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I took a 21-day meditation challenge — and it was transformative

If there was ever a time to try meditation, 2020 may be it.
TODAY Illustration/Kara Birnbaum/ Getty Images

Living in New York City during the pandemic has been accompanied by an overwhelming collective sense of anxiety. Would we all be stuck in our tiny apartments indefinitely? When can I see my family again?

In the last couple of months, I've also been experiencing some level of anxiety around my post-pandemic life. Self-development has been at the forefront of my mind and in an effort to control the inevitable future-tripping, I decided now was a perfect time to pull out my mala beads, sage and start a daily meditation ritual.

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I had read plenty of articles touting the reported benefits of meditation, but even knowing this information, I still couldn’t find the motivation to get into a regular practice. Enter a 21-Day Meditation Challenge created by Gabby Bernstein, a motivational speaker, life coach and bestselling author.

What is the 21-day challenge?

Meditation Challenge
Courtesy of Casey DelBasso

The 21-day meditation challenge, which costs $27, provided new guided meditations each day delivered straight to your inbox in the morning. In addition to meditations, Bernstein sets you up with methods to be used as spiritual tools whenever you feel called or even have just one minute to spare!

Some of my favorite meditations included:

  • Body Scan Meditation: This is a form of mindfulness meditation which has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s a quick mindful practice that allows you to check in with your body and mind anywhere at any time. If you wake up with anxiety, you can do it first thing in the morning. If you want to relax after a stressful work call, you can use it then, too. I used it on day three before bed to help me fall asleep and calm my mind.
  • Walking Meditation: One of my personal favorite meditations from the 21 days was the walking meditation. During the quarantine, I would go on a daily walk around dinner with my dog to get outside and connect to my breath. Each step I took helped me to become more grounded when accompanied by this meditation.
  • Gratitude Meditation: While the pandemic is an undeniably challenging time, this meditation helped me cultivate gratitude for the things that I am lucky enough to have and allowed me to move through my day with a different energy. This practice was such a wonderful reminder every day to be grateful.
  • Positive Energy Meditation: This meditation involved reminding myself that when we feel good, we can attract solutions rather than problems. As simple as that reminder is, it was groundbreaking for me.

Five things I learned from the 21-Day challenge

1. Don't try to control the process.

On day one, I reminded myself of the mantra I was using for this challenge: “I am open to meditation and I welcome a new practice into my life.” Being open to the process is crucial. Let your mind and thoughts run wild. That’s part of it!

In the past, I would give up and think, “I’m not doing this right." This time around, I was focused on becoming an observer of my own thoughts. It was also helpful for me to hear someone’s voice guiding me through my mediation as opposed to just freely trying to calm my own mind. The first meditation made me feel so rejuvenated that I feel like I caught a mediation “buzz.”

2. There is more than one way to meditate.

One unique aspect of the challenge was that Bernstein introduced a varied practice. My preconceived belief was that mediation required sitting quietly in a peaceful setting and levitating around the room. I WAS WRONG! This practice reminded me that when you are really committed to making a change, you can meditate at any point in your day. Morning walk, evening Uber ride, lying in bed in the morning, whatever works as long as you can find a mindful moment to recharge and move toward being more grounded and in alignment.

Meditation Challenge
Meditative walks were one of the most enjoyable parts of the challenge.Courtesy of Casey DelBasso

3. Be present — time doesn’t matter.

As soon as I started focusing more on the present, I began feeling more relaxed and at peace. All of a sudden, I started to focus on what I had inside of me and what I was capable of instead of the external anxieties that were occupying my mind. Even one minute of stillness a day can be transformative and I learned that calm breathing is essential for shifting your anxiety level.

4. It’s OK to feel awkward when you're first starting out.

Getting outside of your comfort zone with something new is awkward and honestly, it’s scary! Embrace it. When you are learning to walk as a child, you trip and fall a million times but keep getting back up. Try to take the same approach. The first few times you practice mediation it will be awkward, and things won’t flow the way you imagined. Keep going!

5. There is no quick fix!

Before I started this challenge, I was looking for a “quick fix” or something that was going to give me complete relief immediately. Spoiler alert! That's not possible.

Here's the truth: meditation is no quick fix. Nothing “happens” to you right away, but as you continue to practice, you begin to move through your day with more ease. Slowly but surely, I began to see I was becoming more mindful and had a calmer demeanor.

In the past, I would get frustrated very easily when things didn’t seem to be working as quickly as I anticipated. Through this challenge, I learned it's not about turning off the world but instead allowing it in and letting it pass through to the other side. As a result of meditation, I'm getting better at doing this in other areas of my life. I'm a work in progress for sure, but now, I have a fresh habit to pave the way to a better version of me.