When I was 23, naïve and thought I had it all figured out, I lived with a girl who would go to a meditation class once a day, sometimes for hours on end. I found this incredibly strange. How she could ever sit completely still for that length of time was beyond baffling. Why she needed to calm herself down that much concerned me. What was wrong with her? I simply didn’t understand.Then, a year passed and circumstances in my life took a turn for the worse. I found myself in a state of distress and anxiety. That’s when I remembered my “strange” roommate. I recalled how she’d always talk about how much happier meditation made her. And, while I wasn’t quite sure I believed it, I was looking for anything — a quick-fix solution to relieve me of my issues. So, off to a guided meditation class I went.
Now, a year later, I meditate at least 3 times a week in a class and then for ten minutes a night on my own. My earlier assumptions towards my roommate and her “hippie meditating ways” were proven wrong. Incredibly wrong, actually. Meditation gave me the ability to accept harsh situations, find more space for joy in my mind, and clear and make sense of my thoughts. My roommate was a genius!
When not understood, or not given a chance, meditation to the uninitiated can seem like a strange practice. But I, along with so many others, are proof that meditation can offer intense benefits.
For Samy Rose, the Co-Founder of One Life Yoga – a studio and healing center in Pasadena- meditation helped change her future for the better. Her story for starting meditation is like mine in that she sought the practice for relief.
“I had a rough childhood that graduated into a wildly damaging and unhinged youth. A lot of my experience was perpetuated because of my internalized pain and inability to move and heal through it. Eventually, my pain was a constant state I lived in and I became numb to avoid the intense feelings of despair. This was debilitating and as I continued to flail, it became self-inflicted and self-destructive. I could not shift and could not move on. I stayed very stuck in the past and therefore did not look forward to the future,” Samy said.
At first, Samy turned to other methods for help.
“I was subjected to and/or attempted many different ways to become ‘cured’ of my apathetic and disconnected quality of living—many of these ways included traditional Western methods, such as therapy, rehabilitation, prescription medicine, and the list goes on,” she said.
Then she found meditation and in it, she also found solace. When asked how meditation feels for her, she couldn’t quite put into words how helpful the practice has been for her since she began.
“I feel how simple, profound, and beautiful existence really is and allow myself to breathe and Be. To be aware, connected, released, and at peace. It all becomes one and the surrender to this flow around and within me is when I truly let go and meditate,” Samy answered.
There are countless other stories like mine and Samy’s that exemplify how helpful, comforting and uplifting meditation can be. But trust me, I know how daunting starting meditation can be. Seriously, who has time to just sit idle for even a few minutes a day? You aren’t alone in that thought process. That’s why both Samy and I are here to help you make sense of the work and grasp where to even begin with it.
All right, what are the benefits of meditation?
Well now, that’s a good question! It’s probably important to know how meditation can help you in the first place.
For me, meditation meant relief from being stuck in my own thought patterns and mind. For a while, I felt so muddled down by an endless stream of worries and thoughts in my head that I felt as though my whole world was clouded. I couldn’t think straight or put my ideas into words, I was so bogged down.
Meditation helped me sort through the hazy water and gain clarity and focus. Now when I’m overwrought with ceaseless worries, I can turn to meditation to help me see that my thoughts are not facts and that if I just allow myself to slow down and breathe, my issues are not nearly as upsetting as they may seem.
Or, if they are as difficult as my mind is leading me to believe, meditation helps me gain a new perspective on whatever is happening in my life and hence handle it or let it go from there.
That type of letting go is also a benefit Samy has experienced
“A total physical and metaphysical release and renewal. Our relationship with our self heals when we can unplug from all the variables of the world as we construct it… and then we can live closer to how we actually should be and exist. Once we learn to connect with our self, everything else seems much less heavy, stressful, unchangeable, and more blissful,” she said.
Meditation can greatly improve your mental health and even helps with known disorders.
“Meditation has eased anxiety, helped our students deal with daily stress and specific trauma, improved relationships and self-esteem, motivated them to make more positive choices and healthy habits/behaviors… the list doesn’t end!” Samy said.
The benefits don’t stop there, either. Meditation can also increase your physical well-being.
“From a statistical perspective, there are numerous studies that show how our emotions and stress levels affect our hormones, muscles, and… everything! Meditation is a beautiful form of mental and spiritual clarity, allowing us to be our best selves in body as well as soul,” Samy said.
Meditation’s effects can be felt differently by everyone. Some release stress, others connect with their creative selves, but whatever the experience may be, with time, practice, openness and commitment, it’s always a positive.
I’m Ready to try Meditation, Now What?
First and foremost, I’m thrilled that you’re ready try meditation. Welcome to the good side! You will soon discover what a beautiful process this is.
“Just wanting to learn is a big first step! I think meditation is best received and integrated when we approach it from any starting point that makes sense for our current lifestyle. It is a daily practice and constant way of existing. Whether we fully immerse in the lifestyle, take a class, begin to explore books or literature, or just relax, all of these and more bring us closer to the peace we seek in meditation,” said Samy.
To begin, I suggest using an app first. Going straight into a guided meditation class can be both intimidating and confusing. Not to mention that classes are half an hour long and sometimes longer depending on the format and studio. For a beginner, handling that time can be difficult. It’s necessary to learn the basics in order to take longer classes or to meditate without a guide, so apps like Headspace can help prepare you for more.
“Start simple unless you really want to dive in! Ask yourself, what can you do to authentically approach meditation? We all begin somewhere in our journey to the same place,” Samy said.
When you start off, you have to be taught how to use your breath, the idea of letting thoughts come and go as they may, along with other concepts such as visualization. So, apps or YouTube videos that cater to newbies are a great step one.
“My tried-and-true #1 tip?… begin with your breath. Find a place you can calmly focus on your breath so you can un-focus your mind into meditation. Don’t feel discouraged or upset if and when you over think while you’re practicing… this is all about un-thinking! Relax your mind and every part of yourself into your breath,” Samy said.
Practice, practice, practice:
Once you’ve learned the basic concepts and methods of meditating, it’s up to you to practice the exercises to grow stronger in them.
When I’m in class, I can sometimes completely “Zen out,” if you will and focus. Other times, my mind goes a million miles an hour with thoughts of tasks yet to be done and worries coming at me that week.
At the same time, it‘s important to know that if your thoughts do run rampage while you’re meditating, that that’s completely fine, normal and acceptable. With time, they will likely decrease and the full benefits of meditating can be felt.
That’s why utilizing apps or classes you find online, while eventually attending in- person classes is important. Each time you meditate you will learn more and more what it feels like to find space in your mind, free yourself from your thoughts and achieve the calmness and clarity that only meditation can offer.
Hopefully now you more fully understand what meditation is about and all the great things it can do for your life. If Samy and I have inspired you to try meditation at all, then I suggest you head on over to the app store and download an app like Headspace and get started today.
Photo credit: Unsplash by Daniel Apodaca