When I first heard about meditation, I thought it was some weird thing monks did in the mountains, and for years I brushed it off as “woo woo,” and not for me.
Whenever a yoga instructor would encourage meditation during the class, I would think, look, I’m just here to get a workout. Leave me out of that stuff, and on the inside I’d roll my eyes.
As I learned more about meditation, I continued to reject the idea. Sitting, clearing your mind, and breathing? You mean doing nothing? Why would I want to do nothing? I thought.
I had a boyfriend in my early twenties who started meditating every day to combat his depression, and I admit I sometimes wondered if it was an excuse to do nothing. Doing nothing doesn’t sound very proactive. He said it was helping, but externally, I couldn’t see any changes, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t happening.
About three years ago, I was experiencing some unusually high anxiety related to my job at the time, and decided to give meditation a shot. I figured I had nothing to lose, and I was beginning to grow tired of the amount of time I was spending scrolling through my phone, so I figured it’d be a nice break from that, at the very least.
Truth be told, it was excruciating at first. It was hard to sit still, not grab my phone, not tidy, or plan for the day and especially, to not think. I wasn’t sure what meditation was doing, but I like a challenge, and I was frustrated with how difficult I found it to sit still. I can be very competitive with myself, so I wanted to at least be able to do it “right,” just to know that I could. I felt like I should at least be able to do that, and not want to grab my phone for ten minutes at a time.
The desire to keep busy is mindless and habitual: grabbing the phone, sifting through mail, sending a text, etc. Meditation helps us re-train our brains to live with more intention, and less habit. Meditation is scientifically proven to reduce stress, overcome addictions, and live happier, more productive lives.
Still not convinced? Here’s a list of 20 Scientifically Proven Ways Meditation Improves Your Life.
Within a few weeks of daily meditation sessions, I noticed that even if I struggled to make it through those ten minutes, I was already benefiting by becoming more aware of my thoughts and my breath. For instance, When faced with moments that triggered anxiety in me, I was developing an ability to “watch” my thoughts, and how they were creating the anxiety I was feeling in my body.
When you learn to watch your own thoughts, and see them as thoughts instead of absolute truth, you are no longer their slave, believing them and doing what they tell you to. They’re just there, like people, and you can take what they have to say with a grain of salt.
Maybe more importantly, I was able to breathe steadily, evenly, and deeply, not only remembering to breathe throughout the day, which made a huge difference on my overall ability to stay calm and level-headed, but especially in those moments when I felt the anxiety begin to creep up.
About a year into dabbling with meditation, I listened to the audio book version of The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer. (You can listen to it for free on Amazon.) And without a doubt, this book helped me to commit to daily meditation, which changed my life. I am hooked for life.
Not only is the book presented in a really entertaining way, switching between fact, research, and story, but the findings are incredible. The author, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist with twenty years of addiction research under his belt, uncovers how meditation (or mindfulness) helps people overcome addictions, reduce stress, and live richer lives.
If you’re interested in the science behind meditation, or are generally looking for some motivation to get started, please read (or listen to) his book, and keep reading.
It’s amazing what breath and presence can do, and most of us do the bare minimum when it comes to breathing, but oxygen is free and I’m telling you, it will change your life.
Before you start thinking, look, I breathe all the time. You’re not telling me anything I don’t know. We’re not talking about breathing to stay alive. We’re talking about steady, deep, focused breath here, people.
The fact is that people have been meditating for thousands of years, and we have scientific evidence that it improves your health and your life, making us happier, more productive, and able to exert more self control.
I couldn’t believe how something so simple could make such a big impact on my well being. In this way, meditating changed my life, and while I didn’t fully commit to meditating daily until I was 27, looking back, I see the many ways in which meditating changed my life for the better.
Seven Ways Meditating Can Change Your Life
Raise your hand if you’re familiar with starting or intending to start about 100 projects a year, and get super excited about them, and then sort of, just, stop. Maybe you start reading a book, get bored, and hop on your phone instead. Maybe you’re watching a movie and scrolling through your phone at the same time. Maybe you go to write something and ten minutes later you’re flipping through old photographs.
This was me, too.
I can now sit down and literally write for hours. I can workout for an hour uninterrupted, and not check my phone. I can sit and paint for hours. I can commit to a project, work on it a few hours a week, and keep going until I see it through or decide it’s not for me.
When I sit down to write, I’m more present. This increased presence translates to sharper focus in any task and it feels amazing. You’ develop the focus to tap into all the things you are capable of.
