I Tried This Oprah Meditation Hack Every Day for Two Weeks. Here Are My 5 Takeaways.
Oprah Winfrey is a meditation buff, and she’s in good company: Arianna Huffington, Rupert Murdoch and Marc Benioff are some high-profile meditators who also happen to be brilliant entrepreneurs and business leaders. In the case of these four successful individuals, they all started meditating when they were already high up the ladder.
There is a strong argument for meditation: it can produce laser-like focus, increase energy, help with relaxation, decrease stress and cloudy thinking and improve sleep.
Like Oprah, I’m not a meditation newbie. I’m already a believer. I’ve been doing it on and off for the past two years. While I’d like to meditate every day, what I've typically done was to meditate when in “crisis” or whenever I experienced trouble sleeping. I’ve struggled with on-and-off sleep problems over the years, and I’ve tried many cures, including camomile tea, valerian root, kava, melatonin and Ambien. While all these sleep aids vary in effectiveness, what I noticed is they all stopped working for me at some point. I turned to meditation for a longer-term solution that addressed the underlying reasons why I couldn’t sleep: stress and anxiety.
As the daughter of two high-anxiety people, I often feel as though I’m hardwired for stress and anxiety. I’m almost always doing something or thinking about what I should be doing next. According to Eckart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now, regularly thinking about the future causes worry and anxiety. However, I’d also be hard-pressed to find a driven person who isn’t regularly thinking about the future and feeling stress about what needs to get done -- almost one in five of Americans is diagnosed with some sort of anxiety disorder.
Oprah’s meditation practice is less about addressing anxiety and more about being still for a period of time to get in tune with your authentic self. While her meditation practice constantly evolves, she’s written that she tries to consistently meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.
I definitely related to Oprah’s point about making meditation a consistent practice, but I didn’t want to do 40 minutes a day. I aimed for 20 minutes total a day, once in the morning, once at bedtime. There are different practices of meditation, such as transcendental meditation, which involves a silent mantra, and mindful breathing meditation, which is about controlled breathing. I practice mindful breathing meditation.
Back in April 2017, Oprah joined forces with Deepak Chopra to issue a 21-day meditation challenge. (Good news: They're issuing another one starting March 19, 2018.) For my own version, I did 14 days in February 2018. Every night, I listened to a 13-minute guided meditation, and in the morning or afternoon, I meditated without any guidance, using a “Box Breathing” method (which I explain later) for five to seven minutes. Here’s what I found.
Days 1 through 3
For me, a good time to meditate in the morning is while I’m in the shower after my morning workout: I can meditate while deep conditioning my hair at the same time. I meditated for five minutes using the “Box Breathing” method.
The reason why it’s referred to as “Box Breathing” is because the diagram of the breathing exercise resembles a box: You take a long and slow breath in for four seconds (or two or three -- adjust to what feels right) and pause at the top for a few seconds, then breathe long and slowly out for about four seconds and pause at the bottom for a few seconds. Rinse and repeat.
Each night, I meditated before bed. I lay down in bed and listened to a guided meditation by Tara Brach, which you can find on YouTube, her website or iTunes. If Brach’s style isn’t your cup of tea, there are a lot of different guided meditations you can find for free online.
The general gist of the guided meditation walked me through a body check to become aware of what parts need relaxing (“Soften your eyes,” Brach suggested, and I was surprised to realize the muscles behind my eyes were tense), a period of slow and controlled breathing while being mindful of thoughts and then a return to normal breathing while being mindful of thoughts. In spite of my feeling incredibly relaxed, I was still unable to fall asleep for another three to four hours.
Takeaway: The results you are aiming for may not be immediate.
I actually fell asleep during my meditation before bedtime -- hallelujah!
Takeaway: Consistency of practice is key -- stick with it.
Related: How Meditation Can Transform Your Business
Days 5 through 7
By Day 7, I had been falling asleep at night while meditating for three days and felt as though meditation had become part of my morning and bedtime routine. (Who says it takes 66 days for a new habit to form?) Also, after two days of falling asleep at a “healthy” time before 11 p.m. and getting a full eight hours of rest, I simply felt better. I was in a better mood, felt more energetic and engaged with work during the day time and took noticeably less time to get into my daily workflow.
Something else I’d noticed about meditation is that the more I practice it, the less time it takes for me to get to a “trance-like” meditative state.
Takeaway: The effects of meditation tend to be cumulative.
Days 8 through 10
By Day 10, I felt super energetic and better rested than I had in a long time. My sleep was back on track, but I was struggling with a creative endeavor. I was repeatedly editing a piece of my own writing that I planned to submit for a creative writing fellowship due in less than a week. In spite of my efforts, it wasn't going well.
So, I began taking 45-minute meditative walks with my dog -- on top of meditating in the morning and in the evening. I didn’t listen to my usual podcasts about history or news while walking. Instead, I focused on enjoying the walk and and letting my thoughts freeflow.
Takeaway: Meditation doesn't have to be done while sitting or lying still.
Day 11 through 14
What I noticed during my 14 days of twice-daily meditation was that the consistent practice proved extremely relaxing. The most obvious impact of this two-week meditation trial was on my sleep habits, which had a positive impact on my entire day. I was simply better in every way, and my husband noticed. (When I wasn’t sleeping well, I tended to be less social and wouldn’t eat with him at the dinner table.)
The daily walks I started on Day 10 seemed to amplify the effects of daily meditation. I took 30- to 45-minute walks twice a day, for four days, and by simply being alone with my thoughts (and my dog), I not only felt more happy and relaxed, but I also felt an untangling of my thoughts and was able to finish and submit the creative writing piece I had been working on.
Oprah has referred to meditation as "the space where all creative expression, peace, light and love come to be.” On busy days, stillness can either feel like a luxury or a waste of time. However, when I am able to consistently spend time alone with my thoughts, I often reach a creative mental place that’s completely inaccessible when I’m consciously pushing myself to reach some end goal.
Being constantly busy is often regarded as a status symbol. I am definitely guilty of this sort of thinking. I like being able to organize my waking hours to maximize productivity. However, part of the reason why I developed sleep problems was likely due to this tendency: For the sake of productivity, I neglected my very real need to be, in Oprah’s words, “still.”
In truth, I can’t take long, thoughtful walks everyday. It’s not practical. However, I can meditate daily and take 15 minutes walks, and I continue to do so. The power of slowing down can be, for many of us, harder than staying busy, but it’s in the solitude and stillness that we often find creative energy and direction.
Takeaway: Slowing down is often harder than staying busy.