The most common question I get asked is…
“Do I need to meditate regularly to be mindful?”
Normally I say “not necessarily” because I know some people simply don’t get on with meditation and that’s OK. Daily meditation has been such a big part of my own mindfulness journey however, that I couldn’t not recommend it. I’m not perfect and I do have spells of not meditating daily, but I definitely feel the effects when I don’t. I always feel better once I’ve dusted myself off, forgiven myself and started again. So, what is so amazing about a daily meditation practice? Here are my thoughts.
Daily meditation is definitely the corner stone of my self-care practice. It provides time and space to be alone and retreat from the sometimes overwhelming train of thoughts in our heads and the many demands that are placed on us. Meditation feels like the deepest retreat from this stimulus and I don’t need to spend the whole day doing it to feel the benefits. 10-20 minutes is usually enough for me to achieve that sense of space and soothe my introvert soul. This time out also gives me chance to reflect on what I need, and consider what else I need to do, to make sure I feel rested enough to keep giving my energy to my family and job.
In fact, this self-awareness extends beyond just my self-care practice. I find that when I meditate on a daily basis, I have much more clarity of thought and make better decisions. The Buddhist notion of ‘equanimity’ describes a sense of ‘spacious awareness’ that changes our perspective on our thoughts. Rather than seeing them as all-encompassing and requiring immediate reaction, with equanimity we see them as much smaller parts of a greater, spacious whole. This space allows us to explore thoughts and feelings without jumping to any immediate conclusions and to recognise that they are but one part of a much bigger picture. “With equanimity, you can deal with situations with calm and reason while keeping your inner happiness.” – The Dalai Lama.
I also feel like a better person when I’m meditating every day. At the heart of mindfulness is the development of awareness and meditation is normally the tool that helps us maintain this skill. Every time we meditate we are training our brain to pay attention, on purpose, to a specific facet of our awareness (be that sounds, sensations, thoughts or emotions). In neuroscience, the term ‘neuroplasticity’ refers to our ability to consciously re-shape the way our brain behaves. As we develop awareness, we also develop the ability to change our habitual behaviours for the better by consciously taking a different path. As we repeat this new pattern, we strengthen new connections within our brain and create new, better habits. Maintaining these connections takes work however. Meditation is a bit like training for a run. You can’t train to run a marathon and then expect to be able to run a marathon a year later without any further training. You have to keep running on a regular basis.
Probably the most immediate benefit that people report with meditation and the one that keeps on growing is a sense of wellbeing. Meditation calms the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (which helps to calm us down). This improves our body’s ability to deal with stress and reduces the physical and emotional symptoms. If I do have a spell of not meditating for a while, I definitely feel my ability to deal calmly with stressful situations is diminished.
A growing benefit I have also started to notice is my own sense of completeness and wholeness. Pretty much our whole society is geared up to make us think of ourselves as incomplete or in need of ‘something’. How often do we sit there and feel completely content with who we are and the life we’re living? There’s always another exam, another promotion, another product, another experience to be had that will make it better. With meditation, we’re able to set aside these thoughts for a while and journey inwards to our true self. The self that is complete and whole and valuable without any further adjustment or ‘work’. This isn’t something that happens overnight, but the result of regular, daily practice. Of spending many meditation sessions simply acknowledging your thoughts and setting them aside over and over again. Of stripping away the years of conditioning and thought patterns, until your get closer and closer to the core. To you.
So that’s five ways that a daily meditation practice can help you to feel amazing.
If you’re facing difficulties in establishing a regular meditation practice, do let me know in the comments. I’m going to be writing a series of posts about meditation and I’d love to cover any specific issues that you are having.