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Why You Should Be Meditating

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Discover the benefits of meditation and how it can change your life today.

“Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” - Eckhart Tolle

Have you ever been there – but you’re not really there?

You’re lying in bed at night, but instead of appreciating the comfort and warmth you’re in, you’re worrying about all the things you need to do tomorrow?

You’re catching up with a friend, but instead of listening to them, your mind is too busy being annoyed about that person who pissed you off this morning?

...Or you’re in the middle of making love, but instead of you know, showing your partner all your ~sexiest~ moves, you’re wondering if you forgot to shave your arm pits?!

Chinese Buddhists refer to this sort of restless thinking as the ‘monkey mind’ – we are constantly playing mental gymnastics by replaying the past or planning the future, instead of focussing on the present moment. An effective way of taming the monkey mind and mental chatter in our heads is through meditation.

Although meditation is often related to religious practices, many techniques have now been adapted to mainstream culture to help control anxiety and up levels of happiness in general. Taking a short amount of time out of our days to truly listen to ourselves is so important, especially with all the uncertainty we are currently experiencing, and it is surprising that only a small proportion of the population are practicing today.

How meditation saved my life

It is a bit of a bold statement but hear me out.

Before I discovered meditation, I had a scattered mind - my thoughts were jumbled, I was easily distracted and tended to zone out a lot; whenever my sister spoke to me she would often be annoyed about having to repeat herself as she could tell my mind had drifted… oops.

I considered myself a people-pleaser - I struggled to say no, as I would fear upsetting others even if it meant doing something I didn't enjoy doing. If I found out someone disapproved of my lifestyle choices, whether that be my family, friends and even people who I damn right disliked, it would play on my mind and make me second guess myself, seeking ways to get approval from them again. It was as if I was never confident in what I was doing until another human being validated it.

I decided I wanted to get out of this habit when I had a moment of realisation in Bali (yep Bali, I’m your stereotypical self-help wanker). Me and a friend had already been backpacking around Southeast Asia for almost a month at this point, after I had quit my dead-end job back in London to escape the city life and head out for a more exciting adventure.

Whilst I was on a beach, far out in the sea, doggy paddling my midget arms and legs away, I suddenly noticed no one else was around me... I was all on my own, but in a good way - I felt free. Though I was having a lot of fun travelling, the fear of returning to a jobless life back in the UK had always been lingering at the back of my mind. But during this brief moment, I had totally forgotten about all my worries - totally embracing the feeling of not only being physically free from other people but also mentally free from the obsession of what they thought about me. I was enjoying being entirely there, clear in my head that no matter where I am in the world, I have the power to shift my consciousness and choose where I would like my mind to be. Although I couldn’t pinpoint what the word I was looking for at the time, I now know that the term mindful is what I was missing all along.

Whilst we were still in Bali, I booked us into a yoga-meditation retreat, where we had to do 45-minute yoga-meditation sessions, twice a day, for 3 days straight. I hate to say it, but OMG I found it so boring! I definitely dived into the deep-end too soon, as doing oh-so-slow yoga moves, chanting ‘oms’ (whilst giggling like a child) and opening up our chakras (I had no idea what that even meant back then... eek), was way too advanced for my immature and hyperactive mind.

After getting back from my travels, I researched into different meditation apps and tried out a couple of free ones that weren’t as intense as the retreat. Now don’t get me wrong, when I first started out, it was difficult. To sit there and do absolutely nothing but focus on my breathing?! This 10-minute session feels like forever! But you see, when it comes to meditation, consistency is key. And oh boy, am I glad to have stuck through many more sessions as meditation has literally changed my life for the better. Not just in terms of being more present and becoming a better listener, but I’ve also gained more compassion for others, a deeper understanding about myself and my actions, and more clarity about my priorities in my life.

