What I Learned in a Month of Mindfulness

2018 was a year of positive change overall in my life. That said, it was a tough year and at times it felt like I was walking over hot coals while trying to make my way through it. I made great strides in my physical health by losing quite a bit of weight and getting some exercise in. Mentally, I wasn’t doing as well.

The dastardly duo of depression and anxiety hit me hard amongst the pressures of an intense few months at work, along with a couple of tough semesters in a degree program that I’ve been working on. I worked hard but failed to take care of myself completely. I allowed myself to go the whole year with virtually no time off and by December it was catching up with me in a big way. With the holiday season and end of the year swiftly approaching, I scheduled a few weeks off. No trips were planned. I just had a mission — deal with the stress and anxiety that was creating an unrelenting storm in my head.

It was several months back, late summer I think, when I started dabbling in mindfulness meditation. I’d first learned about it through an interview with Dan Harris on a podcast. Intrigued, I ended up reading his two books on meditation and subscribed to the 10% Happier app. For a few months, I did my best to integrate a mindfulness meditation practice into my life. I had some success and was starting to see some positive results. Still, I wasn’t consistent enough and I had lots of questions and doubts as to whether I was doing it right. I decided I needed to find a teacher or mentor to help me get locked into a practice that would do the most good.

Some Googling led me to a few places in the Austin area that teach meditation classes. I ended up contacting a place called The Meditation Bar (a meditation center with bar in the name sounded like my kind of place.) After a talk over the phone with the owner, Josh, I was enrolled in my first class. I took a mindfulness meditation class with a wonderful instructor who welcomed me as a newbie and walked me through my longest meditation to date. She helped me with my seated position, posture, and breathing. My skeptical questions were cheerfully answered.

After my first experience at The Meditation Bar, I realized what I was going to do with my vacation time. I signed up for an introductory one month membership with unlimited classes. It was an amazing deal and I committed myself to making the last three weeks of December a kind of mini retreat where I’d attend a bunch of different classes with different instructors to see what clicked.

Fast forward to the end of my month of mindfulness. I attended a variety of classes including meditation, yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. It was just over 20 classes that I ended up attending. It probably would have been more if not for closures due to the holidays, along with my holiday obligations as well. Nevertheless, I felt like I covered a wide gamut. I worked with a number of male and female instructors. Following are my impressions of the experience.


I focused the majority of my first couple of weeks on sitting meditation classes. This is the area that I was most excited about since I was already working on my own practice. The instructors helped me to learn the best way to sit, which is a huge help for my home practice. While a couple of instructors offered easier seated positions in chairs or back supported floor cushions, I was insistent about learning to sit “correctly”, if there is such a thing. Personally, I found that a stable, grounded position in a sort of cross legged Burmese styled leg arrangement while sitting on a Zafu cushion worked the best.

The seating position in meditation looks calm and comfortable but the reality is that it takes a good deal of effort and there are discomforts to confront. The body will complain eventually after sitting for a good length of time and dealing with that is part of the process. Just like the mind is directed back to breathing as it tries to flit about in racing thoughts, so the body can be directed back to a focal point other than dwelling on minor discomforts or itches.

The guided meditations mostly focused on breath. Some sessions focused on an examination of the body, mentally checking in with each part while seated. There are different ways of bringing a mindful focus. For me, breath seemed to be the best thing for the centering focus in meditation.

Some of the instructors enhanced the meditation experience with sound, either as soothing background music or instruments such as singing bowls, chimes, or percussive instruments. Some even sang or chanted. The bowls played by some instructors made for an interesting experience. Initially, I was kind of jarred by the surprisingly loud droning tones. I’ve got a lot of hearing loss from my days as a heavy metal drummer, who foolishly neglected to use ear plugs. As a result, I have tinnitus, a ringing in my ears that never goes away. One neat thing about some of the bowls is that they seem to hit frequencies that masked the high pitch that is always present in my head. I wasn’t sure about them at first but I’m beginning to accept the use of the bowls as a way to help keep my focus in meditation.


While I’ve been interested in yoga for quite some time, I was always unsure about trying it. I had these visions of being the only guy in a sea of yoga pants clad women, contorting my body into seemingly unnatural positions while trying not to fart or rip a groin muscle. As luck would have it (thanks to the weird holiday schedules), my very first yoga class had me as the only student in a class taught by a guy. I got some personalized instruction that helped to allay my fears and give me some confidence that I could actually do this stuff.

A lot of the classes melded meditation and yoga together and the more I experienced this, the more I realized that some yoga would be a great complementary practice with my mindfulness meditation. I got to try a number of different styles and paces of yoga. What was resonating with me was a relatively slow pace with longer holds of the poses.

I learned that pushing a little into discomfort (without so much as to cause injury, of course) is a very useful skill that not only helps in mastering yoga poses, it also helps with sitting meditations over longer periods. I’ve seen increased flexibility already and my muscles are starting to allow me to get into a better cross-legged seated position with my knees lower to the ground.

Yoga emphasizes breath control, which absolutely helps in meditation where focus on the breath is key. The biggest benefit for me perhaps is that I’ve found the power in using breath to thwart anxiety attacks. Anxiety causes shallow breathing that deprives the body of oxygen and throws you into a fight or flight mode that can spiral out of control. Breath, as it turns out, is the enemy of anxiety.

The breathing techniques I have been learning through yoga and meditation have enabled me to completely prevent the onset of a couple of anxiety attacks from taking hold on me. I was amazed the first time this happened. “Holy crap!”, I thought. “I’m winning the fight!”

Qi Gong / Tai Chi

I’ve had exposure to Qi Gong and Tai Chi before, having taken classes at a community college a few years back. Qi Gong offers breath work that, again, enhances meditation and helps combat anxiety. The 24 movement Tai Chi form taught at The Meditation Bar is the same form that I previously learned, so that came more naturally to me. I originally learned it more from a martial arts perspective, so there were subtle nuances in the interpretation of the form.

I always found it difficult to practice Tai Chi on my own, preferring to participate in a group practice. It was refreshing to return to it after years of absence. I think there is great value in the concentration and mindfulness needed to execute the choreographed Tai Chi forms. While in the big picture I think meditation and yoga are more suited to my personal practice at home, I plan to re-acquaint myself with the Tai Chi 24 movement short form and see if I can work it into my personal practice.

So, where am I at after a month of trying out various mindful practices? Thanks to The Meditation Bar, I had the opportunity to work with a number of teachers. It was a hugely positive experience. While a few classes were a little woo-woo for me (not that I’m knocking the teachers or students who are into crystals, incense, and the like — it’s just not my thing), I never felt uncomfortable. I went in looking for a more down to earth secular version of mindfulness practice and I found a few teachers that I connected with in my experiences. This place really did seem to have something for everyone. Long term, I plan to attend at least one meditation class a week and, as time allows, a yoga class. This is, of course, in addition to my personal time at home, which I want to be daily-ish. I will try to meditate daily without being super critical with myself if I have to miss a day.

A mindfulness practice of meditation, along with yoga or Tai Chi over the past month taught me several lessons:

Anxiety and depression are a battle fought in the mind. While there are a lot of physical and mental factors that influence these conditions, mindfulness practices, in my experience, offer a powerful toolset to help win that war. As of tomorrow morning, my mini-retreat/vacation is over. Back to the working world. I know I am in a better place now and I’ve picked up new habits and skills to help me be the best I can be.

“Let me take my thoughts away, to think about another day, remembering the times I pray, to help me deal with me.” Dogman, King’s X