Thinking about exploring meditation for yourself? Take a look at 5 of the biggest benefits my friend Peter experienced and learn how to begin your own practice.
Intro from Ben: Peter’s previous article was a yearly reflection on the biggest self-discoveries he made in 2015 which greatly improved the quality of his life. However, one of the things he didn’t mention was that he’d made most of these discoveries alongside starting his own meditation practice.
Not being able to fit all of these juicy experiences into one article he has returned with this article featuring the biggest benefits he’s experienced through meditation.
A recommended read if you’re curious about what to expect from starting your own explorations with meditation.
Starting with meditation about a year and a half ago was definitely one of the positive changes in my life. I believe that the benefits I gained through meditation were a catalyst enabling me to further change my life for the better. Meditation helped me in getting rid of some bad habits and identifying some unhealthy thought patterns. As well as making me generally more balanced and more focused.
With this article I want to convince you that meditation is for everyone. But in order to convince you I will refrain from getting all esoteric about it because I’m aware that this might scare you off. Maybe one of the reasons why you can’t see yourself actually trying out something like meditation is because you think it’s only for “hippies” and “esoteric people”? Well it’s not, I believe that everyone should at least try it and that everyone can benefit from it. So here I’m just going to give you a simple list of benefits that I personally experienced very quickly after first starting to meditate. No esoteric hocus-pocus, just plain facts.
1. Better Focus and Concentration
What is meditation? It’s actually quite hard to define as there are many different ways to do it. One way to define it is to say that it’s just a form of concentration. Be it concentration on a material object or on a non-material thing.
I personally used to get distracted very easily. Both by outside stimuli as well as by my own thoughts. While I was trying to perform a particular task my mind would wander off and start thinking about something else. And then this next thought would kick off another thought about something else and so on. A roller-coaster ride in my mind. Let’s say for example I’m doing the taxes for my (hypothetical) freelance business. I pick up an invoice and think about the client that I sent this invoice to. Then I think about a friend who introduced me to this client in the first place. Then I think about my weekend activities together with that friend on the last weekend. Then I start thinking about the place we went to for lunch. and so on and so on… when all I wanted to do is focus on my taxes.
Practising concentration in the form of meditation has helped me improve my ability to focus on one thing for an extended amount of time. I am more productive and make less errors while doing something which requires a lot of focus. The fun areas of my life have also benefited from this: Since I am less distracted I enjoy watching movies and listening to music now more than ever. No kidding!
2. Better Stress Resistance
Meditation is also a way of disconnecting from the busyness of the world and from whatever is going on both around us as well as inside our minds. After a meditation session I come out more relaxed and fresh than before. Doing this regularly makes me feel more balanced and relaxed. I don’t get stressed over minor things that easily anymore. Of course if I’m in a super stressed state of mind one moment, doing a bit of meditation will not bring me down to a super relaxed level immediately in the next moment. But it will still improve how I feel and how I deal with the stress. And being in a stressful episode of my life it will help me keep the balance.
3. Being in the Moment
Let’s pick it up directly from the last point: I think one reason why meditation helps us deal with stress is that it helps us to be more anchored in the present. Because where does a feeling of stress come from? What is causing us to feel stressed in a certain moment? I think it’s not the action we are performing in that very moment. The feeling of stress comes from thinking about and being overwhelmed by all the things that lie ahead of us and all the things which are still left to do. Perhaps also something that happened earlier that day is still battling for our attention and causing us to worry. The feeling comes from being so focused on the past and future that it brings us out of the present moment!
With meditation I practise my ability to focus on only the moment right now and that helps dissolve stress.
When I’m overly occupied with what happened in the past I can always find something I screwed up in the past and that I can feel bad about. Similarly, when I am overly focused on the future I am constantly thinking about all the things that I have to do (or want to do). This is always going to cause a feeling of restlessness and worry about how things will turn out. In summary focusing more on the present moment has not only made me more relaxed but also makes me feel happier in a lot of situations!
4. Time Passes More Slowly
Picking it up again from the last point: With meditation I practise my focus on the moment. I’m spending less time dwelling in the past and the future and instead I am experiencing the here and now more consciously. I can remember having a lot of those days in the past where I thought at the end of the day “Where did time actually go? I feel like I didn’t do anything today.” Maybe I spent the whole day at work and met up with a friend quickly after work. But in my head this was reduced to just “being at work” the whole day with the details being blurred out. I forgot what I had actually done that day and that I have had quality time with my friend, even if it was short.
Through meditation I am in the moment much more and aware of what I’m actually doing moment by moment. As a result, at the end of the day I feel like I’ve actually had more time during the day. I’ve been less distracted and, not the amount but the quality of time has increased. When I first discovered this effect this was a big positive surprise for me!
