It had been very long ago since I had been as emotionally touched by a martial arts event as I have been with UFC 193. The unexpected KO victory of Holly Holm against larger-than-life athlete, Ronda Rousey had really been pumping my fists in front of my television.
Just as pretty much everyone else, I had not much of an expectation from Holly Holm, supposing that she would be (wo)manhandled by “Rowdy” Ronda like every other girl before her.
I then saw a pure greatness. Holly Holm’s KO victory was not just an absolute awesome display of intelligent fight preparation, discipline, striking technique and sportsmanship; it was in my eyes most of all a triumph of focus, a triumph of mindfulness.
For every single of the 359 seconds the fight lasted, Holm seemed to be completely in the moment. While Rousey was pressing her, chasing after her, trying to impose her will on her opponent, just like she did with so many others before, Holm moved fluidly through the ring, countering over and over again. Even when Rousey dragged her to the ground, going for her infamous armbar, Holm stayed absolutely calm and escaped unscathed.
As an untalented kickboxer wannabe, I would love to have Holly Holm’s jab or her high kick. But if I would have to settle for just one of her skills, I would choose her ability to focus; her mindfulness.
Lack of mindfulness is one of my biggest deficits. I am aware of this, not just because mindfulness is researched and taught in many American Universities and books, on the very topic are leading best seller lists.
It was not always like that. As a kid I did not seem to have a problem with focus. I could easily read several hundred pages of a book in a single day. I also played chess on a competitive level. Only very recently it occurred to me, that maybe chess was what helped me to stay mindful in my younger years. While in a classical concentration meditation, you count breaths or repeat a mantra to clear your mind, in chess you narrow your thoughts, focusing only on your next move. The mechanics seem to be quite similar. I quit playing chess when I graduated from high school, and the first time I realized that I had problems to focus was 2-3 years later.
I am neither an ADHD case nor have problems being productive, and with deadline looming, I can still completely immerse myself into a task and enter a state of flow. But too often, I have an urge to multitask or think about the next big thing, while actually still working on the current challenge.
I know that calming down my restless mind more often, would increase my focus, productivity and happiness. The positive effects of mindfulness meditation are pretty much undisputed. Several universities have published peer reviewed studies.
Modern mindfulness practices are usually coming in the form of guided or non-guided meditations. A typical meditations starts with a concentration phase (for example, counting breaths), then moves to a body scan (focusing on different parts of your body, top to bottom) and depending on the length includes some positive affirmation (for example through appreciation).
Since last year I started to experiment with different forms of guided meditation. I started with the two market-leading meditation apps for smartphone, Headspace and Calm. The guided meditation of the apps are usually around 5-15 minutes and follow a similar pattern as described above. Both apps have free trials with introduction programs, before demanding a subscription. Calm also recently added free timed meditations, guided and unguided. At US$ 95.88 (Headspace, 12 month subscription) and US$ 39.99 (Calm, 12 months subscription), both programs are not cheap.
So far, I have not signed up for either of the two. My personal preference however would be Calm. Calm is not only cheaper and offers much more free content (currently my preferred meditation option) it also comes across more matured. Headspace’s animation style distracts my taste a bit, away from the target to help me focus more. However, better form your own opinion as tasted vary.
Another smartphone app I tried is Omvana. Omvana is the “iTunes” of the meditation apps. The app itself is free but contains a store were you can buy single meditation tracks from different instructors, for prices of US$ 1.99 to 7.99. Omvana offers plenty of free meditations, however, often those are just the introductory part of a series of commercially available ones on the site. I found a few gems among the free meditations, but I also tried a lot of tracks that were not particularly enjoyable. Either because of the instructor’s voice or due to the meditation content. I have problems if it gets too esoteric or if I am asked every 30 seconds to feel my abundance.
Of course you don’t need to use an app at all. With a little bit of research, you can find hundreds of free meditation tracks for download or as YouTube videos. One example of a well-regarded instructor offering a large number of free guided meditation of different length is Tara Brach. The only downside of Tara’s meditation tracks is the bad audio quality. Most of the tracks are recorded live during retreats or seminars.
Honestly, I still struggle to build up a regular meditation habit. I try hard to take 15 minutes in the morning, right after getting up. However, in average I manage about two sessions per week (mostly using free tracks from Calm or Tara Brach). Sometimes the sessions are quite enjoyable and I am surprised when the track ends. Other times I struggle letting go of my thoughts, and 15 minutes of a meditation feel like eternity.
Anyway, I almost always feel better after a meditation, and watching Holly Holm’s display of perfect focus renewed my commitment to intensify the search for my own inner Holly Holm.
How about you? Have you tried guided or non-guided meditation? What helps you in developing a regular meditation habit? What gets you into flow state?