30-Day Meditation Challenge Results… Am I Zen Yet?

by Michele Ross

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Full disclosure: I’ve touted the benefits of meditation countless times… yet without speaking from established experience. Ever on a wellness kick, I finally decided to take myself up to task and embark on a 30-day meditation challenge. Subtitle: Suddenly Seeking Serenity.

Why I Wanted to Try a 30-DAY Meditation Challenge

For starters, I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression. I’m also prone to bouts of irritability, as well as fixating on thoughts and feelings that I know don’t serve me. (Unfortunately, similar to Madeline in Big Little Lies, “I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets.”) Next, I’m very much go go go in both body and mind, and have trouble slowing down. But most importantly, I’m on a lifelong journey of self-improvement. I recently quit social media and have made a concerted effort to read and hike more often. Essentially, I’m driven to add more value and calm to my life, as well as make better use of my time. Finally, since I always seek natural remedies for my wellness concerns, this challenge seemed like a perfect fit.

My Meditation Background

My experience with meditation is spotty at best. I’ve been practicing yoga—a form of moving meditation—for 15 years, which first got my feet wet in the realm of mindfulness. As for still meditation? There were meditation modules in both of my yoga teacher training courses, and I also took a class on Tibetan Buddhist meditation in college—but it never really stuck. More recently, I’ve amassed a fair share of meditation apps, though they’re largely collecting a heap of digital dust. All things considered, I’ve always claimed to be “bad” at meditating. Simply put, I’d identify more as 11th-hour “enlightened” Don Draper than real-deal Deepak Chopra.

My 30-Day Meditation Challenge

CHALLENGE RULES

I committed to meditating every day for one month at Unplug, a boutique meditation studio in West Hollywood. For any days on which I couldn’t make a 30- or 45-minute class, I’d follow guided meditations on the Unplug app, which conveniently has its own monthly challenges and themes to follow. This remote accessibility was an awesome nice-to-have, since I knew it’d be counterproductive to stress out about the few times I couldn’t make it to the studio. (FTR, I missed one weekend to go to Ojai to learn about the year ahead with OG astrology queen Susan Miller. Additionally, I counted a Yom Kippur meditative service toward my quota for another day.)

Baseline Check-In

I started my meditation challenge on the first of the month, still buzzing from the rush of writing HUM’s monthly wellness horoscopes. Yet despite riding the highs from my astrohacking happy place, my mind wasn’t right. My anxiety was charged up, I was sensitive to others’ words and actions, and I felt unsettled and not good enough. In other words, I was more than ready to zen out.

Unplug’s Meditation Classes

Sitting down in Unplug’s meditation room immediately put me at ease, each and every time, before the sessions even began. Perhaps it was the minimal decor, the strongly hued yet still subdued lighting, or the simple act of gathering with others to be silent and still. This almost Pavlovian calm carried on with each instructor’s introduction, and then into the actual meditation.

I attended a breathwork class on day one, which entails dynamic, charged, full-bodied breathing. I’d studied and practiced a variety of breathing exercises before, but holy moly—this one was a trip! At the first go, I felt a cross between temporary paralysis and numb electricity; I truly questioned if I’d be able to lift my limbs again. While I wouldn’t say I was overwhelmed, I was certainly jarred yet intrigued. I attended a handful of other breathwork classes throughout the month, and after the third, I could swear I floated out of the studio back home. Verdict: Breathwork is no joke.

I vowed to attend as many different classes as I could with a variety of teachers. (Hot tip: I also made an effort to switch up my seat placement, an approach I adopted from yoga. However subtle, it helps to refresh your perspective and not succumb to stale patterns.) Aside from the inaugural breathwork, I tried the likes of sound healing; binaural brain massage; and crystal, chakra, aromatherapy, mantra, manifestation, and self-love meditations.

Unplug Meditation studio in West Hollywood - retail space

Potential Obstacles of Meditation

Dealing with Distractions

Throughout my meditation sessions, I experienced a few strong emotions (and cried once) and witnessed a range of bodily sensations in others. I’d come to understand that not everything is silent within a group meditation setting—and that’s okay! I heard sighing, sniffling, snoring, weeping, and screaming (on cue at breathwork, everyone was fine!), just to name a few. I took such involuntary releases simply as white noise, which didn’t disrupt my flow. However, I could feel my blood pressure spike hearing nonstop toe-cracking in one class and a phone alert go off in another. Admittedly, it took more will than I’d have liked to refocus in these instances. But again, I was exactly where I needed to be to understand that this too shall pass.

To be honest, my “monkey mind” was still active for a decent chunk of most sessions. I thought about work, food, eating food after work, etc. Staying present was no easy feat, yet I didn’t chide myself for these lapses. A basic tenet of meditation is to simply observe—rather than judge—such activity. On a brighter note, I still garnered more discipline and ease than I’d been able to in the past. I neither felt agitated as I typically would, nor yearned for the class to end.

Practical Considerations

I lucked out for several reasons—a key one being that I live up the street from Unplug and work only a few blocks farther. Thus, the logistics on showing up were a piece of cake, whether I hopped out for a quick lunchtime sesh or popped in before dinner. I will say, however, that paired with my regular workouts, I had noticeably less wiggle room in my day to read, run errands, and the like. I happily accepted this trade-off, however, because peace of mind is truly invaluable.

Also, I understand that many people may not be able to afford such a membership, or carve time out of their day given the commute or work/family/social obligations. While Unplug’s app is both cost-efficient and convenient, I definitely benefited most from the accountability of showing up and energy from the group setting. But the beauty of meditation is that you can truly do it from anywhere, for a length of time that suits your lifestyle, to reap the benefits. I think the most pivotal aspects involve intention and consistency. As writer/explorer Erling Kagge writes in Silence in the Age of Noise (a swift, beautiful book I highly recommend): “Even a mouse can eat an elephant if it takes small enough bites. The challenge lies in the desire.”

Another bonus? A 2019 study shows that meditation—in addition to boosting happiness and decreasing stress—can change your perception of time, making you feel less crunched for it. IMHO, I see wins across the board.

Woman meditating with hand mudras in group meditation setting

MY MEDITATION CHALLENGE RESULTS

By the end of my 30-day meditation challenge, I didn’t want it to end. (And of course, it didn’t necessarily have to.) I’d ritualized my attendance and had come to love the entire process. Most importantly, compared to my baseline feelings, I notice clear, positive, and lasting changes. Sure, I still grapple with anxiety—but my reactivity, tempestuousness, and negative feelings of self-worth have significantly diminished. I think I’m better at rolling with the punches, and have been able to let go of many destructive thought patterns that I’d typically latch onto and let chip away at me.

When all is said and done, I wouldn’t say that I’m zen AF on the aforementioned Don/Deepak spectrum. I also don’t think I’m ready (or disciplined enough) for the likes of a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat just yet. But at the same time, my meditation challenge allowed me to harness something akin to serenity that I hadn’t experienced before on such a discernible scale.

Similarly with yoga, without fail, I always felt better walking out of the studio than I did walking in. And for that alone, I’d say meditation challenge: mastered and meditation practice: a lifelong work in progress.

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