As I’ve noted previously in this post about how I started my meditation practice and in this one about how to develop your own, the true benefits are often lost on people. It’s perceived as “woo-woo” by many, and while I love myself some woo, this leads to many immediately dismissing it due to a perceived lack of true benefit. As if the benefits aren’t rooted in science.
My intention isn’t to list the results of scientific studies, but rather to demonstrate the real-life, universally applicable benefits that can be experienced from a consistent meditation practice. Meditation is one of my greatest passions, as I believe in the benefits wholeheartedly.
These benefits are often not immediately visible or perceivable by ourselves, although they can be. The effects are subtle in nature – building over time and eventually transforming the ways in which we interact with ourselves internally, our bodies, others, and triggering situations. It’s a magical transformation, really.
1. Familiarity with our internal dialogue
In today’s Western society, there’s no shortage of methods of distraction and ways to neglect our thoughts and emotions. It’s not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable in silence and stillness, as it leads to them being alone with their thoughts. Unfortunately, this is an incredibly novel experience for many.
If you fall into this category, you’re in a constant state of fear inside your own home due to an unfamiliarity with its inhabitants. What could be more anxiety inducing than that?
Through a consistent practice, we become aware and eventually familiar with the thoughts swirling in our minds, and when we’re exposed to new-to-us thoughts and ideas, we’re able to observe them rather than immediately react.
When it comes to our thoughts about food and our bodies, becoming familiar with negative thought patterns is imperative. Additionally, we begin to identify thought patterns that can lead to reaching for food when our bodies aren’t actually hungry.
2. Awareness of our body and its signals
As I noted in this post about hunger signals, it’s not uncommon to have zero awareness of what our bodies are saying to us. Meditation provides the stillness to tune into our physical being, to feel different areas of our bodies, and to practice listening to what they’re telling us.
An easily accessible way to begin tuning into your body is a body scan during meditation. After you close your eyes and settle into a comfortable seat, begin by focusing on the sensations in your toes, and move your awareness up your body – up your legs, into your hips, lower and upper stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, back, jaw, and head.
I recommend keeping a journal of any unique or new-to-you sensations you experience. If everything feels new, that’s OK too! It isn’t commonplace to be tuned in to our bodies, especially if we’ve been enacting extreme dieting or exercise behaviors, so it can feel like foreign territory at first.
You’ll begin to notice greater awareness of your body’s signals throughout your day-to-day activities, and it will become much easier to understand what it needs. But again, this is a practice and it takes time, so patience is key.
3. Ability to observe our thoughts rather than react to them
While we become familiar with routine thought patterns, there are always new experiences and thoughts that surface throughout our lives. These may be due to completely novel experiences and stimuli, or they may be a result of deeply-rooted experiences held in our subconscious (triggers).
These may arise during meditation, but they often occur while we’re actively experiencing things in the world.
Our time spent in meditation, observing our thoughts without judgment, translates into how we respond to these triggering thoughts or situations throughout our days.
In these instances, we can use to skill we’ve developed during meditation and now have the ability to pause and observe our mind’s initial reactions. We’re able to use our minds rather than the inverse.
4. Responding to triggers with greater space and awareness
Once we’ve developed the skill of observing thoughts outside of our meditation practice, we begin to notice our trigger patterns and are able to actively choose how to respond to people, situations, places, words, etc.
For example, family interactions can be a trigger for many people. When a family member says something that triggers us and we feel the urge to respond with an impulsive, negative reaction, we can recognize this in the moment and become curious about our impulse to react through space.
In this space, which can be a few seconds to a number of days, we’re able to decide how to respond from a place of calm and one that is in integrity with our higher selves, not our egos (“monkey brain”).
5. Awareness of who we think we are, who really are, and the distance between the two
As we continue to develop our ability to create space between our thoughts and our actions, we increase our awareness of the ways we show up in the world that are a product of conditioning and are not in alignment with who we really are (or choose to be). This the difference between our egos and our souls. Between our monkey brains and our authentic selves.
Do I really believe there is something wrong with my cellulite, or did I assume this narrative at a young age?
Is my fear of carbs rational, or is it the result of misinformation or the attachment of my worthiness to my food choices?
Am I picking apart my body because it’s what I observed growing up, or do I truly feel like I need to look perfect to be loved?
Am I voicing this political opinion because it was the way I was raised? Or do I really feel this way?
Is this jealous reaction who I truly am, or is it the response of previous experiences that led me to believe there isn’t enough to go around for all women?
Am I participating in gossip because it’s a habit and a product of my social conditioning? Is this behavior in alignment with my truest values?
It’s not uncommon for there to be an uncomfortably large gap between who we’ve been showing up as vs. who we really are or want to be, and this is where the urge to distract or numb surfaces.
For me, I realized that I had been conditioned to believe that I had to please everyone in order to be loved. If I said no, drew a boundary, or expressed my pain, then I was a burden and unworthy. This realization meant I had a lot of work ahead of me and plenty of baggage to unpack, and it was terrifying initially. However, the notion of staying the same was even more terrifying.
Don’t run from this benefit of the practice – it’s one of the most beautiful benefits!
Similar to any other habit, it takes discipline and consistency to see improvement and to experience the benefits, and this is especially true in the beginning.
When I first started my meditation practice, I didn’t have any first-hand guidance and quite honestly, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. But I did know that I wouldn’t see any benefits without practicing.
I figured that at the very least, I was training myself to commit to doing something for five minutes every morning. I was improving my ability to commit to a goal, to commit to myself, and to continue despite the experience of frustration or discomfort.
Five minutes per day is manageable for almost every person – it’s a matter of making the time, setting the timer, and choosing to practice despite the confusion or discomfort.
Learning to practice discipline is a benefit in and of itself, and the time commitment of just five minutes makes the barrier to entry incredibly low (i.e. almost no excuses).
Meditation is a consistent part of my life, and during the few periods of taking a couple weeks or months off, the difference was palpable. This may or may not have been visible to an external eye (I didn’t ask), but the differences in my own internal experience, my connection to myself, my connection to my body, my connection to others, and the ways in which I showed up in the world were stark.
I strongly encourage everyone to commit to a meditation practice of thirty days – just five minutes per day. You can refer to my post here to walk you through the basics, but don’t be afraid to leverage a guided meditation app or youtube videos if you prefer.
Commit to yourself for five minutes a day, and at the very least, you’ll develop a stronger sense of discipline. But you just may uncover a whole new awareness of yourself, your body, loved ones, triggering people and situations, and the world around you – who wouldn’t want that?