I’ve been meditating on an almost daily basis for the past five months, and in that time, I’ve experienced some incredible moments of calm. I’ve come to really look forward to the time that I spend each day trying to be still.

I started meditating back in April after one of my friends at Kellogg sent out some articles on the benefits of meditation. I had seen one of the articles on how meditation may be able to change the structure of the brain for the better (here and here) a few weeks earlier, and although I thought it was kind of neat, I dismissed it as something that I didn’t have time to explore any further.

I decided to give it a shot after reading through all of the other articles, which highlighted some potential benefits of meditation that I thought were too good to pass up on (especially as I eyed my return to the real world a few months later). In particular, some prior research has found that meditation may improve your ability to focus, reduce stress, and give you better control over your emotions. Since then, I’ve also seen it touted in several positive psychology books as a way to give you more control over your subconscious (explaining the emotions benefit) and increase your overall well-being.

I initially started meditating for just 5 minutes a day. I hadn’t really come across any comprehensive instructions on how to do it, so I pieced together the stuff I had seen into my process. I’d sit cross-legged, close my eyes, silently recite to myself “May I find true happiness and be free from suffering,” and then start counting my breaths.

I didn’t really notice anything beyond occasionally getting light-headed (because I was getting more oxygen from breathing deeply), but I continued regardless. I wasn’t really expecting to see amazing results early on. I slowly kept on raising the number that I’d count to until I was meditating for a solid 12 minutes. I was pretty proud of myself, and I continued to do it daily (out of habit by then) even though I hadn’t had any notable experiences from it.

Fortunately, that changed after my trip to Europe. I made 2 significant changes to my meditation routine when I got back: 1) I increased the time from 12 or so minutes to 30 minutes and 2) I stopped counting and instead started using my phone as a timer. The first time I tried this out was a beast; it was very uncomfortable trying to sit still and clear my mind for 3x as long as what I had been doing up to that point. But the second and third times…now those were awesome.

At some point during both of those meditations, maybe 5-10 minutes into it, I felt a serene sensation wash over my entire body. It was almost as if my mind was a windshield wiper covered with water drops (thoughts), and all of a sudden, someone turned on the windshield wiper, clearing away all of the random thoughts in the process.

It became practically effortless to keep my mind clear, and I found myself just observing my body while feeling almost detached from it. An occasional thought would still find its way into my mind, but I was easily able to dismiss it. My entire body was relaxed and my breathing was very slow. To my surprise, the 30 minutes were up before I knew it. When I came out of it, I had an increased sense of awareness for a little while afterward.

I got really excited because I thought that I would now start experiencing that same sensation every time I meditated. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the quality of my experiences has ranged from awful to excellent. As a result, I’ve started to pay more attention to the details of each meditation session. I note what works and what doesn’t and tweak things each time. I’ve learned several things along the way.

More sleep = better meditation
The less I sleep the night before, the harder it is to meditate. In particular, I find that it makes it much, much harder for me to clear my mind because there are all of these thoughts running around like hyperactive kids. And once I do start to gain control over my thoughts, I doze off a bit. When I return to full alertness, so do the hyperactive kids. I imagine that getting too much sleep could also be a problem, though I haven’t run into that scenario yet.

Ripping yourself out of meditation stinks
Once I stopped counting my breaths, I had to start using a timer on my phone to know when I was done. That worked out pretty well except for one big problem: when the alarm went off, it was like getting ripped out of sleep. It should be no surprise that ending a period of relaxation/calm with a jolt of stress like that is by no means delightful. I was finally able to fix it by 1) turning off vibration when the alarm goes off 2) lowering the ringer volume to a very low setting and 3) using a soothing ring tone that starts quietly and builds up.

Having the right posture can make or break a session
I’ve recently been focusing a lot of my attention on improving my posture, especially now that I’m meditating for 40 minutes or so each time. There are two big issues that come up if I happen to not sit well: either my lower back starts to hurt or my legs start to fall asleep. Once that happens, my chances of being still go to nil because I end up fidgeting like crazy to try to fix my posture and relieve the pain (or lack of sensation). I’ve recently (just today!) taken a few steps to try to fix this. I have started using a pillow as a makeshift zafu and am now sitting in the Burmese position.

I’m a little bit worried about how easy it will be to keep up daily meditation once I start working, but I’m hoping to put in at least 10 minutes every morning regardless of how busy I am. I’ll see how that goes soon enough.