I have meditated daily for almost 2 years now, and I am incredibly proud of the progress from when I first started. I have now moved from simple breathing exercises to practices about spiritual energy, and happy to say that I have found my passion! Meditation saved my life because it has literally rewired my brain to help me find joy (big or small) in everyday life. I have become more grateful for all that I have, less reactive to negative situations, and all in all I no longer sweat the small stuff. I am aware that it is an on-going journey and learning new techniques will only keep the momentum going.

So let's get into it - what are the common benefits of meditating, and how can you get started today?

Meditation reduces stress and controls anxiety

Have you ever heard of the Burning Monk?

Thích Quảng Đức was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who set himself on fire as a protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese Christian government in 1963. He burnt to death at a busy Saigon road with many witnesses around him, and epic photographs of his sacrifice blew up in the media.

The most shocking part is that the dude was literally burning alive, and did not flinch a muscle! He had every right to be stressed and anxious, yet had so much control over his own mind that the physical pain meant nothing. This goes to show that mental power is everything.

Now I'm not trying to tell you to go set yourself on fire (please don't), but the point I want to emphasise is that stress is a choice. You can choose to let external factors stress you out and affect your health... or not. With mindfulness meditation, it is possible to train your body to lower the the stress hormone and feel more relaxed. Meditation has a very calming effect, and by concentrating on the guidance, you're able to shift your energy away from anxious thoughts and focus on the present. Even after the guided meditation session is over, you can use the skills you have built to manage your stress, which can help you gain a new perspective when stressful situations occur.

Meditation increases your concentration and enhances self-awareness

It is a common mistake to think that we meditate to change our life in order to never feel negative emotions ever again. If I master meditation, surely everything will be hunky dory and my mind will never be distracted ever again, right?!

Wrong. Believing meditation solves your problems puts waaay too much pressure on the practice, and contradicts its purpose of focussing on the here and now, rather than the end goal. It should be seen as more of a method to help you concentrate on the present, a reminder to bring your attention back to whatever task is at hand and not lingering too much on distracted thoughts. The more you practice, the better you naturally become at reminding yourself to do this.

As well as external awareness, meditation also enhances internal awareness. In modern day society, we have developed this toxic mindset where if we aren’t running around doing as much as we can, then we are not productive. We keep ourselves constantly busy as sometimes there is nothing scarier than being stuck alone in our own thoughts. But of course, we can all agree that running away from our feelings isn’t healthy, and over-working our bodies and mind will only decrease productivity.

Meditation gives you a chance to be honest with yourself and acknowledge how you feel. It helps you understand the choices and actions you take, learning to be aware of why you do what you do, trying to drill down why you feel the way you feel. By taking a mental break, you are encouraged to slow down, the silence in your mind allows deep self-reflection, and it is an opportunity to discover your best traits and main priorities, so you can start spending your time doing things that align with your values.

Meditation generates kindness and an open attitude

A lot of the times we think we are the only ones going through a certain type of pain or trauma. When we feel inadequate or dissatisfied with life, we wonder why everybody else seems to be getting it so right. But there are tonnes of other people who are going through the same waves of emotions.

There are many types of meditation practices available which can help increase compassion for yourself and others. These practices include speaking positive affirmations to yourself, which can be an incredibly eye-opening experience to help you understand what it is your soul needs. It can also increase your empathy so you are able to have more tact in every situation. Your mind naturally becomes less judgemental, which means you learn to forgive more, letting go of any resentment you may be holding onto from anyone in your past or present. You start to realise that even your worst enemies ultimately want the same thing as you... to be happy. In turn you'll probably spend less time holding grudges and hate them a little less, yay!

In 'The Book of Joy' the Dalai Lama states that compassion for others is the true key to finding a lifetime of happiness. When you focus less on the I, and more on the we, you extend love to yourself and other people in your life, increasing patience and tolerance for those who you have met, and giving more of a chance to get to know those you are yet to meet. Your sense of purpose enhances and you feel more connected to the world. With an open attitude, your creativity and imagination becomes limitless.

