the benefits of meditation

I am super excited to be writing this article on Meditation!   It is something that I have been contemplating for a long time and it's appropriate that it is my first blog post!  I personally have been practicing meditation for a number of years, but have felt that I made some really significant breakthroughs this past year and would like to share with you some of the methods I used to enhance and amplify my practice!

The reason I call it a “practice” is because in simple terms, that is exactly what it is.  Practice.   The reason many people give up or do not continue with mediation is they feel it is too hard to learn, or they are not getting anything out of it.  But like any skill we learn in life (like driving a car/bike or learning to play an instrument) it takes practice!  Also, what you get out of it is typically not what most people are expecting.  You don’t suddenly feel like all your troubles have vanished and you don’t see Angels or feel waves of bliss (at least not in the beginning).  To be honest, in the beginning it does “feel” hard to do and somewhat confusing.   But if you go into it with an open mind, and minimal expectations, the long-term benefits are tremendous!  I’m talking life changing!

So lets start at the beginning.  The very first time I meditated; I seriously spent the whole time thinking: What the heck is going on? Am I supposed to feel something?  Am I supposed to see something?  What do you mean “quiet your mind”?  How the heck am I supposed to do that?  Don’t you realize everything I have going on right now??  This is kind of dumb…

So I did it once and left it.  Years later I attended some group Guided Meditation classes that I really enjoyed, but the group dissolved and so did my meditation time.

But then a few years ago, I was in the middle of a tremendously stressful situation.  I wasn’t sleeping, I was consuming too much alcohol, I was gaining weight and had what was probably the beginning of an ulcer.  Randomly, a cell phone app named “Head Space” came up in my Facebook news feed and I just had the urge to give it a go again.   So I downloaded the app and did some of the guided meditations that app provided.  They start out as 5 minute sessions and worked up from there.  I did these guided sessions for oh, probably a couple months and then did what many people do, I just stopped.  I couldn’t find the time, I was too busy, it didn’t really feel like I was getting anything out of it (on and on my excuses went).  And so continued my incredibly stressful year. 

By this time, I had gained so much weight I was having trouble with my blood pressure.  I wasn’t sleeping at night and I truly was beginning to worry about my over all health.  I decided to really commit to meditation.  I thought to myself “I will commit 5 minutes a day.  How on earth can I not find 5 minutes a day to give myself??”.  So, this time I down-loaded another phone app called “Calm”.  It too, had many guided meditations that I really enjoyed.  In the beginning I had to force myself to do them every morning.  (And believe me, some days it was hard).  It seems so silly now looking back, to have to justify giving myself 5 or 10 minutes in the morning, but that’s what it was like.  But I was determined!  I did the guided meditations everyday like clockwork.  And you know what?  I really started to enjoy my morning time.  And I really started to miss it if I didn’t do it! 

One of the first tricks I found to actually quiet my mind and benefit from the meditation was to count my breaths.  It is a trick many guided meditations encourage, and it really does work!  The point is to focus your mind and not allow it to wander.  The other extremely beneficial trick I found was to be easy with myself.  Some days I could really focus and not allow my thoughts to wander and other days my mind felt like a runaway train that couldn’t be stopped.  But on those wild crazy thinking days, I simply accepted it and resigned myself that tomorrow would be better.   

On my continued path of reducing stress and benefiting my health I started to research meditation more and more.  One of the other “tricks” I found to bridge the gap from guided meditations to self guided meditation was to use a monotonous sound to focus on.  I was finding many of the guided meditations I was now using somewhat distracting.  I could feel myself going deeper into a meditative state but would often be jumped out of it by the voice of the person leading the guided meditation. 

I discovered on my Calm App that they had an option called “Timed Meditation”.  The background sound on the app had a calming outdoor sound option (sort of like being at the lake).  I love being outside and particularly love being in nature, so this sound really resonated with me!   I was able to isolate a specific sound in that option that sounded like a rushing river.  So I began doing my own timed meditation with just that sound playing in my ears (with the use of headphones). 

I should mention here that you can use any repetitive sound you like to mediate with!  Using an app like “Calm” is great, but you can also use a dripping faucet to focus on, the sound of a fan, an air conditioner, a clothes dryer or any other repetitive sound you prefer!   Just as long as you find it calming and somewhat boring.  Something you can focus on, but not really think too much about.  Most people don’t listen to the sound of their furnace and think “wow that is an amazing sounding furnace!  I’ve never heard such a great sounding furnace”.   Most sounds like that are simply in the background and you often don’t even hear them.  Those are the best kind!  The ones you can focus on but not really notice at the same time.

So I resigned my self to try these self guided meditations just listening to my nature track.  I started with just 10 minutes because I was concerned it would feel like forever to just sit by myself and think about nothing.  Well in very short time, I was finding that 10 minutes went by too quick!  I bumped up my time to 15 minutes and then 20 minutes. 

I have stayed at 20 minutes now for over a year.  I find the 20-minute mark to be long enough to fully get into a meditative state, but not too long as to make my morning routine excessive.  And don’t kid yourself, even after all this time I still have days where I can’t fully quiet my mind and just like when I first started out, I am easy with myself, I don’t judge and know that the next day will be better.  

What benefits have I gotten from continuous meditation?  Well to start, I deal with stress so much better.  I don’t overreact as much anymore and I have learned to just roll with the days that feel harsh.  I have gotten my weight under control, I don’t drink alcohol at all anymore and I am working on my fitness levels.  I did have to make lifestyle changes in order to achieve some of these results, but I know in my heart I wouldn’t have been able to make those changes without meditation. 

In addition, some of the benefits I’ve received are hard to explain or define.  All I can say is you feel better after you meditate.    You just do.  Its one of those things that once you make the time for it on a regular basis, you can’t do without it!

So my advice to you is to start with 5 minutes and just count your breaths.  One….two….one….two….   Or count to 10 and start again.   Or use a guided meditation app like Calm or Headspace!  Both of these apps are great for beginners and give you the basic skills to continue down the path to feeling better, sleeping better and many other amazing health benefits!

And remember!  Don’t judge yourself.  Don’t have high expectations.  Just breath.  Just do it!

Honestly, its just 5 minutes.  Every day has 1440 minutes in it!  Anyone can spare 5 minutes out of that!

So stay calm and meditate on!