Yes, I CAN Meditate!

It’s funny how powerful our mental blocks can be. I’ve long heard about the powerful benefits of meditation. For instance, the Mayo Clinic states that meditation may help with stress, fatigue, and pain1, all of which are huge components in my ongoing battle with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease [RA/RD]. In addition, I’ve had positive experiences with meditation via guided imagery CDs and instructor-led yoga sessions. I know first-hand that it puts me in a better frame of mind and even gives me a sense of physical lightness and energy. Yet, for years I have struggled to develop a regular habit of meditating.

Some tools to help one meditate

This is largely due to feeling ill-equipped to meditate solo. When I try to focus on my breath and on my present surroundings, I find that I can only sustain my attention on that narrow focus for a very short time before my brain starts thinking about everything but my breath and the present moment.  I feel like I’ve been stuck in a meditation catch-22: I need to meditate to calm my busy mind, but my mind is too busy to successfully meditate for longer than a minute or so.

People who teach meditation say that it is indeed a “practice.” Similar to exercise, the more often one does it, the better able one is to do it. Even though I don’t doubt this to be true, I’ve been stuck trying to develop a habit on my own because of how difficult I find it to quiet my mind.

When someone else is guiding me through meditation, there is a voice to return my focus to when I catch my mind wandering. However, my guided imagery CDs are lengthy at about 30 minutes; this is great for when I’m laid up in bed with a flare, but not practical for my daily routine as a mom and full-time employee. Likewise, I can’t attend yoga classes all the time. While those experiences have allowed me to feel the short-term benefits of meditation, I’ve never been able to form a habit of regular mindfulness.

Until now.

The use of technology to help meditate

Enter the age of smartphone technology. There seems to be an app for everything nowadays, and when it comes to meditation there is a wide variety of apps to choose from. I did a bit of research and found several that were highly rated in articles and reviews. I opted to try out Headspace. It fits the bill perfectly. There are a number of series to choose from, including Basics (for beginners like me), Sleep and Early Mornings (yep, need both of those), and Pain Management (bingo!). For each track, there are length options, typically 3-minutes, 5-minutes, 10-minutes, or 15-minutes. Even the busiest people can carve out five minutes for themselves.

There were other highly-rated apps that I’m sure are equally good, but this one works for me because the speaker’s voice is calm and pleasant without sounding hokey or out-there. The instructions are simple, soothing, and matter of fact and never elicit my inner eye roll. Most of the tracks do not have background sounds, which I can find distracting. Even the tracks that do have sound have levels that can be adjusted to one’s preference. The app tracks progress and gives encouraging messages, and includes an option for pop-ups during the day with mindfulness reminders.

Once I began using the app I began seeing immediate benefits. After just a short meditation, I feel a nice “buzzy” feeling in my body, like a little injection of energy. Heaven knows that any increase in energy is a beautiful thing when dealing with RA/RD! I have felt a greater sense of calm, which is very welcome as stress exacerbates my symptoms. I also feel a sense of empowerment and control in actively doing something that is good for my well-being. Living with a chronic health condition can erode one’s sense of control, so this is a significant and powerful shift.

The only downside to using the app is that it adds a cost to an otherwise free activity. The app I chose has a free trial but then requires a significant subscription cost. The annual subscription is over $90, but they offered a 40% discount. At $54 I realized that a year of meditation would cost about the same as one specialist copay, so I went for it. I haven’t regretted it, and in fact paying the subscription has added to my motivation to use the app every single day. The more I use it, the more bang for my buck I’m getting.

Living with RA/RD is incredibly challenging, so I am grateful for any tool that makes this journey a little easier. I’m really encouraged that meditation and mindfulness will be an important tool in my self-care regimen.

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