The practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years. For sure, meditation makes us feel nice and relaxed, but can meditation help us to be healthier and happier? I am not an academic researcher or an expert on meditation or mindfulness - but over the last few years I have become really interested in meditation, practice it almost everyday and credit it with helping my ongoing recovery from a serious illness. I really wanted to share with you my experience of meditation and how I feel it benefits me.
I think the first time I consciously meditated was about six or seven years ago when I started going to bikram yoga - I went to get toned as opposed to for any spiritual reason. At that time, I didn't really take the meditation part of the class very seriously and wasn't all that bothered with it. However, when I started going to yoga and meditation class again as part of my recovery from cancer, I really started to notice how happy and relaxed I felt leaving class. I started practicising yoga and meditation at home and soon began to notice lots and lots of positive things happening.
I get that some people think meditation is a little hippy dippy or too new age for them and that it might not be their thing. I admit I wasn't all that bothered with it before I got sick. But meditation, yoga and mindfulness is fast becoming as mainstream as you can get. Big companies are seeing the benefits and offering their employees classes during work hours. Lunch time meditations are available in different cities and towns around the world. Meditation apps such as Headspace are big business. I totally believe that in a very short time, daily ten minute meditations will become as normal as grabbing a coffee on the way to work.
We can meditate in many different ways - in silence, to music, by chanting or through guided meditation. I guess the important thing is to meditate in a way that works best for you. I often switch between different ways of meditating. There are lots of free guides on the internet and on Youtube to help you get started meditating. Like I mentioned earlier, there are even apps you can get for your phone. The great thing about meditation is that it is free. We can meditate anywhere and at any time - all we need is a free 10 minutes to get started.
I started meditating on a near daily basis about eighteen months ago. I say near daily as every so often and for reasons I am not entirely sure of, I sometimes resist meditating for a few days. Thankfully I always come back and when I do, it's like a switch is turned on in me and I crave meditation. My favourite time to meditate is first thing in the morning, but I will often meditate and different times throughout the day. I usually get up pretty early, maybe between 6 and 7am and spend about 30 minutes meditating before I start my day. I feel by spending some time in the morning meditating, I set myself up for a much better day. I am conscious that I am not trained in meditation or mindfulness and I am sure there are people far more qualified and experienced than I to speak about the benefits of meditation. However, I have such positive feelings about meditation and think it is so important that I wanted to share with you my experience of meditation and how I feel it benefits me.
Happiness. First of, its happiness. I firmly believe that meditation makes me happier. For sure, external things affect our happiness, but in general, meditation improves my mood and overall sense of contentment. I think the first time after my cancer diagnosis that I felt carefree was one night on my way home from yoga after we had meditated for quite some time.
Stress Reduction. Next up is stress reduction. Mediation is credited the world over with reducing stress and anxiety and promoting relaxation. Meditation quietens the mind and allows for stillness, shutting out the noise and hassle of the outside world. It helps calm my mind and when I am calmer, I feel I can better handle difficult situations. If I think calmly, I become calm.
Clarity of thought. Meditation helps me think clearly. If I am confused about something or have a problem, I will often put it to one side, meditate and return to the problem with a clarity of thought I did not have previously. When I operate from a calm and clear place, I make better decisions. I am less influenced by stress and negative emotions and less likely to follow impulses.
Increase productivity and improve performance. Maybe I am just a morning person, but I get so much work done in the morning hours, immediately after meditating. When I am relaxed and stress free, I have more energy and I operate more effectively.
Open to change. Since I started meditating, I feel much more open to new ideas and possibilities. Experts talk about how our minds are conditioned by past experiences and how very often we are constrained by our conditioned mind. I guess that through meditation, I have became aware of my programmed habits and thought patterns and realise how I can change them for the better. I have read lots of articles on how doing meditation on a daily basis can cause thoughts in our sub-consious to come to the surface. I feel that beliefs that have limited me in the past - such as preconceived ideas about right and wrong, my feelings about certain situations and people and my ideas on how the world works - have faded since I started doing meditation. I really feel this has lead me to see situations clearer and be more open to new ideas and possibilities.
Trust and faith. This one is kind of hard to describe. I think meditation helps me to trust and have faith in my choices. I used to work as a solicitor and found it very stressful and didn't particularly enjoy it. I know now that this was not the job for me and I am happy I no longer work in this area. I trust and have faith that I am now doing what I am supposed to do and what will make me happy. Even though I don't have financial security or a staple job, I feel sure that the path I am on is the right path for me.
Sleep benefits. This one is obvious. The more relaxed and calm I am the better I sleep. By meditating at night I can slowly unwind after the day, switching off from the noise and chatter and craziness of the day and getting myself into sleep mode.
Physical benefits. So as you all know, I am not a neuroscientist so I don't want to make any claims about the science behind meditation. But studies have shown that meditation can have a real benefit for physical health. When we meditate we create a relaxation response in our bodies and this yields physical benefits such as a lowering of blood pressure, boosting our immune system and reducing many of the physical manifestations of stress related disorders.
So thank you so much for taking the time to read this post. I would LOVE if this inspired even one person to put aside ten minutes of their day - in the morning, at lunch time, just before bed or whenever is handiest - to spend meditating. I really believe that by doing so on a regular basis, you will see for yourself the wonderful benefits of this very simple and very free exercise x