“True happiness is not out there. True happiness lies within.”
– Og Mandino
It has been exactly one year this month since I started practicing meditation.
I attended a month-long 200 hour Hatha Yoga teacher training course in Mysore, India last August.
This was where I learned how to meditate.
Monday to Friday I attended a one-hour group meditation class. Each class the teacher would increase the time we spent meditating.
The first few classes started with a 5-minute session followed by group discussion. As the days and weeks passed we progressed up to 45 minute sessions.
At the end of the 30 days I felt like I had learned a lot and improved my ability to sit. I felt much calmer with fewer thoughts. I still was unsure about what meditation was though.
(Check out this post for information on how to meditate)
My Yoga group in India
During September I kept my practice up but found it challenging because I was doing a lot of traveling.
At the beginning of October I attended a 10-day retreat in Suan Mokkh in the south of Thailand.
This again refocused me and gave me much more perspective about the practice.
The first few days were challenging because of the complete silence and long sitting sessions. It was also a different style of meditation to what I had learned in India.
At the end of the 10 days I felt rejuvenated. The retreat was like a complete detox from the noise of life. I gained a lot of insight about myself, my actions and my patterns of thinking.
So what have I learned?
Meditation is like any other skill in life. Be it a musical instrument, a language or social skills. To improve at it you have to put in the time.
Before doing the yoga course I had tried to meditate a few times.
It felt like some hippy fad that didn’t do anything. I would try it every few days but not every day. This always led to frustration and quitting.
I learned that making a daily habit of something is important to notice the effects. I had to continue to practice daily until I noticed the benefits.
It wasn’t until about 6 months into the practice that I started feeling the impact of meditation.
1. Meditation Increases Your Awareness
What it has helped with is realizing and becoming aware of my present feeling. Be it stress, anxiety or gratitude. Because of this awareness I feel I am much more in control of my feelings and emotions.
If you look at your life like taking a walk in a forest. You cannot see in front or behind you. There are trees everywhere. You don’t know if the route you are taking is the best.
Meditation allows you to take a step back to see the entire forest allowing you to make smarter decisions.
2. Meditation Makes You More Grateful
Moving on from the first point. Being more aware of myself I can see and observe all of the amazing people and things in my life. Something I didn’t do before. Maybe because I was always going or doing something and not reflecting. Meditation has given me the time to be by myself and to take note of all the great things in my life.
3. Meditation Makes You More Present
I have also found myself being more present. Before I would always be looking forward to the next thing. On my way home, I would be looking forward to my dinner, or meeting a friend. Then when I got there I would be thinking about tomorrow. It was like I could never just sit with content and be in the moment.
At the time I never realized this but through the awareness built from the practice now I am. I can also respond with more awareness when I revert back to this mindset.
To reinforce this I like to ask myself where I am. I like to repeat what I am doing in my head.
E.g. I am walking the stairs to my apartment but my mind will be somewhere else, like I’m thinking about a conversation I had earlier. Then I catch myself (awareness) and say “you are walking the stairs”.
This simply brings me back to the here and now. Another example is when I am waiting for something to finish like a bus ride. Instead of longing for it to be over I find it much easier to enjoy the journey.
4. Meditation Has Improved My Focus
If you think of your brain the same as a computer hard drive, over time the computer slows as more files are downloaded. If you want to improve the speed again you have to clean your hard drive. Meditation acts the same with your brain. It helps to filter out all of the noise you build up each day.
This has improved my focus and productivity. The act of sitting silently each day has strengthened my willpower and mental resolve. In the past I would give up or switch to a more stimulating activity much quicker. Meditation has reduced the occurrence of this.
5. Meditation is a Great Foundation for Other Positive Habits
The most positive impact for me has been the other habits I have formed since starting meditation. It has provided a positive foundation in my life. It is something that sets my day up for success.
The difference I have between the days I wake and meditate in comparison to the days I sleep in and check email are stark.
In the last year I have adopted the following positive habits.
- Writing a minimum of 50 words daily.
- Reading a minimum of 20 pages daily – 25 books since January and counting (my goal is 50).
- Learning Thai daily – 5 new words each day.
- 50 pushups a day – 2 sets of 25 reps. Every four weeks I add 10 reps.
Meditation taught me the power and importance of doing small amounts each day. In the past I would do things inconsistently but now I see the benefit in doing a little bit each day. (To read more on building habits check out this post )
6. Meditation Improves Your Energy
In the last 12 months I have felt an improvement in my energy. We have all heard the negative impact of stress on our health. Stress also drains your energy.
Think about the difference in your energy between a calm relaxing day and a stressful day. You are physically and emotionally drained after a stressful day. Meditation is great for recharging after a busy day at work.
Downside to Meditation
Now on the other side of things meditation is not the answer to all of life’s problems.
In Chiang Rai, Thailand I met a French guy who has attended numerous 10 day Vipassana retreats. He said after one of the retreats he adopted the lifestyle for the following 6 months.
Each day he would wake at 4.30am and meditate 4-8 hours earning him the nickname “the monk”. As you can imagine he developed a very deep practice and found huge benefits from the lifestyle.
But not all of the changes he experienced were positive.
It became an addiction. Something he could not stop doing. He become absent from the real world living in his head.
This is the complete other side of meditation, when you lose touch with reality and begin to spend more time in your head.
Another downside is when you get stressed or maybe have a problem at work or in a relationship. You meditate to stop the stress but you don’t deal with the present problem.
You choose to avoid reality with meditation in the hope it will disappear. While the meditation does deal with the stress you are avoiding addressing problems in the real world.
These are my main insights from my first year of meditation.
I am in no way an expert. I am at the beginning of my meditation journey and I would like you to join me.
A great starting place is a 10 day Vipassana retreat. You will learn more about yourself during them ten days than you may have learned about yourself to date.
So take sometime out of your day for yourself. You deserve it.
Start with as little as 2 minutes and build it up over the weeks and months.
If you have any questions or experiences with meditation please share in the comments below.