Second, I’ve been commissioned to write a book. I owe a chapter a week. The timelines are easily manageable, yet I’m allowing these external deadlines to create stress I don’t get when working on my own projects.
Third, it’s been three months since my transplant. Doctors advise kidney recipients to plan to go back to work three months post-transplant. Even though I’ve been working for weeks, I’m allowing this artificial date to impose expectations on my productivity.
In the months before my transplant, I was feeling too sick to exercise and extremely anxious about whether I would get a new kidney in time to avoid dialysis. I tried mindfulness meditation and found it extremely helpful. I tried it again this week for the first time since my transplant and remembered how beneficial it can be.
Mindfulness meditation is easy and only takes a few minutes. What follows is a primer on what it’s all about and how you can try it at home.
What is mindfulness?
Being mindful is about living in the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is about training our minds to ignore the noise in our heads that make it so difficult to be mindful. The messages we play over and over in our minds are often negative and almost always focused on the past or the future, instead of the only moment we can influence — the present.
How to meditate mindfully in four steps
- Go somewhere comfortable, ideally in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Most people sit on the floor or in a chair when they mediate. I lie down in bed for meditation, which is okay as long as you know you won’t start drifting into sleep.
- Set an alarm on your phone. Start with five minutes for the first couple of days, then lengthen it to 10 minutes. It’s important to have an alarm because you want to avoid thinking about how much time is left.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath until your alarm goes off. Breathing is a great thing to meditate on because it’s one of the few actions that can either be controlled by our conscious mind or run on autopilot. You can focus on the rhythm of the breath, how it feels, how it sounds, it doesn’t really matter. What’s more important is the next step, what you’re trying to avoid thinking about.
- As you meditate, your inner voice will constantly try to interrupt you about the past and the future. Your voice will interrupt you to replay an uncomfortable conversation from the previous day or to formulate plans for tomorrow. The goal is to recognize these interruptions, set them aside and go back to focusing on your breathing. Successful meditation is not about being perfect. The exercise is not about avoiding other thoughts altogether, it’s about being aware of them, setting them aside, and returning to your breath.
Mindfulness meditation works for me and there’s research that shows it can have a positive impact on happiness and health. I’ll get into the science in a future post.
What about you? Have you tried meditation? Has it helped? If not, give it a try using these directions and come back and let us know how it went in the comments below!