Over the years, meditation has become a crucial part of my daily routine. Not that I even have an actual routine, I’m nowhere near organized or disciplined enough for that. But I do try very hard to meditate each day.
I’ve managed to sit my butt down and be still for at least 20 minutes every day for the past year. That comes after a few years of less consistency in my practice. Originally, I only meditated every now and again when I went to yoga class, then slowly it started happening a few times per week, before finally making it happen every day.
I’ve come to realize that for most people, this is how daily practice ends up happening.
It starts with a session every now and again. Then, the more you do it, the more you appreciate and crave that quiet space for yourself. Inevitably, you start making more and more space for it in your schedule, until next thing you know, you’re sitting every day and loving every breath of it.
For those who aren’t quite there yet, and are still trying to understand what the point of meditation is, I’ve compiled a list of the main benefits of meditation. This isn’t one of those over the top, excessively detailed list of 92 ways meditation will change your life, but more of a super realistic and tangible list of aspects you’ll notice when you start meditating regularly.
Check out the eight most important benefits of meditation.
Get to know your thoughts
Our minds all work in different ways. Only by spending some quality time watching your thoughts, will you get a better sense of where your mind naturally goes. It’s like trying to better understand tv and commercials, you’d have to sit down and watch some television to know what it’s really all about.
For example, my mind naturally plans. If I’m sitting in meditation before breakfast, it will naturally want to plan every single step I’ll take to prepare my breakfast. It gets so obsessive about the breakfast planning that if I let my mind run wild, it’ll even decide how to most efficiently spread the peanut butter on the toast. It’s completely over the top.
Why does it benefit me to know that my mind does that?
Mainly, so that I can recognize when it’s obsessively planning again and stop it.
As you get better at recognizing your mind’s habits, you become better at recognizing when your mind is obsessively doing anything and learn to stop it.
Getting to know your thoughts is probably the most important benefit of mediation for me, mainly because it’s so hard to achieve through any other tactic. Become a pro at knowing what your mind is all about, this way you can learn how to control its wacky ways.
I am not my thoughts
The more time I spend watching my mind’s thoughts, the more I realize that I am not my thoughts.
My thoughts are there within my head, constantly blabbing on about anything and everything. That is the mind’s job.
But just because my mind creates a certain idea, for example how cool it would be to jump off this mountain top, it doesn’t mean that I actually believe or identify with the idea. It isn’t something I would say or actually want to do. The mind just blabbed it out, like it does so many other thoughts.
You really learn to disassociate from your thoughts as you get better acquainted with the different facets of your consciousness. There is one part of your consciousness that is quite beneficial to get to know, and it’s that part of your mind that watches your mind, but as an outsider. Let’s call this the observing mind.
To help you recognize the part of the mind I’m talking about, let’s do a quick exercise. Take 1 minute to not think of an elephant driving a shiny, red car. Whatever you do, don’t think about it. Ok, I have no doubt that you thought about it. The observing mind is that thought that said “Damn it! I thought of the damn elephant!”
This mind-watching observing part of you, can just sit outside the thoughts and notice them as they come along.
The more you meditate, the more you get to know the observing mind. The more you get to know that part of your being, the more confident you because in the fact that you are not your thoughts.
I know, that famous Descartes quote “I think, therefore I am” has been convincing us the complete opposite all along. But that old school idea is just harming you. As you meditate, you realize you can throw that idea and quote in the trash and embrace the idea that your thoughts and feelings are there, but they don’t define you. Your words, actions, and habits are much better representations of who you really are then your thoughts.
As you develop a comradery with your mind, you become better at recognizing the horrible stuff it says to you about yourself.
It’s hard to do this if you don’t take the time to hear the thoughts that are flowing through your mind. But as you spend more time in quiet and stillness with your mind, you notice the mean thoughts and slowly develop the ability to let those thoughts flow on by.
