Meditation is a powerful practice that has existed for thousands of years. Despite originating in ancient times, meditation is still highly effective, and ever growing in popularity. You might be wondering how such a simple practice can have such a powerful effect, and you wouldn’t be alone. In this article I’ll explore how meditation changed my life, and how it can change yours too!
My own journey with meditation
Growing up, I was always a little on the nervous side. I was prone to overthinking, worrying, and doubting myself. This became even more apparent when I started university aged eighteen and moved to a different city.
The sudden life change was turbulent to say the least. Although I loved the experience of living in a new environment, meeting new people, and beginning to study my course, I also found it all pretty overwhelming.
I remember sitting in my bedroom reading over the preparatory work for the first ever seminar I had to attend. The questions didn’t make sense, and I had no idea where to start in terms of actually researching and finding the answers. It certainly didn’t help that the topic was constitutional law; not exactly the easiest introduction into studying at university level!
In a moment of panic, I decided to do what most people do; distract myself by going on my phone. I quickly googled ‘how to deal with university stress’ and noticed a lot of people saying that meditation helped. It was worth a try, so I downloaded a popular meditation app called Calm and selected a beginner meditation track.
The guided meditation was only 10 minutes long, but it seemed to last forever. My thought process went a little something like this:
“Am I doing this right? Am I sitting correctly?”
“I probably shouldn’t be thinking these things, I should be experiencing no thoughts at all!”
“The work isn’t going to do itself. Maybe I could miss the seminar?”
“Focus on the breath!”
In the whole 10 minutes of my first meditation, my mind was quiet for about 5 to 10 seconds at a time, if that.
Nevertheless, when I finished the guided meditation. I felt noticeably calmer.
My continuing journey with meditation
I still felt stressed about attending my first constitutional law seminar, but it seemed much more manageable. I remember asking myself: if I can feel calmer in just 10 minutes, how much calmer could I feel if I made meditation a regular practice?
Over the coming years, I have maintained a meditation practice of 10-15 minutes daily. I still meditate every morning, choosing between guided meditations, breath-led meditations, and visualizations.
It’s one of the habits I am most proud of maintaining, and I am most grateful for. When I forget to meditate first thing in the morning, I notice that I am not as centered and grounded throughout the day.
Out of all my self-care practices, meditation is one of my favorites. Not only is it so effective, it’s free, easily accessible, and very powerful. I love the feeling of focus it gives me, as well as reducing physical symptoms of stress and tension. There has never been a time where I’ve regretted sitting on my meditation cushion.
How meditation changed my life
It’s no understatement that meditation changed my life in so many wonderful ways. Here are a list of the benefits I have personally experienced:
- An increased connection to the breath and body. We live so much of our lives in our heads that we can become disconnected from physical sensations. Meditation helped me to become aware of my breath (which was pretty shallow when I first started) and helped me drop fully into physical sensations I was experiencing. As a result, I now feel more embodied than ever.
- An understanding of the nature of thoughts. Thinking something does not make it true or real. We have tens of thousands of thoughts every day, and it’s impossible to monitor them all. Some thoughts are strange, nonsensical, and even laughable. Meditation teaches you to let them pass, like clouds in the sky.
- The ability to regulate my emotions. Feelings are powerful and can take over very quickly, making it difficult to remain rational or grounded. Meditation teaches you to witness these sensations without reacting to them. It provides you with the space to understand your emotions, rather than suppressing or reacting to them.
- A calmer and more grounded nature. A lot of people comment on my grounded and calm nature. I’m certainly not like this all the time (hello monthly hormonal fluctuations), but on an average day, I do tend to feel pretty calm and relaxed. I have meditation to thank for this.
- The ability to harness the power of the mind. The more you meditate, the more easily you are able to enter into a state of deep focus. I can enter a flow state pretty easily when it comes to work, and I also find visualization much easier than I used to. Meditation teaches you to deal with distractions through witnessing them, but not getting attached to them.
What exactly is meditation?
When you think of meditation, you might think of a person meditating on top of a mountain, maybe even levitating. Meditation might seem mystical and ancient, but in reality, it’s much simpler.
Meditation is the practice of witnessing your thoughts and feelings with non-judgment. You are simply paying attention to the present moment without trying to change or alter it.
The goal isn’t trying to stop thinking. The goal is to notice that you have been distracted, pause, and bring your attention back to the present moment.
You might do this a hundred times during your practice, and this is perfectly fine. “Where we build our skill is in the practice of coming back,” says Tara Brach, a world-renowned meditation teacher.
The more you notice your mind begin to wander, the more you develop the ability to guide yourself back to the present moment. It is here where you feel the benefits of meditation. Rather than letting your thoughts run wild, you realize you have the ability to direct your focus.
The science behind meditation
Don’t just take my word for it that meditation can change your life. So many scientific studies over recent years have shown the effectiveness of various meditative practices.
A Harvard study found that the relaxation state induced by meditation can stimulate the genes associated with DNA stability, as well as producing an anti-inflammatory response. Just one meditation session can temporarily reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve memory. Pretty powerful stuff!
Long term meditation has also been found to increase resiliency to stress. Meditation and mindfulness practices dampen activity in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is activated if we feel fear and stress. The more we meditate, the more we learn to recognize when we’re feeling stressed and take appropriate actions, rather than letting fear take over.
Meditation can also increase compassion towards ourselves and others. Metta meditation, a form of Buddhist meditation focused on increasing compassion, is especially effective. Studies show that loving kindness meditations help reduce stress, increase altruistic behavior, and help us understand the suffering of others.
Many universities continue to study the effects of meditation, including the The University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre, and the Stanford Medicine Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Maybe these institutions are confirming what mystics and yogis knew thousands of years ago; that meditation is a highly powerful and transformative practice.
How can meditation change my life?
You understand the benefits of meditation and how it can positively impact your life. Now what? It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to beginning a meditation practice. There are so many options, and it can feel overwhelming. Here are my recommendations:
- Begin with an app. Headspace and Calm both provide excellent beginner meditation courses for free. I personally use Insight Timer to this day, and you can also find my own free affirmation meditation tracks on there.
- Read meditation books for beginners. If you’re anything like me and love to learn about new topics, there are so many amazing books available that teach you the basics of meditation.
- Start with just 5-10 minutes per day. Building habits requires time and patience, so it’s best to not feel overwhelmed during the beginning. Start small, and gradually build up to longer meditations if this feels right for you.
- Experiment with different meditation styles. There are so many different meditations out there, so take some time to work out which ones you prefer. I like to switch things up, from guided visualizations to Vipassana style depending on my mood.
- Don’t feel bad if you miss a day. Meditating every day is brilliant, but don’t worry if you can’t maintain a daily practice. I still have busy periods where meditating every day seems impossible. I know that this phase will pass and I’ll be back to a regular practice eventually.
Meditation changed my life: final thoughts
Meditation changed my life in so many ways. I hope this article inspires you to begin your own meditation practice. Choosing to meditate every day is a commitment to yourself and your personal growth. Don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed when you first begin – it’s part of the journey, and I still have days where meditating feels like a challenge. Start small, and believe that every time you sit down to meditate, you are learning more about yourself and your mind. Enjoy the journey to becoming a calmer, grounded, and more present person.