What effects can Mindfulness Meditation have on your life?
These benefits have unfolded over the last 7 years or so that I’ve had a mindfulness practice. Some changes happened quite quickly, some developed more gradually. Some of the benefits arose from my formal (or sitting) meditation practice; others resulted from a more informal way of being in the world, or from a useful book or piece of knowledge that my teachers shared.This list started out as 5 ways that mindfulness has helped me, but it quickly grew. There are probably many more that I could add, but here are 10 to be going on with…
1. I don’t ‘suffer’ from anxiety any more
Having spent years grappling with debilitating anxiety, this one has been huge for me. Mindfulness and self-compassion offer a totally different way to find peace with anxiety, and this was a complete game-changer for me. The befriending approach means that I no longer label myself with the belief ‘I am anxious’, I just notice when anxiety is present and let it be. It doesn’t stay forever, and it doesn’t dictate my behaviour. That feels like I’ve been set free. An obvious example was when I had a cancer scare last year, and was surprised by how calm I felt through the whole thing. Those 6 weeks were actually enjoyable, as I never felt like the tests were hanging over me or putting life on hold. The ability to remain so present with my experience, even during times like that, is a real gift from my practice.
2. I laugh more
One of the side-effects of being less caught up in my thoughts and worries is that I’m more open to humour. Whether that’s sharing a giggle with my husband or a friend, doing something silly to make our son laugh, or really ‘getting’ his inventive 5-year-old jokes. It might sound weird, but I don’t care that I’m starting to get wrinkles – because many of them are laughter lines!
3. I cry more
Yes, you read that right! Mindfulness doesn’t make life more comfortable, but it does make it more beautiful. Let me explain. I used to have a really difficult time letting myself feel sad, even when that was the appropriate emotional response. I would feel afraid of being overwhelmed by my so-called ‘negative’ feelings. There was also a subtle sense that to feel sadness meant I was failing at life. Multiple bereavements provided an opportunity to bring mindfulness to this, and enriched my emotional landscape dramatically. So now if sadness is what’s arising, I can feel that fully. I even welcome a good cry, and feeling things fully usually means I don’t get ‘stuck’ in them. I’ve even come to appreciate the inherent beauty of the feelings that prompt tears. These days, I’m much more easily moved in general – by others’ joy and pain, as well as my own. This kind of open-hearted engagement with life is very precious to me.
4. My ‘To Do’ list is shorter
Many people who know me personally say that I seem to get a lot done. What they might not know is that I don’t get a lot done , I’ve just got better at focussing on the things that really matter. I notice I’m much better at doing that when I’m meditating every day. (And yes, I more than ‘make back’ the time I take to meditate.) You won’t usually find me starting my day writing a list of things I need to do. Instead, you’ll find me crossing off the things I’ve realised I don’t need to do. And that creates a feeling of space and freedom in which I can be with what’s left. How I spend my time then feels more enjoyable, as it consists of the things I’ve chosen to give my attention to.
5. I’m more confident
Over the last few years, I’ve been staggered by my own bravery many times. Public speaking is an example I’m sure many of you can relate to. I’d always been so terrified of talking in front of people that I spent most of my adult life avoiding situations where that might be required. (Cue flashbacks of the time at university when I had to give a presentation and the words would literally not come out of my mouth. Mortified isn’t the word). Mindfulness and self-kindness have helped me develop a higher level of discomfort tolerance – or emotional confidence, as I call it. This means that now, I can lead even large classes of more than 25 people with relative ease. If discomfort arises, I can handle it, and even welcome it as what connects me to my students. We’re all human, after all!
6. I sleep better
Once upon a time I was a terrible sleeper. During my more anxious phases, I’d either be awake on and off throughout the night, or up at 5am mentally rehearsing work tasks. Since I began practising mindfulness, my sleep has improved drastically. Over the last year or so, as I’ve stepped up my sitting meditation even more, I’ve also noticed I’ve begun to need less sleep. I’m wondering if this is because my sleep is better quality. Whatever the reason, I’m astounded to find that 6am meditations are actually something I want to do. I’d never have thought I’d choose that over an extra half hour in bed!
7. I’m more resilient
Difficult, awkward and uncomfortable stuff happens in life. We can’t avoid that. But mindfulness does change how we respond to it. Over the past 7 years, I’ve seen how I bounce back from upset much easier than I used to. Instead of spending days at at time beating myself up or feeling embarrassed about something that’s happened, I can now acknowledge the discomfort and find a way to move forward – which frees up a lot of time for other things! I also have a much greater trust that I can handle whatever might come up. So instead of pre-living everything (as Mark Williams puts it), I can let things unfold and know that I will cope, and that I can be there for myself if things get rough. This is also really helpful for being able to let go of things that ‘go wrong’ – often I can find an alternative perspective and feel glad about how things turn out.
8. I eat better
For years I’d been saying I needed to eat more healthily. What I’ve found is that the more mindful I’ve become in life, so this has extended to how I eat. Without any forcing or feeling deprived, I’ve begun to eat the way I always aspired to. It started with noticing that I was choosing salad when there were chips on the menu. Then I just got a whole lot more aware of what I was eating, and how it made me feel. I have recently been eating a vegan diet (I hesitate to say ‘I am vegan’, as it’s still early days) – and the revelation for me is that I’m really enjoying getting creative in the kitchen. I’m not a natural chef, and I used to feel I didn’t have time for endlessly peeling fruit and veg. But I stand corrected. And it feels really good.
9. I really listen more often
Being more present in my life is a tricky thing to describe. But one of the ways it really shows up is in my relationships with others. I’ve heard it said that attention is the most basic form of love.* This certainly feels true when I’m really listening to our son telling me about his latest game of castles and dragons – rather than mentally doing the shopping list in my head. Or when I ask my husband how his day was, and actually listen to the answer. This is the beginning of mindful communication: when we really listen, and then speak from a place of better understanding. Everyone wants to feel valued and understood, and it’s gift I can give to others just by listening a little more deeply. The result is often more connection and less frustration all round.
*Not my wisdom, but that of Krishnamurti, as shared by Tara Brach.
10. I’m kinder
This is a huge one, in fact I’d go so far as to say underpins most of the above. When I’m asked to define mindfulness, I usually say it’s ‘Being With your experience in a gentle and accepting way’ (those capitals are intentional by the way). This way of Being is completely infused with kindness. Learning to practice self-kindness has helped me transform my relationship with anxiety, grief and self-criticism. Now that I can be kinder to myself, I also find it easier to be kind and compassionate to others, and to live this in the daily moments of life. This might mean forgiving a little more readily, or doing things that put me out a bit, but I know someone else will appreciate. I’m not a saint of course, but when I’m feeling a bit lost, I usually find that kindness can point me in the right direction.
Try out our Mindfulness Meditation classes at the Yoga Space, and make yourself happier =)