Really, focus IS presence. It’s the ability to be fully present with the task and hand, and once you start meditating, you gain a lot more of that, which makes sense, since meditating brings you back to square one in terms of presence. Just sit, breathe, and be fully present. So simple, but harder than it sounds.
Before I started meditating, I would experience my thoughts as truth or fact. So many of us do this, and create these dramas in our mind that we are better off without.
Luckily, writing and journaling allowed me to “watch” my thoughts, but not necessarily in live time like meditation allows. Previously, when I was having thoughts, in the moment, they felt totally real, vivid, and factual. When I would journal, I could see them for what they were– thoughts, and stories I was creating, but I was unnecessarily suffering in the moments when I would believe negative thoughts as truth in my real-time life.
Meditating helped me strengthen my mind, and choose better feeling thoughts more of the time. When you meditate, you’re not “supposed” to think, but when you inevitably do (and you will) the goal is to let yourself have the thought, let is pass, and just watch it pass, like clouds in the sky, without attaching any meaning or emotion to it. Just watch it pass.
Practicing “watching thoughts” for, say, 10-15 minutes a day for a year or two increases your ability to watch thoughts happen and not attach meaning or emotion to them, and this makes for a freeing transformation. Our brains are not that far from our cavemen days, and those cavemen were on EDGE! And rightly so, with those dang saber toothed tigers running around. If we want to adapt to our modern world, chock-full of fluffy lap cats, we don’t need to be constantly predicting and assuming the worst, and living our lives shackled to our fears.
I used to feel stressed so often, it was just the norm for me. I’d be scrambling to get ready, late for work, and so it would creep in as I started my day, and often build from there. Honestly, it is much more rare for me now, and I’ve developed such a low tolerance for stress, which I realize is something I often create with my own thoughts. That’s not to say I don’t experience it anymore, but it’s not nearly as often, and I prefer to look for solutions and then focus on something else.
Stressful situations will arise. There is no way around that, but you don’t have to live with stress as your master. You can learn to master stress, instead.
When I feel stress start to creep up, I know that it is something I’m creating with my mind, experiencing in my body, and now know I can I choose to breathe and change the thought, focus on the present, and start going down a different path in my mind.
This is not to say meditation will totally remove stress and anxiety from your life, but it will help you develop some very effective tools to manage these feelings, change the physical sensations, and move through your emotions without letting them dominate your day.
Meditating can help you feel more level. My mood still experiences highs and lows, but overall it is more steady and consistent, and it feels good to feel pretty calm most of the time, especially remembering those days when I stressed myself out with my own thoughts all day long. I can relax now! You can, too.
When I was in the height of my anxiety-ridden days, people would always tell me I had such a calm demeanor, and how nothing seemed to bother me. And I felt proud for expressing this externally, but I was always so surprised to hear it because my internal world was so noisy.
Now, when people tell me I have a calm demeanor and I don’t let stuff get to me, I agree, because I’m nowhere near as easily flustered. I’m not saying it never happens, because life still puts me in a tizzy from time to time, but the frequency is night and day.
4. Meditation can make you happier.
When you learn to watch your thoughts, you become more disciplined and able to hand select them. When you choose your thoughts, you can choose happy thoughts, funny thoughts, dreamy thoughts, sexy thoughts, or even neutral thoughts, and feel so much better, so much lighter, and so much more energized so much more of the time.
Deep down, I always knew this, and again, journaling was one of the only ways I could access this thought-changing magic. I would tell myself better thoughts in my head, and I would write them down, even sticking them in placing where I’d see them around my house, but the habit of choosing fearful thoughts, negative thoughts had become so great that even if I was thinking something positive, I wasn’t always believing it.
The good news is that if this is you, you can change your habit. You can consistently practice choosing better thoughts. It won’t happen overnight, but if you keep trying, and keep choosing them, you will get better with practice.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true. I wasn’t overweight before I started meditating, but I was doing some emotional eating, and bored snacking, and since I started meditating, I’ve lost ten pounds without trying.
Meditation made me so much more aware of the present moment, more aware in my own body, and the emotions I was feeling, and the thoughts I was having, that when I would formerly go to reach for a snack out of boredom, or to comfort myself, I realized what was happening and decided to do something to cure my boredom instead, or soothe myself in another way.
Where before I would automatically eat what was put in front of me, but now I stop eating when I’m full, or say no if I’m not feeling it.
Of course, I’ve still found myself crying into a pint of ice cream or eating dessert when I didn’t necessarily have room, I am only human. The point is, this doesn’t happen nearly as often.
