When I was a teenager, I went through a really tough period with nerves. One summer was particularly hard. I was at a music camp, studying a quartet I loved and knew I was capable of playing well – which made my anticipation of being nervous for the performance even worse. Despite comforting words from teachers and friends, I couldn’t stop worrying, and just knew I wouldn’t play my best.
As I waited to play, I heard the other performances only as competition, in relation to how I thought my group would measure up. But one movement – the Andante from Mendelssohn's Op. 44 No. 2 – was so beautiful that I couldn't help but enjoy the music and appreciate the work this group had put in. Becoming absorbed in their playing effectively melted away my self-centered thoughts, and my body relaxed. Later, my own performance wasn’t totally stress-free, but I felt much more at ease than I had.
Unfortunately, that calm didn't last. I didn’t reproduce the experience, and in college, when meditation and mindfulness increasingly appeared in the media I consumed, I dismissed these practices as something other people did: Zen Buddhists, sitting for hours, or New Age people, listening to spa music.
Until the day that I was preparing to do my first teaching demonstration. I knew that I was capable, but felt unusually jittery and not in command of myself. Almost without thinking, I searched the App Store for meditation and tapped the first result. And even though I was a total beginner, guided in baby steps through a 3-minute introductory exercise, the results were striking: I immediately felt more relaxed. So I went back to the app before my next demonstration, and before a meeting, and after a hard day, and the sessions grew longer.
From my novice practice, I’ve already experienced numerous benefits, including lower stress and anxiety levels, an easier time falling asleep, and increased patience in frustrating situations. By meditating early in the day, I can establish a positive tone for whatever's on the menu, whether teaching, running errands, or performing. Backstage, doing just one brief exercise (such as a body scan or breath-counting) can almost entirely empty my mind of disruptive chatter.
I find technology particularly useful in more fully integrating this practice in my life: if I open my phone and see the meditation app, I'm reminded to do it. Most apps require payment for full-content access, but there are many free meditations on apps like InsightTimer, Stop Breathe Think, and Calm. I currently use both InsightTimer (free) and Headspace, which offers its beginner series for free before you have to pay for a membership. Meditation books are often scattered through different sections (depending on whether the particular book has a spiritual, psychological, or health bent), but public libraries can also be a great help.
Meditation is increasingly mainstream, and in fact, many of my students do it at school. But I didn’t grow up with the practice, and had no idea that even a few minutes of checking in with myself could so dramatically benefit my life. I'd been wrong: I didn't have to become any “type” of person to meditate, and it's always the right time to start.