We already know it’s good for us. We’ve read about the scientific benefits — the promised decreases in blood pressure and stress levels, the improved sleep quality, the memory boosts — and we’ve heard several of our career icons swear it’s the secret fuel for their success. But still, we resist meditation for all sorts of reasons.
We say we don’t have the time in the morning — things are already sufficiently hectic, what with the schedule juggling and the sandwich slicing and the inevitable but somehow unexpected outfit swaps — and at night, we don’t have the energy. We say we can’t sit still for long enough. Our backs ache. Our minds wander. We’ve tried it, but we’ve wondered if we’re the weird ones whose brains aren’t built for it. Or are we just doing it wrong?
For those of us who have never quite managed to build a consistent meditation habit (or have been afraid to even make the attempt), there’s a different sort of practice that’s worth an earnest shot. It’s perhaps a bit less commonly discussed than the standard “watch your breath” method we’ve tested, yet especially rewarding — and doable.
Steeped in the Kundalini yoga tradition, the Kirtan Kriya meditation comprises just 12 minutes of subtle hand movements combined with basic chanting, which fluctuates from vocal incantations to whispers to silent internal repetitions. This is helpful for those of us who tend to get antsy, because it provides just enough action to placate our distractible minds.
But the sounds and gestures aren’t just for structure and show; they play particular roles in the meditation’s total effects, stimulating meridian points in the palate of the mouth and nerve endings in the fingers that activate specific areas of the brain, like the occipital lobe, hypothalamus and pituitary. Extensive research (here) evidences the advantages of these connections, including improvements in cognitive functioning, reduction of inflammatory gene expression and skyrocketing levels of a longevity enzyme called telomerase, which corresponds with memory, energy, sleep and overall wellbeing. Kirtan Kriya has proven to significantly decrease depressive symptoms in the course of eight weeks, to an extent that other forms of relaxation — i.e. listening to calming music — do not.
We learned the simple steps to the practice via this guide from Dr. Kelly Brogan, who swears by it herself. This YouTube segment serves as a helpful soundtrack. While all of us might not experience the immediately poignant effects (including intense emotional reactions and even crying) that Brogan says some of her patients have reported, we’re committing to completing the Kirtan Kriya on a daily basis for at least one straight week, with one full month as a goal (and two months as a holy grail), because it takes consistency to cause sustainable changes (and to build sustainable habits).
Getting started, the hardest part might just be getting over the self-doubt that accompanies any unfamiliar and somewhat mystical ritual — the singing, specifically, can feel strange at first. But the science bears it out, and besides, loosening up is precisely the point. The second hardest part is probably picking a regular time slot, and then sticking with it. We need a 12-minute window when we can be alone, unseen and unheard — perhaps quietly in our cars in the parking lot before walking into work, or even in the bath or shower. But 12 minutes aren’t much to ask in the course of 24 hours, and we’re curious to see how our everyday moods start are enhanced accordingly.
p.s. If you want to start smaller, here’s another transformational exercise that takes just two minutes (and is shockingly simple).