Meditation improves physical health

"I regret being fit and active, and hate that I had a good night's sleep." - said no one ever.

Meditation has many health benefits, not just mentally and emotionally but also physically.

Another way meditation has been personally great for me is that it has made me truly realise what the term 'your body is a temple' means. I never used to really care about my health - I didn't think twice when stuffing my face with junk food, or downing a whole bottle of wine in one sitting. But since I became dedicated to meditation, my general health and fitness has improved as mindful eating came into play.

Mindful eating helps you become a lot more conscious of what you're putting into your body and the nutrients it needs. Constantly feeding yourself crap food or excessively drinking alcohol no longer becomes appealing, as meditation encourages you to fix up your diet, so you can focus on your mental state of mind. That's not to say you won't ever enjoy a naughty snack ever again, you just become more mindful as to how often you would like to allow these types of foods into your system.

It is also common to become better at exercising when you practice meditating regularly, as it can help you realise how strong and resilient you are. You feel pumped to give your workouts all that you've got, you embrace the adrenaline of your heart pumping, and you find the motivation to power through. Mixing meditation and exercise is the perfect way to release endorphins (happy hormones) - your body will be thankful for the combination of the two, trust me!

And for all you sleep lovers out there (wait, who doesn't love sleep?!) - you'll be happy to know that meditation improves sleep quality. A lot of us tend to have a restless mind before going to bed, where all the tensions that happened during the day decide to creep in. Practicing simple breathing exercises at night is a great way to finish off your day, as it can create a feeling of spaciousness which makes it easy for you to drift off into dreamland.

The bottom line is, healthy mind = healthy life. It all comes down to the power of habits - and I firmly believe that if you wanted to shift any toxic habits into positive routines, regular brain training and a dash of motivation simply does the trick!

Meditation tips for newbies

If you've never meditated before or have attempted a few times but failed to continue, I want to let you know that it is not easy. If it were that simple to sit down and just shut off our minds, we would all be doing it! It's common for your mind to wander during meditation, no matter how long you've been practicing. That is why guided meditation exists, to slowly guide you back to your focus point, whatever that might be.

As a beginner, here are some tips to help you get going:

  • Most meditation apps are free until you decide to pay to unlock more features. I started off by using Headspace and Insight Timer - and eventually subscribed to Headspace. But if you're on a budget, then Insight Timer has plenty of free material for you to explore.

  • Set aside some time each day - set an alarm or block out your calendar during that time. You can start with a 5 minute session and slowly build up more over time.

  • Make sure you're in a quiet setting with no distractions – or use really good headphones! You don't want to be in the middle of a zen moment then have to scream at your family members to STFU grrrr... (I'm much more calm and mindful now, I swear!)

  • Be comfortable - I switch off my lights and pop on my salt lamp as I don't like it being too bright. Lighting candles or incense is a popular option too. I also like to sit on the floor with my legs crossed, but most people sit on a chair or a bed with their feet on the ground - just do whatever your legs and butt cheeks prefer. Setting a cosy theme and position helps your brain associate meditation with this environment, making it easier for you to fall back into this meditative state each time.

  • Do it daily – remember it is a journey, not an end goal. The trick is to be consistent and strict with yourself. If you miss a day because of circumstances that's fine, pick it up the next day. Don't give up!

  • Be patient – the results aren’t going to be immediate. You will get better at it over time - keep that in mind to stay motivated.

  • I would suggest to start trialling it first thing in the morning before you begin your day – where your mind is fresh. It is easier to find excuses to not do it as the day goes on.

  • However, if you do decide to do it at any other time in the day, remember to sit up and keep your back straight - lying down might make you dose off... zzZzzz

  • Don't let the thought of meditating the "right" way add to your stress. Everyone is different, just find a technique that works for you.

If you start today, I promise you it will be worth it!

Like to discuss more about meditation? I’d love to chat! You can find me on Instagram @mindfulmonkay :)

#Mindfulness #Meditation

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