5. Reduces Negative Thoughts and Emotions
This is the next big thing I experienced after a while of meditating regularly. The effect is a bit more long-term and you might only experience it when you become a bit more progressed with your meditation. For me personally I noticed a decrease in my negative thinking over time. This happens because meditation makes us more aware of what kind of thoughts are occurring in our mind. The human mind tends to do a lot of automatic thinking without us being consciously aware of it or even wanting it. This automatic thinking often provokes negative results.
Consider this: I’m happily doing something, let’s say I’m driving my car. Then suddenly I see a pedestrian and have to hit the brakes. I stop in time and nobody is hurt. But this event kicks off a critical thought in my head like “I should have seen that person sooner”. Then I’m thinking “I’m not focused enough” because I only saw the person in the last moment. The next thought is “I’m not good at driving at all”. And before I realise what is going on, my next thought is “I suck as a person because I can’t even drive a car properly”. Suddenly I feel terrible although just moments ago I was happily engaged in doing my task. The awareness trained by meditation helps identify those thought processes.
Once I’m aware of a negative thought process I can then make a conscious decision to not keep thinking that way and I come out a happier person. Overtime these negative thoughts grow weaker and weaker.
Same as with thoughts, meditation can also help us become more aware of our emotions. Sometimes a minor annoyance can throw us completely out of balance and can get us from being happily content one moment to being very sad or angry the next. I at least used to have this problem. And I never questioned it until I learned that this is totally avoidable. What happens is a similar thing as with the thoughts: an emotion starts small somewhere and either I consciously notice it and assess it as something negative (“I don’t want to feel that way!”) and this will set off a spiral of stronger negative emotions. Or this all happens beyond my conscious perception, in which case the same can happen except it’s hidden from my conscious awareness. Again meditation helped me here to become more mindful of these processes by identifying the first signs of an emotion (which is often a physical sensation). This made me a more stable and reflected person and now it rarely happens that I burst out in anger over something unexpectedly.
So How Do I Start?
If you are new to meditation, try this: Sit down or lie down and focus all your attention on your breath. Breathe through your belly and try to perceive every in-breath and every out-breath very consciously. You can choose to focus on your abdomen rising and falling or on the feeling of the air stream touching your nostrils. Either way, this is all you need to do! You don’t even need to control your breath, although you can to make sure you don’t breathe too fast. Whatever works for you.
Do this for a couple of minutes and see how you feel afterwards. You can set an alarm to keep track of time so that you don’t have to worry about it. Or you can just go with the feeling and stop when you feel you are done.
If you notice your mind slipping away from your breath, possibly thinking about ice cream or cake: no problem, this is normal.
That’s why it’s called meditation practice. Don’t feel bad about it. Just gently refocus on the breath whenever you notice this has happened. This will happen again and again to you, and it is completely normal. Becoming upset about this is actually counterproductive to a relaxed and balanced state of mind. You can start by doing this for 10 minutes per session and when you feel comfortable you can increase the time to 20 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.
Just to be clear: What I just described is not the way to meditate. There are many, many different ways to meditate. Meditation doesn’t need to involve the breath at all. It doesn’t even necessarily involve concentration, although most types do. For now the format described above is an effective introduction to start meditating.
Just Do It!
That’s the most important thing. Against common belief, I personally think that even doing a little bit of meditation once in a while can have a huge benefit. It’s definitely better than doing nothing and will improve how you feel. If you have the time to meditate regularly, that’s great and of course will produce better results. But if not, do as much as you can. You don’t need to force yourself to do it everyday if you can’t, and even more important: never feel bad if you can’t make it one day or a couple of days or even several weeks in a row. This would be totally contrary to what you are trying to achieve: more balance and feeling better.
If you think you don’t have the time to fit meditation into your life then that’s just a matter of priorities. If you want to do it, you will make the time. Usually doing it right after getting up and before going to bed is a good idea because that’s when your mind is naturally in a calmer state. So tomorrow just get up 15 minutes earlier and do a 15 minute meditation in the morning or cut 15 minutes of watching TV or reading in the evening and then do it.
If you don’t want to sit in your room alone meditating because that’s not motivating enough for you and you also want to make it more social you could take a meditation class. Find a meetup) in your city that introduces you to meditation.
It’s a good idea to meditate in a group so that you have some moral support and you can share your experiences with others. Also it’s good to have some guidance to make sure you skip a couple of beginner mistakes. But all these suggestions are optional as the concept is very easy; the important thing is that you start.
Peter Fessel is a web developer and part-time adventurer from Germany. His current adventure is that he just moved to London and is trying to cope with British culture. Peter is a creative person who likes to write his own electronic music and he spends a lot of time thinking about how to lead a happy life.