Be present. How meditation changed my life.
If you told me 9 years ago that meditation would become one of my life skills, I would’ve laughed, picturing myself sitting around a campfire taking deep breaths with a bunch of hippies. To my ignorant, young self, that was meditation. I had no idea the benefits of it, nor any experience with it and I definitely would have thought that a business professional (what I was at the time) did not need meditation in their life. Looking back, had I started practicing it way back then I probably would’ve excelled even more at my job, been even more efficient and experienced mental clarity that is only achievable with meditation.
I was fortunate enough to begin a number of outpatient programs at The Center for Head Injuries, an outpatient facility associated with JFK Hospital in Edison, New Jersey. While there, they were rolling out a pilot program for meditation for brain injury survivors. I was desperate to get my life back and willing to try anything so when it was suggested to me, I willingly signed up. Despite being eager for a new coping technique, I was extremely hesitant to participate in a “kumbaya” circle time with other patients.
I don’t know if it was mentioned during the first session but my fears were definitely addressed with the program and a number participants admitted they had the same hesitation which lightened the mood. We were educated on what meditation was, how it would mean something different to each of us, and if we found it difficult at first (which was expected) to only practice a few minutes at a time because it would get easier over time, the more we practiced the better we would get.
The program lasted eight or ten weeks and we would practice weekly meditation together, and daily by ourselves. The guided meditation we practiced with was with Jon Kabat-Zinn and we focused on each part of our body and would take breaths to send certain body parts energy and be present with the feelings we had at that given moment. Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing, but after a few days of practice, I remember experiencing a lift of cloudiness in my brain fog. I started feeling more organized in my brain and sense of peacefulness during my every day activities. The more I practiced, the better I got and at the end of the program, I was obsessed. I meditated daily and was feeling much more in control of my life. I was still in pain, still having days that I was convinced I was dying, still having migraines, but I was coping better. I stayed present, stopped worrying about every ailment and worked on doing what I needed daily to be better.
Next month will be nine years from my accident, and I’ve been practicing meditation for the better part of seven years. With the births of my children, I practiced mindfulness childbirth to help ease my pain during labor. When my days get so overwhelming loaded with activities and noise, I take a few minutes to myself and meditate. It’s a skill I can take everywhere (even during a panic attack while driving) and forces me to focus, concentrate on the present, and remove the distractions and noise from my anxiety. It helps me sleep better, quiets my thoughts and helps me organize my responsibilities and obligations. I would’ve started it sooner during my concussion recovery, but I had NO IDEA the benefits until about 18 months after my accident.
I know a number of apps that people recommend for meditation, Headspace being one of them. I may have used that one a few years ago, but right now I currently google “free meditations” on YouTube and utilize whatever they have available.
So my advice to newly diagnosed concussion/brain injured/stroke/post concussion patients? Give it a go. Don’t give up after your first session and if practicing it in a group isn’t your thing, take a few minutes by yourself at home, and try it for a month. My hope for you is that you’ll feel an enormous weight lifted off your shoulders after the first few sessions, and it’ll quickly become a life skill you won’t ever forget. #rememberthis
Be well, warriors. Happy Saturday!