How Meditation Can Improve Your Life

I’m an avid meditator. I’ve been meditating since my undergraduate years in university. To this day, I do my best to commit 15 minutes most mornings to the practice, and at times I sit for longer periods when needed or desired – on a handful of occasions, that’s been up to 3 hours.  

Up to 3 hours!?… That’s a long time. Yes, it sure is. Just to be clear, this amount of time is not necessary to experience the benefits of meditation. The benefits of mindfulness have been reported with as little as 10-minutes per day.

So, what can meditation look like? Here’s an example:

First, sitting.

Self-supported, dignified, upright posture. Eyes resting gently, partially open, on the floor just in front of me. Deep, belly breathing, in through the nose, out through the nose. Slowly, rhythmically, in and out. Feeling the presence of others in the room (if in a group setting). Knowing they are doing the same. Noticing sounds around me. Breathing, shifting, cars driving by, a baby crying. Noticing that I’m getting distracted by a thought. Returning my focus back to my breath, in and out. Feeling strength in my body, warmth, and relaxation.

Then, walking.

Right foot, lifting off the ground, slowly, noticing the muscles at work. Placing it on the floor with the heel first, then the ball, and finally, the toes. Feeling my weight shift to the right side as my left heel lifts, then the ball, and finally, the toes. I notice the muscles carrying my left leg forward, slowly. Feeling the sensation of bare feet on cool hardwood, a bit sticky. Feeling the weight of my body, the effort needed to stay balanced. Catching myself a few times from falling. Usually to the right side, I notice. Around in circles we go.

Next, sitting again.  

Trying a new position this time. Same drill as last. Except now, starting to feel some discomfort in my back. My left foot falls asleep. Pins and needles. The sensation transforms from tingling to numbness. I can’t feel my left foot. I wonder if this is what it’s like not to have a foot. I decide to move it a little to be kind to myself. Done. Still asleep. Maybe another shift. Noticing these thoughts, bringing my mind back to the breath. It doesn’t matter, my foot’s not going to fall off. My back is still uncomfortable, even more now. I wonder if the time is almost up. Back to the breath, noticing shifting in the room.

And, then, back to walking, continuing the cycle.

Often, I am asked, “why do you do it?”

Of course, the experience is different for everyone, and a wealth of clinical trials will put forth too many benefits to talk about here, but this is why I practice meditation, and why you might benefit, too:

1 |  Meditation helps us slow down.

We’re in a mad rush most of the time. We’ve got so many jobs to do and roles to play that it can feel like there’s never enough time. Meditation allows us to experience the opposite. During meditation, we can rest our brain and experience a sense of “there’s nowhere else I have to be right now, and nothing else I have to do.” The slowing of time is like a breath of fresh air, and it often results in us slowing down throughout the rest of our day, something that can actually be accompanied by a greater sense of efficiency.

2 |  Meditation helps us savour the small things.

We’re surrounded by a lot of stimulation these days. It can be hard to devote attention to any one thing. Meditation helps us develop the skill of mono-tasking by focusing attention on one thing at a time, whether it be the breath, sounds, or watching thoughts come and go. Meditation also trains our brain to pick up the details in simple experiences. The breath, for example, can be transformed into a rhythm with variations in pace, depth, temperature, and sound. We might be surprised to find ourselves entertained by such simple beauty, and picking up on more of these experiences when we’re not meditating.   

3 |  Meditation helps us become “responsive” rather than “reactive.”

Responsiveness involves a lot more choice than reactiveness, the latter of which is largely emotions-based. When meditating, we can learn to observe our emotions, whether pleasant or uncomfortable. By stepping back, we can skillfully watch them pass by without clinging to them. Instead of getting caught up in the feeling of pins and needles in my foot, for example, I remained present with the discomfort, and soon my mind calmed. When we notice our experiences, we can see with greater clarity when we react in unhelpful ways. This gives us agency in making more helpful decisions moving forward.

4 |  Meditation helps us get in touch with ourselves.

Through the stillness and silence that meditation offers, we’re given an opportunity to meet with our true self. In other words, we can get in touch with who’s really inside instead of who we think we should be. As difficult as it can be to sit in the absence of distractions, it’s also important to be clear and honest with ourselves about what’s most important to us, what we value, and how we know to best approach various situations in our lives.   

5 |  Meditation helps us connect with others.

Of course, this one applies especially if we meditate with a group of like-minded individuals. Meditating solo can be a powerful experience, but meditating with others naturally provides a sense of belonging. Regardless, meditating can increase feelings of compassion towards other living beings, whether it be someone we’re close to, a stranger, the plants and animals on the earth, or planet earth itself. This feeling of inherent connection is a critical part of mental health and impacts how well we treat those around us.