By Nkechi Deanna Njaka, Msc.
This past Christmas Eve, I made the commitment to one of my best friends that I was going to meditate—as in actually sit—every day. Every day? Every day. That could mean the foreseeable future or it could mean forever. I meant forever.
I also want to clarify that I meant actually sitting—and not for one minute, three minutes or five minutes. My commitment to being in a meditation practice was to really be in it, mindfully, every day for 15 minutes. At minimum.
Sitting meditation is hard. Being alone with my own thoughts and my true self is scary. Terrifying, in fact. I’d rather do yoga, sing, dance, write. Why was I making this commitment?
It's very simple. As a neuroscientist, mindfulness practitioner, yogi and dancer, I know how profound the effects of meditation have on the body and the brain. I’ve studied it, researched it, experienced it sporadically over time and employ it in my work by recommending it to my clients. And while I can speak to all the literature and scientific research supporting the work, I still wasn’t committed to my own sitting practice. I somehow thought that I could scrape by on the intellectual knowing of the benefits and thinking that was enough. That and even speaking to how it had benefited others whom I worked with was sufficient evidence. Much like the rest of the planet, I was operating in a state of doing and a state of know, but not a state of being.
“Growth has to have a selective life.”—Osho
Selective. Intentional. Sitting verses moving. Being verses doing. My whole life I have had a mindful movement practice. I’ve danced for 28 years, ran competitively for seven years and have practiced yoga for 15 years. I can say that when doing all of those physical activities I was and am in the present moment, which is why this sort of moving meditation has been great for me.
Studies have shown that when we are in the present moment, we are less likely to experience stress, low mood and anxiety. This is because those thoughts and sensations develop from negative self-talk, rumination, catastrophizing, analytical concern and obsession from the past or for the future. These were all things that I struggled with daily and it had a major impact on my life. This practice of being in the moment has treated my depression and anxiety as well as built confidence and a healthy self-esteem. Moving meditation also happens to feel beautiful. It’s very powerful and profound.
I formally began practicing mindfulness meditation six years ago as a clinical neuroscientist. I was studying the affects of this type of cognitive behavioral modality on various clinical populations. I began to implement mindfulness more intentionally in my own life. But like dance and yoga, it was peppered in my schedule as it was convenient or required. A real dedication to sitting did not exist. I felt that if I attended one meeting at the zen center, I was good for a month.
While over the years I have seen huge growth in my physical practice and have even seen major improvements in my mental health, I desired to have a better understanding of myself. There is an intentional dedication to myself in sitting that I had experienced intermittently and wanted to experience more consistently and more profoundly; and I wanted to choose so powerfully.
"Meditation means to be in non-doing. Meditation is not a doing but a state of being. It is a state of being in one's own self." —Osho
Towards the end of last year, I was really being called to my own personal growth through a sitting meditation practice because of my own fear and resistance to looking inward. I was doing a lot, was seeing things transform before my very eyes and watched as visions I manifested come to fruition. But it gave me anxiety. Ironically, so. I decided to trust that a sitting practice would help me discover who I truly am, and what I am afraid of: my own self. What was going to be there if I looked—and I mean really looked—at it? Dance and Yoga were amazing ways to express myself and both included aspects of my physicality and spirituality, but it did not require me to always focus inward.
I believe that dance, yoga and mindfulness cleared a space for me and my truest access to personal growth. I am now discovering that courageously through my daily sitting meditation practice.
Nkechi Njaka is the founder of NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio where she curates lifestyle and wellness content for brands and individuals. She is a woman of color, deeply concerned about personal and global well-being. She holistically approaches her wellness with mindfulness, movement, nutrition and style. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she majored in neuroscience and dance and went on to complete an MSc. in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. She attended the Institute of Integrated Nutrition and holds a certification in Holistic Health and Nutritional Counseling. When not involved in NDN projects, you can find Nkechi teaching Mindful Movement or Mindful Style classes + workshops, taking a yoga or modern dance class or choreographing independent work. She creates, curates, coaches and collaborates in San Francisco, California.