Meditating Your Way to Balance?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Last week, I was stressed about everything. Work stressed. Money stressed. Car stressed. The list went on and on. The to-do list on my whiteboard only compounded the problem, growing each hour instead of shrinking. My head was spinning and nothing was getting done.

So, I decided to take a timeout and haul out the portable meditation bench gathering dust in the closet and try to just sit and breathe for a few minutes. Under normal circumstances, this would have sounded like lunacy, a high-minded way to put myself another 15 minutes in the hole. But I was desperate, and nothing else was working. I set a timer for 10 minutes, sat down and closed my eyes.

By most measures, the effort was an abject failure. It didn't clear my mind or keep my brain from racing. In fact, pulling myself away from the monitors actually gave me the space to think about new items for the whiteboard -- items that I couldn't hop up and scribble down. I didn't make it the full 10 minutes, either, finally giving up and returning to the keyboard.

But a funny thing happened after that. I was more motivated. Things began falling into place. I didn't catch up, to be sure, but I stopped falling behind. I began thinking it was time well-spent, and I resolved to do it more often.

I've never been good at the whole Eastern thing: too inflexible to enjoy yoga, too atheistic to get into the spiritual stuff, too distracted to make meditation a habit, but I'm wondering if the time has come to make another stab at it. Of course, I'm sure there are other ways to stop the head-spinning: How do you seize control of a day that's spiraling toward disaster?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

Note to Readers: Guest blogs are on a short hiatus. Look for them to return in a few weeks.

By Brian Reid |  May 27, 2008; 12:30 PM ET  | Category:  Tips
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Wow, I'm first! Yippee! In all seriousness, I think it is so important to take a short break. I find being in the work space continues to be cloud my head. Last Friday, I had a terrible headache towards the end of the day so I went into the storeroom and lay down for about 20 minutes in the dark. My headache subsided and I felt more refreshed afterward. I like yoga but don't do it as much for the mental relaxation. I find swimming is a wonder to free my mind and just focus on what my body is doing. I think it is about finding what calms you individually and then sticking to it that helps you achieve that balance we all seek.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 27, 2008 12:46 PM

I would love to be good at meditating. I have tried it and I can't stop the windmills in my mind. I think it just takes practice.

What works for me right now is singing at the top of my lungs on my way home from work. (Yes, I'm that idiot in the car next to you.) The playlist runs the gamut from Spiral Starecase and Pete Seeger to the Fratellis and the Killers. There's no one but me to please, anyway.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 27, 2008 1:02 PM

Oops, I should have said that I find being in the work space continuously clouds my head. Sorry for the bad grammar!

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 27, 2008 1:14 PM

WorkingMomX, I'm laughing, because I've just taken to doing that to cut traffic annoyance. But it has to be annoyingly upbeat and singable -- and it's even better if it's something you liked in high school or college that you're now kinda sorta embarrassed to admit you like. Like, say, Wham. Or Journey. Makes it hard to get the slow burn building when you're smiling and singing and feeling pretty dang sheepish about the whole thing.

Posted by: Laura | May 27, 2008 1:16 PM

I go online and check out message boards :)

Also to note- if you get into a regular habit of clearing your head and taking time for yourself, it tends not to hit that really bad place as often.

The goal of meditation may be to simply exist and not think, but the journey and process is what really matters. It's not about clearing out your head, it's about letting what's in your head filter out, without reaction on your part to help process with a fresh perspective.

Posted by: Liz D | May 27, 2008 2:23 PM

I schedule a run, which is my version of meditation. As Brian said it doesn't actually solve the underlying causes of stress but it does provide a nice release of the tension.

On a day that looks like it might be stressful (like today) I have been known to make the time for a run before work.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 27, 2008 2:40 PM

"How do you seize control of a day that's spiraling toward disaster?"

Shift that analysis. The day isn't spinning anywhere because you've let your emotions and self-pity take over your brain.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 27, 2008 3:16 PM

Sometimes I just let it go, take a bystander's seat, and watch the spiral.

Most times, I find a brisk 5 minute walk to a faraway soda machine clears the brain, allows me to beat the pavement into submission, and then go forward.

Posted by: dotted | May 27, 2008 3:19 PM

Walking is a regular part of my commute, and that's an important part of my clearing-my-head routine. It's where and how I shift gears, so to speak, between my work time and my family time.

Once in a while, work will get so completely over-the-top crazy, that I'll leave the building and go walk a few blocks. In 15-20 minutes I'll be back at my desk, and making everything work again.

