Benefits of Meditation – Why and How

Meditation has changed my life.  I don’t really understand how it works – all I know is that meditating on a daily basis, has brought me and those around me lots of benefits.  I’m a much calmer person, and I’m urging everyone I know to get on it!

Don’t get me wrong, I can still be a crazy bitch when I want to be, (just ask my boyfriend…), but I’m still a lot calmer and less quick to snap or get angry then I used to be.

I know, I know, I know.  It sounds like some hippie/mystical/religious thing to do. But really, it’s just about sitting still and breathing.  I mean, I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but in essence that’s all it is.  It’s the simplest thing to do.

Why is it worth meditating? What are the benefits?

The biggest change I’ve found has been an increased sense of calm. I find it easier to take perspective rather than getting sucked into a swirling vortex of anger or frustration.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really made a difference in my life. The simple act of taking some time out of each day to sit and breathe seems to have changed my brain waves or something.

There are lots of benefits in being a calmer person.  You are a cooler person to be around. You are less likely to get stressed and angry which could lead to higher blood pressure or depression, and you can sleep better.

I still get stressed, but I find that I don’t get as annoyed about things as I used to do. Even when I’m in stressful situations, I can feel a part of me wants to flare up, but another part of me now keeps holding me back. It’s weird!

I’ve found that I’m a lot more focused and disciplined with myself.  When I meditate in the mornings, I’m far more likely to accomplish what I need to get done on that day.

It’s also helped me to be “present” and “in the moment”, rather than daydreaming (which I do far too much).  I’m still working on that.

Getting Started

The easiest way to get started is to download a guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm.

I was first introduced to meditation via the two minutes at the end of yoga sessions where you could just lie down and not do anything. (That was always the best part of the class for me).

I’d been introduced to a few books about Buddhist meditation, and had tried to meditate on my own a few times.  Nothing seemed to work though, and I would soon forget about doing it – or work, or socialising, or something, would get in the way. When I left to go travelling, things got even worse. I had literally no routine and I stopped meditating completely.

Halfway through our trip, I ended up in a meditation class in Nepal run by Frank Schwartz. This rekindled my interest.

I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ new podcast where Tim interviews top performers like Josh Waitzkin, Chase Jarvis, and Arianna Huffington.  These guys consider meditation to be an essential part of their high performance.

Given that I had more leisure time than ever before, I figured that I had a good opportunity to give it another go.  Routine or no routine.  My birthday was coming up, and it seemed like a good time to start a new habit.

A friend of mine suggested an app called Headspace which offered a daily structure within which you “learn” to meditate.

To be honest, I had tried Headspace previously and found it patronising. But, I wasn’t making much progress on my own, and I didn’t know where else to go, so I signed up and got started.

I first noticed a difference about two weeks after I started meditating for 10-15 minutes on a daily basis.  My partner (as laid back as a plank of wood usually), would get fairly stressed or upset about something.  Usually, if he was stressed or upset then I would be by then at another level!  But now, I was increasingly calm in comparison to him.  He also found that I didn’t get as annoyed about things that would usually frustrate me, which he was pretty amazed by.

At the time, I was surprised that I saw changes so soon.  I didn’t feel that I was meditating “right”.  My thoughts were all over the place and it wasn’t like I was finishing each session with an increased sense of calm, like some of my friends had reported.  I was purely persevering because I’d made a commitment, and was forcing myself to do it everyday.

How hard is it? 

Technically meditation isn’t difficult, but I often find it hard. It’s sometimes something I have to force myself to do.  Sitting down to concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes is simple yet sometimes extremely uncomfortable. This is especially true when you’re short on time. I’m fidgety.  I get tired. Sometimes, I’m screaming for it to be over, and my mind races all over the place like a kitten on cocaine.

At the beginning, especially, random thoughts, (sometimes about things I hadn’t thought of for years), would pop into my head. It was spooky!

I’ve been meditating almost every day for months now.  My thoughts have quietened down a little, but they are still there a lot of the time, especially if I skip a few days, or I’m stressed about something.

I still don’t feel like I’m doing it “right”, but I don’t think there is a right and wrong.  I’m sure there are people out there who concentrate better than I do, but the benefits are still there, and for that reason, I’m going to continue trying to meditate.