Like clouds in the sky, the thoughts of “You aren’t good enough!”, “How could you say/do such a horrible thing?” or “That’s why no one likes you” can just drift on by. No clinging or attachment.
These thoughts aren’t you or yours. They’re just as insignificant as the planning of how to spread my peanut butter or the idea to jump off the mountain. Unnecessary. Unbeneficial. But thankfully, totally manageable.
Find stillness and space within
We live in stressful times. Everyone’s working a ton, constantly on the go, distracted and overly engaged in social media or real life media, while trying to raise kids and maintain a partner, friendships and pets while staying in shape, eating right and trying not to lose your mind.
Meditation creates a dedicated space for stillness and just being. No planning, no judgment, to movement, no stress.
With all the busyness, everything we do is quick and impulsive. We eat quick, think quick, talk quick and react quicker than ever.
Which is why, saving some time for stillness and quietness is so luxurious.
The more you cultivate the space of stillness within, the easier it is to find when you need it.
Recognize emotions in your body
Of all the benefits of meditation, this one for me is the most tangible.
I have learned what happiness, sadness, stress, worry, love, excitement and fear feel like in my body. I know where in my body to look for each one and the exact sensation I’ll experience when the most common emotions arise.
I get an upside-down stomach when I’m nervous, I get a tight throat when I’m sad and I feel excitement in my diaphragm.
I’m not listing these sensations so that you know what these feelings will feel like in your body. In your body, they probably feel completely different.
Through meditation, you can get to know exactly how you experience feelings. This way, when you randomly get grumpy, you might catch the feeling before getting overly pissed off at someone randomly.
By recognizing the sensation of grumpiness in your body, you’ll know you’re grumpy and know that you might want to take a few deep breathes before going into that stressful meeting.
Let go of thoughts and feelings
I have a friend who lets his thoughts and feelings dominate his existence. He has given away his power fully to his mind. The impulsive, never ending mind chatter is what’s in charge. He insists that that’s the only way, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
But after years of meditating, I’ve realized that I am in control of my thoughts. They don’t control me.
Just like anything though, this comes with practice. You don’t just wake up one morning and know how to control the non-stop obsessive thinking about your man’s new gorgeous work pal. This is a skill that is developed through practice.
With every meditation practice, the art of taking the reins of your thoughts and feelings gets mastered. Sitting quietly as you watch how your mind generates, then releases these kinds of annoying thoughts, you become more confident that any thought that arises, you’ll be able to let go.
I am naturally an impatient person. I cringe when I’m stuck walking behind a slow-poke and just generally lose my cool quite easily with people who do things at a slower pace than I would.
It’s a pretty serious case of impatience.
Luckily, I’ve found a tool to help me learn to keep cool when things are happening slowly.
Meditation teaches me the beauty and reality of slow and conscious thoughts, actions, words, connections, and life.
Even after years of meditation, it still pops into my head a least once per sitting, that I’m bored, time is not moving quickly enough and that I just want to get up and get moving. But sitting through those thoughts reminds me that just like anything in life, thoughts are fleeting.
They come, they stay as long as I let them, then they leave.
They get as much or as little airtime as I give them.
Through meditation, I’ve learned to uncling to the idea that quicker is better.
Compassion for yourself and others
Compassion is the skillful art of lovingly showing up for those who are suffering with a desire to help. This isn’t about giving your opinion, advice or guiding the person down the path you think is best for them, but instead, allowing your love and presence to be how you help.
You are compassionate towards others when you are conscious of their suffering and provide them with love and support. Compassion towards oneself, again, is about giving yourself love and consciousness to eliminate suffering.
There are certain kinds of meditation practices, like Metta, that are specifically used to help cultivate compassion. By specifically focusing on your desire for others and yourself to be well, you develop the ability to be more compassionate.
What other llife-changing benefits of meditation have you noticed? Leave a comment below to let us know.
Jo created and writes for You Choose the Way, a place where she talks about the beauty of getting off the beaten path of life and finding your own true, authentic trail.