Meditation was a foreign concept to me until very recently. I’ll admit that when any of my friends or colleagues talked about meditating, I immediately envisioned them sitting down in a dimly-lit room, legs crossed, candles lit, with their eyes closed and maybe some soft music playing in the background with a cluster of crystals in close proximity. It seemed like a lot of work and something that didn’t come natural to me, so I was hesitant to try it despite their claims that it’s an important part of their overall health.

I feel pretty confident knowing the kinds of exercises and proper fueling my body needs to feel good, but where I could use extra guidance is learning how to calm my mind, or better yet, how to just think in peace. I’m an excited person to the core. My mind moves a mile a minute. I’m never not thinking about the next step. I often joke that I need to learn to control my excitement and let my mind relax when my body does. I’m a do’er and love to learn, connect and create, but like anything, I can burn out quickly if I don’t simply learn to chill. Needless to say, something was missing in my overall health and after a few nudges from a friend, I tried meditation.

I set my hesitations aside, downloaded the Headspace app and tried their free Take10 trial (10 minutes of meditation for 10 days). Ten minutes seemed easy enough and totally doable, but I only made it to day three. Not because I couldn’t get on board with it or didn’t like it, but because I started this two weeks before SXSW kicked off. I thought that life and work were too busy and that my early morning workouts needed to come first. Basically, I didn’t make meditation a priority. I would soon learn that during my busiest of times, is when I need meditation the most.

A few weeks later during SXSW, Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, delivered our closing Keynote remarks. Before I had the pleasure of introducing him on the big stage, I had a chance to talk to Andy backstage. I told him “I’m so happy you’re here and delivering our closing remarks. This is so cool, but I’m totally nervous to intro you, my heart is pounding.” He said (in the most calming voice ever), “I often find that nervousness and excitement have a similar feeling. What if you focused on your excitement rather than nervousness? That might change the way you feel.” He was right. Suddenly, a huge weight was lifted off my chest and I wasn’t nervous. I walked on stage in front of thousands of people and I was excited.

The lightbulb went off.

It didn’t matter how positive I was or how much I saw situations with a half-glass-full mentality — in that moment, and really everyday, I wasn’t connecting with my mind. None of this made any sense prior to speaking to Andy and hearing his Keynote that day.

“The mind,” he said, “if we leave it alone, if we don’t take anytime to look after it — it will start to breakdown and we won’t experience life in the happiest way possible. We often think that happiness is somewhere in the future: if we just get that thing, if we get that job, if we go to that place, if we can just be with that person. We’re always looking to the future and some place else in the hope that we’ll find it. You’re going to have to give up looking for happiness outside of yourself. The only thing to do is to get comfortable with the mind as it is. Whether it’s a busy mind or a quiet mind. Thoughts you like, thoughts you don’t like. Pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings — you just have to get comfortable with it.”

I had never really associated meditation with happiness. I thought that meditation helped calm your mind and maybe think about things on a deeper level. While I sat backstage watching the talk, I remember thinking to myself “I finally get it” and truly realized how powerful and important meditation is for a healthy mind.

You can watch his full Keynote here (it was pretty life-changing for me).

Shortly after attending Andy’s Keynote, I received an invitation from lululemon to join 50 thought-provoking individuals for a 5-day yoga and meditation retreat called “The Immersion” in May. I’ve always wanted yoga to be a part of my routine and after learning more about meditation, I was all in. The mediation portion of the The Immersion was led by author and spirit junkie Gabby Bernstein. She put meditation into the most simplistic of terms and gave me an entirely new perspective: “Being on a spiritual journey doesn’t mean you’re lighting candles and on your yoga mat perfectly everyday, it means you’re willing to look at your shit and change.” She encouraged us to dig deep, say yes to the discomfort and be ugly in the truth. Meaning address your fears, get in touch with your ego and be honest with yourself. I’m on day 11 of her book, May Cause Miracles, and it’s already been a game-changer.

For me, both Andy and Gabby are saying the same thing: exercise your mind, taking time to think through things, address any situation, be open and honest with yourself, and in turn you will be your happiest and truest self.

Here are the top 4 things that meditation has done for me in a very short time.

1. I take more time to think.

Remember how I said I need to control my excitement? I’ve found that when I let myself really “feel the feels,” especially when I’m upset, bummed, sad, etc., I can dive pretty deep into figuring out what the root of the problem is. Same goes for not immediately saying YES without thinking it through. Rather than fire off a quick email or text, I take a minute or even a day and sit on it.

2. I’m a better listener. 

By listening to myself more, I’ve been able to reciprocate that to others. You know when you feel your best, you act your best? It’s the same with listening.

3. Understand my needs.

Our bodies do a great job of telling us when we need to take a break, especially when we’re sore, tired, or even sick. But our minds? That’s all on us. With meditation, I’ve been able to tap into what I need to do to make sure I’m happy and in a good headspace. Sometimes that means turning down trips, jobs, financial commitments, and relationships. Other times it means going on a 5-hour bike ride with your closest friends or treating yourself to something new.

4. I face my fears head-on.

I talk a lot about stepping outside of my comfort zone. I do this on a daily basis. But as I’ve been reading Gabby’s book May Cause Miracles, I’ve faced even bigger fears head-on. She asks you to write them down, notice when your ego comes into play telling you that “you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” and understanding how to change that. I’ve addressed everything from dating to voicing my opinion to riding my bike with faster and more skilled riders.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to. . . you guessed it . . . living kindly.

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Kelly Krause