Posted by: Sue | May 27, 2008 3:20 PM

dotted and Sue make a good complimentary points - it's important to know *when* to let go/walk away, collect your thoughts and do a minor "attitude adjustment". It's amazing how it can affect your outlook.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 27, 2008 3:47 PM

OT to MN: Sorry I didn't answer last week; I logged back on too late and everyone had gone home. Things are going well. My first summer classes start in a few hours. I'm looking forward to it. First year was hell, but it's supposed to be, right? :) How are you doing?

Posted by: Mona | May 27, 2008 3:53 PM

WorkingMomX, instead of focusing on trying to stop the windmills, go with them. You have to acknowledge the thoughts before they'll go away. The more you focus on trying to get rid of what's bothering you, the more attention you're giving them. Focus on them for a moment, take a deep breath, sort them out for a minute. You're right, it'll take practice. But once you get there, you'll find you fall into a meditative state much more quickly and your attempts will become more and more refreshing. Good luck!

Posted by: Mona | May 27, 2008 3:55 PM

I find a little aggression (even if it is pounding a pavement) evens me out easier than meditation ever has. Then again, I find yoga boring, so maybe it is just a type-A personality thingy.

Posted by: dotted | May 27, 2008 3:59 PM

@dotted: this type A doesn't do well in yoga. A 45 minute class where the spirituality/meditation aspect is downplayed in favor of the physical is ok with me. I knew I was missing the point when I took a 90 minute class once and repeatedly looked at my watch! Definitely a type mismatch.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 27, 2008 4:57 PM

I generally feel the same way about yoga, meditation, etc... but I think it's really important for me (and you? I try not to speak for others so include yourself if you agree) to remember that there's a reason they call meditation and yoga "practices" - no one is good at them the first few times! We wouldn't write off playing piano or speaking another language with just casual attempts - we'd find a teacher or program and we'd "practice" with some amount of dedication if we wanted to improve. Same goes for working to clear the mind with meditation - it's amazing how it gets easier the more we try it.

Posted by: Sarah | May 27, 2008 5:09 PM

Prayer. A quick decade on the old rosary is a wonder. BTW, did you know that most meditation and prayer techniques share one common factor: deep breathing. This includes singing at the top of your lungs and a brisk walk. They all make you breathe more deeply.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 27, 2008 5:22 PM

Late to the party today but I have found that mindless contemplation is wonderful. While I am walking the dog (usually the only time it is quiet anywhere) I try to empty my mind of purposeful thoughts. Whatever comes up is what I concentrate on. It could be something as mundane as dinner or it could be a serious subject. I honestly seem to be able to concentrate on the one subject that forces it's way to the surface and usually am able to find a solution or feel better. The hard part is clearing your mind.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | May 27, 2008 5:47 PM

Sarah: Let's take your yoga/tennis analogy further. If you don't have good hand/eye coordination, you'll never get any better at tennis. There are a basic set of skills that may not be teachable to some. I've tried yoga/pilates a number of times. I've hated it each and every time (if hate means I clock-watch). I don't have that 'calm' skill. I do have that 'kill the ball' skill though, so I'm not completely skill-less!

Posted by: dotted | May 27, 2008 5:52 PM

KLB - I've never known you to be late to a party. fashionably late, yes!!

Posted by: dotted | May 27, 2008 5:53 PM

"to remember that there's a reason they call meditation and yoga "practices""

Very true in my experience. I think we forget that both involve learning to make shifts in your body and mind that take practice and can be uncomfortable and unnerving in various ways at first. To make it part of your life and your balance takes commitment and practice. And also a good teacher match - I've had some yoga teachers who simply did not do it for me, and some who I found to be amazing. But all that said, of course it's not for everyone.

Also, Brian, I am dying to know what a meditation bench is. I had no idea equipment was required :)

Posted by: LizaBean | May 27, 2008 6:35 PM

When my day feels like it's running me versus my running it, I slooooooowwwwww waaaaaay down. Seriously - I push off everything I don't absolutely have to do that day. Do the bare minimum at work and in my personal life. This emergency release of building tension really works! Now, my frantic days are few and far between.

Posted by: Elaine | May 28, 2008 7:10 AM

When my day feels like it's running me versus my running it, I slooooooowwwwww waaaaaay down. Seriously - I push off everything I don't absolutely have to do that day. Do the bare minimum at work and in my personal life. This emergency release of building tension really works! Now, my frantic days are few and far between.

Posted by: Elaine | May 28, 2008 7:11 AM

Mona, You're working this summer? I congratulate your ambition, LOL. I'd be burned out by now. I'm glad you're done with first year and can move on to the rest of your life. I hope we were of some assistance along the way. At least you know you weren't crazy.

Posted by: MN | May 28, 2008 4:51 PM

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