Again, along with being present, and more aware of your body and your thoughts, you’ll find that meditation makes you more disciplined because when you’re not on auto-pilot all the time, being disciplined isn’t as hard! When you don’t want to work out and your auto-pilot justifies it, a more disciplined mind will see straight through the excuses and give you all the reasons why you should choose to exercise.
You learn to see instant gratification more for what it is- a quick fix that usually doesn’t solve anything.
Honestly, meditation can’t turn back the clock, but it can reset your mood, your thought patterns, and your habits. As Abraham Hicks says, meditation brings you back to your “vibrational setpoint.” In other words, you get to clear all the polluting thoughts in your brain and start fresh. It’s easier to stay positive and focus on the good when you reset, and meditation is a reset tool.
When you start fresh, with meditation, it’s much easier to build momentum with positive thoughts, and keep that momentum going. And when you have positive momentum going, one negative thought won’t throw you off course, because you’ve already built all this momentum in a positive direction.
Meditation allows you get back to zero, and choose to build your own momentum.
How to Meditate- A Beginner’s Guide:
Pick a Time. I prefer to meditate in the morning, because it gets me in a good headspace and helps each day feel like a fresh start, and I want to build that positive momentum early. You might like to meditate after lunch to keep your day on track, or after work to leave work-stress out of your home life. You might like to do all three.
Find or create a comfortable spot where you feel safe and can practice for ten to fifteen minutes. I often meditate laying in bed with my coffee in the morning, or I sit on a pillow or on the couch in my living room.
Try to clean up the space a little. Clutter- free helps, but do your best. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you truly don’t have time, just close your eyes.
If you’re sitting, sit up straight. Your goal is to focus on maintaining good posture, practicing steady, deep breathing, and clearing your mind.
Inhale slowly, into your belly, for three full seconds, pause for three second, and exhale for three seconds. Focus on the sensations in your body and your breath. Do this for fifteen minutes every day. Do what you can. I also sometimes use five second pauses. Find what works for you.
Clear your head. This is extremely difficult for most of us, so if you can’t entirely empty your mind, don’t feel bad. Think of it as a goal. Focus on your breath and the present moment. When thoughts inevitably do arise, just let them pass without giving them, much, well, thought.
Cut yourself some slack. Even if you do it badly, it still works. I still have a lot of meditation sessions where I forget what I’m doing, start daydreaming, looking at my nails and wondering whether to paint them or not, seeing my cat and thinking how cute he is etc, etc. But even though this still happens to me years in, I am still reaping the rewards!
Show up. Keep doing it. They say half of life is just showing up, and meditation is no exception. Show up.
Different Ways to Meditate
Walking meditation. This is a good option if sitting still is too intimidating. This is an awesome way to approach walking in nature, along a water front, through a park, arboretum, or garden, or on a beach, but around the block works, too! Basically you take deep, steady breaths and clear your head as you walk.
Visualization. Again, if not thinking is too challenging, try visualization and go to your happy place. Go to Hawaii, feel the sun on your skin, listen to the waves lapping on the shore, smell the plumeria on the breeze.
Visualization Part II. Picture your goals and dreams, and what it’d be like if they were happening right now. Picture yourself at your dream job, what it looks like, feels like, smells like. Picture your dream house, what do you see out the window? What is the yard like? What colors are in your bedroom?
Smile, I recommend this for exercise, too, especially running, or even if you’re just having a “blah” day. Smiling can actually trick our brains into a better mood. It takes minimal effort, so why not try it?
Meditation can seem intimidating, freaky, woo-woo, and is super easy to write off. I know this because I once felt this way, too. The benefits are backed up by research, however, and it’s free and takes only ten or fifteen minutes a day to get life changing results.
Fifteen minutes a day is literally all you need to become more focused, calm, disciplined, and happier. Who doesn’t want that?
The most important thing is consistency. I’m not saying you have to force yourself to meditate every day if it feels dreadful, but give it your best effort to make a new habit. Doing it for a couple of weeks and writing it off is not enough time. I didn’t notice any changes until a month or so, and the biggest changes took TWO YEARS!
Were those fifteen precious minutes a day worth it? Absolutely! YES! 100 PERCENT WORTH IT AND I’M CONVERTED FOR LIFE! I know that I would have just spent that time scrolling through my phone or changing my outfit, anyways, and that wouldn’t have given me what meditation has.
So please, give it a shot. Make sure you are comfortable, and know that any discomfort at the beginning is totally normal, and even if you do it badly, it still works (I am living proof.)
How has meditation changed your life? What prevents you from meditating, and how you can you get past that? Tell us in the comments!
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