I love meditation.
But I feel like that’s a strange sentence. It’s kind of like saying “I love sports.” There are a million different kinds of meditation: Body scan, mindfulness, mantra, loving kindness, transcendental, breathing, visualization, contemplative, affirmations, etc. Meditations ranges from the very scientific to the very spiritual, from the very basic to the very ritualistic, and from the very thought/idea-filled to the very quiet/empty.
There are also so many different purposes in meditation: Releasing stress, freeing yourself from constant judgments, slowing down, finding peace, appreciating life, building confidence, accepting yourself and the way things are, feeling present and thankful, increasing physical or mental health, and the list goes on.
So to say I love meditation is to make a very broad statement. I’m not sure I want to narrow it down much, though, because I haven’t yet found a type of meditation that, when truly embraced, doesn’t seem to provide some good and some peace.
I personally have done more mindfulness meditation, breath awareness, mantras, and contemplative meditations than other kinds, so that may be worth knowing when I share a few of the ways meditation has helped me. But at the same time: I’m not you. I encourage you to
try (“try” might be the worst word to use about meditating) various kinds meditation with an open mind and see if one helps you. Keeping in mind that many kinds of meditation will not feel like they “work” for a very long time, if ever. In fact, for some kinds, not having to “work” or “make a difference” is the exact point.
I’m no guru or yogi and it’s not like I spend hours every day meditating. But meditation has become a pretty regular part of my life, and I’ve found that it has helped me in more than a few ways. Here are just seven ways it’s helped me that I hope might pique your interest:
1. Releasing physical tension and pain.
I’m starting with an interesting one, because I have found a lot of peoples’ experience with “spiritual” and “out there” things has turned them off to meditation: It’s too weird. It is weird, but it can help even the most down-to-earth realist (which used to be me).
Meditation has actually made a significant difference for me with chronic headaches and muscle tension. Like many others, I “carry my stress” in my neck and shoulders. Massages and hot showers help because they relax tense muscles. In the same way, meditating can help by relaxing your tense muscles. Body scans and deep breathing have been especially helpful for me in calming and relaxing tense areas, and they often provide quick relief. Other meditations that help with developing peace and acceptance also provide more lasting help in relieving the stress that causes physical tension.
2. Stress relief and management.
People have a million different strategies for “stress management.” Stress seems to be a universal part of the human experience. For me, meditation has done more than almost anything else in the world to release stress–both in the moment when worked up or anxious, and longer term through regular practice.
Often mantras, chants, and other similar meditations which reflect on a hopeful, calming, relieving truth or idea really help to reduce stress. What has been especially helpful for me in this area, though, is mindfulness meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn has created an entire program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that has been used in work places, hospitals, and more to help people reduce stress, which in turn leads to many other health benefits. One of the key aspects of mindfulness meditation is the incredibly simple allowing and accepting of things, relaxing from the constant strain of wishing everything was different.
For those of you who experience times of intense stress (so, all of you), various forms of meditation can be very helpful in the moment to calm down and regain clarity.
3. Getting through anxiety
I’ve dealt this last year with a lot of anxiety, and mindfulness meditations, deep breathing, mantras, and guided meditations have definitely been in the top three or four things that have helped me deal healthily with and find hope and peace during anxious times. I know anxiety can be a very dark and scary and draining experience, and I hope that if you sometimes experience it, you’ll try some meditation for yourself. I’d encourage you to look up some guided meditations Thich Nhat Hanh or Jon Kabat-Zinn and try it–see if it gives you a little break and helps you find some peace and strength in your anxiety.
4. Getting and staying in touch with myself.
All of life is crammed full of noise, ideas and thoughts and emotions being forced on you, people trying to influence you, events shaping your mood and impacting your mental health. I bet you totally get when I’m saying when I say it’s all to easy to lose touch with yourself.
Meditation can be extremely helpful when it comes to regaining self-awareness and staying in touch with yourself–your emotions, your dreams, your desires, and your own thoughts. Body scans and contemplative meditations have been very helpful for myself in this area. A lot of people think that meditation is about trying to get rid of all thoughts, but many types are not. In fact, some meditations are all about providing space for your mind to wander and think thoughts it doesn’t usually have the time or safety to think. One of the most helpful practices I’ve ever incorporated into my day-to-day life is sitting alone in silence for ten minutes with no agenda, just allowing my mind the time and space to run free.
5. Noticing the little things.
Meditation is a really great way to slow down your mind. It is hard not to get carried away in the fast pace of daily busyness, constantly having to worry about a hundred things and keep track of a hundred more. One of the healthiest, happiest things you can do is slow down enough to start noticing and appreciating the little things around you again. Meditating has really helped me with this.
When you just be quiet and sit in silence, your mind is sometimes able to calm down further and further, to let go of some of its intense stress about the past or about the future. And then, at least in my experience, the Present around you suddenly comes to life. You remember that there is a giant world full of beautiful present moments all around you, every day, a world that you don’t usually see. And the more frequently you get quiet enough to see it, the easier it becomes to find.
6. Developing the ability to quickly re-center or re-focus when needed day to day.
Somewhat related to the last one about finding the little things in this present moment, getting in touch with the Present also helps find perspective that we are too often missing. Slowing down and stepping out of the mind’s busy cycle of manufactured stress offers helpful reminders that everything really is okay, that life is more than our current chaos and worries, and that we are safer than we feel.
The more frequently you visit this place of perspective in quiet meditation, getting practice stepping outside of the constant rushing mental stress cycle, the easier it becomes to access this perspective and peace at any time you need it during crazy day-to-day life. The more regularly I have practiced meditation, the easier it is for me to refocus and regain a big picture perspective when I’m busy stressing about little chaotic life things. Stress has a way of completely blinding you, and meditation can help you to keep a clearer head.
7. Becoming more compassionate toward myself and others.
Meditation has a way of making you feel very deeply human. It strips away outer layers of styles and plans and accomplishments and messages and everything else that we see and judge every day. Mindfulness meditation particularly has really helped me accept things just the way they are without needing to constantly be judging–myself or others. It is an active practice of observing without judging, of fully accepting. Learning this and practicing this makes being compassionate to yourself or to other people very natural.
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.” – Sylvia Boorstein
So what do you think? Have you tried any kinds of meditation? What has it done for you?
I hope that if you haven’t already, you give meditation a shot. Or that if you’ve tried and been discouraged by distraction or invisible results, you’ll give it another shot. I hope that if you try meditation, you find it helps you as much as it has helped me. If you want any suggestions or pointers on where to start, let me know!