How do you start?

Apps/Online Courses

The easiest way to start is to download the free Headspace app or Calm or checkout their websites. Headspace have a free ten session ten minute programme, as does Calm, which will give you a chance to familiarise yourself with what you’re getting yourself into.  After that, you can pay to subscribe to the rest of the material, (Google promo codes that are invariably around for this kind of thing).

Headspace is pretty structured which I find it useful, without it, I think I would have got lost, and may have given up. Calm also has a useful calendar which shows which days you’ve meditated and when you haven’t.

The other benefit that Headspace has is that you can download sessions in advance so you don’t need to have a wi-fi/internet connection to make it work.  This can be useful if you’re travelling a lot.

Subscribing to Headspace does involve paying a bit up front.  I justified it it to myself as “a meditation course” or the equivalent of some sort of gym membership.

There are plenty of free meditation apps to try.  Find them by typing “meditation” into iStore or your phone’s app store.

Just remember, you are looking for something that you’ll do every day, not just when you feel angry or stressed.  I don’t find meditation useful when I’m angry or stressed… by then it’s too late!  I need to meditate before I get into that state in the first place. Of course, that could be different for you.

Unless you constantly have a decent wi-fi or 4G connection, I would recommend a programme that allows you to download sessions on to your device. You can then meditate with your phone in airplane mode, without having to worry about any messages or phone calls coming through.

There are lots of ways to meditate.  Experiment to find out what works best for you.  Some people prefer listening to music, or chanting a mantra, or going to a class.  There’s only one way to find out what’s best for you – experiment and try them out.

Classes are a great way to learn new techniques, get questions answered and get some support.  The only downside is that they often take place on a weekly basis so it will be up to you to find a way to meditate on the other days.

Books and Articles About Meditation

The best book I’ve read about meditation and its benefits is Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan. I’m a big fan of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step and Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I also loved The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

Waking Up and this article by neuroscientist and author Sam Harris is also interesting.

I’m currently reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach which some people might find useful.

The creator of Headspace, Andi Puddicombe, has a book called Get Some Headspace: 10 Minutes Can Make All the Difference. It’s useful if you’re starting out.  I read it after a month or two of meditating and could have done with reading it much earlier.

The following books are also good but concentrate on meditating from a Buddhist perspective.

Podcasts on Meditation

I’m sure there are more pertinent podcasts about meditation, but I’ve really enjoyed the Tim Ferriss series of podcasts so far.  Listen to Tim interviewing the following guys for insights into their routines and how they meditate. They also go into what benefits meditation has brought them:

Tips on Meditating

1. Commit to Doing It Every Day

The most important thing about meditation is committing to doing it every day. Even if you feel like you are not doing it properly, or you can’t be bothered – do it.  (I missed out on meditating for a few days when I was on a boat trip as I hadn’t downloaded the necessary sessions and spent a lot of the time feeling sea sick.  It’s like any kind of exercise – it was hard to get back into it when I returned.)

2. Try and meditate in the mornings

Most people I’ve spoken to recommend meditating in the morning.

It sets you up for a whole day, and you’re far less likely to skip it because you forget/work late/go out, or something else comes up.

Whenever I do it later in the day, I have so many more thoughts racing through my head, I’m far less likely to have a meaningful session too.

3. Don’t be Hard on Yourself

Don’t worry if you’re finding it difficult.  Meditation is a skill like everything else, and there is no pass or fail.

It just takes practice and you can still benefit even when you feel like your practice is not going well.

Don’t get frustrated if you feel like you “can’t do it”.  As the months go by, you’ll find that sometimes less thoughts will be running around your head.

4. Make it Easy on Yourself

Don’t worry about sitting upright or sitting on the floor if you find it unbearable.  Sit wherever you feel comfortable, on a chair, or with your back supported, whatever.  (I have meditated while lying down but I wouldn’t recommend that as I was almost sleeping by the end of it. It’s a complete cop out to be honest…I tend to do it when I’m really ill or hungover.)

Being committed, means that you have to plan a little. If you’re going to be travelling for a whole day then get up a little earlier, or find time for a break during the day.

Make it a priority, and work it into your schedule.

 

I hope this encourages you to try meditating.  If you’ve got any tips for my meditation practice – then please let me know.

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