I’m not an expert on meditation, and I’ve never seen the inside of a yoga studio. In fact, until one year ago, I was the last person anyone would expect to see meditating in the morning.
Not only did I believe all the usual meditation myths, but I had all sorts of preconceived ideas about the type of person who meditates. I thought I wasn’t one of them.
Instead, my idea of stress relief was alcohol — and lots of it. My morning routine consisted of waking up as late as possible and rushing to get my son ready for school and myself to work.
After coming to the realization that my life had to change drastically, and hearing a few of my mentors and other successful people share how meditation had benefited them, I decided to stop doubting long enough to try. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
After my first meditation last January, I went on to complete 270 sessions last year (I know the exact number thanks to a handy feature in my meditation app). But that doesn't mean I took to it immediately. It wasn’t easy at first. On top of all the mental blocks, my years of chronic lower back pain made sitting in lotus position painful and distracting. A 10-minute session felt like an eternity.
But I kept at it, and it didn’t take long for me to notice changes. They were subtle at first, but the longer I kept at it, the more obvious the positive effects of meditation became. On the days that I didn’t meditate, I started to feel like something was missing.
Here are six of the ways my life is better after a year of almost daily meditation (and the science to back up the benefits).
1. I smile more often.
When I started meditating, I was on an emotional roller coaster, and struggling after having lost my job. As I continued to meditate, my outlook on my situation, and on life in general, became more positive. Many people who meditate find that mindfulness meditation provides major benefits to mood and mindset.
2. I sleep better.
Research suggests that mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia and improves sleep, a fact I can personally confirm. For several years, I took prescription medication to fall asleep. Now that I've learned how to slow down my busy mind and focus on my breathing, I consistently fall asleep within a few minutes without medication.
3. I am more focused at work and at home.
Before I started meditating, I had problems concentrating and found it increasingly difficult to stay focused on a single task. And when I wasn’t working, my mind was constantly racing. I was often lost in thought, fidgety, and constantly glancing at my phone. I was physically present, but mentally I was always somewhere else.
Soon after I started meditating, I started noticing improvements in my attention and focus. Now I’m able to stay focused on one task at a time, and to be relaxed and in the moment when I’m spending time with my family and friends.
4. I'm more self-aware.
Self-awareness is one of the four main elements of mindfulness meditation, and its benefits have had a major impact on my thinking and choices. It has helped me find clarity about what's most important to me and to get my priorities in order. It’s also helped me to better understand and utilize my strengths and passions.
5. I'm a better parent.
Even if you're usually even-tempered, sometimes the tiniest thing can trigger an outburst of emotion and frustration. Before I started meditating, on the days I was running late while getting my son ready for school, I’d get irritated and snap at him. Now, I’m much more relaxed, and I've stopped snapping. Even if we‘re running late, incidents like this no longer trigger the same response. I recommend meditation to any parent who will listen, as we're continuing to find evidence that mindful parenting improves parent-child relationships.
6. I feel better about myself.
For many years, I struggled with low self-esteem, lacking confidence in my skills and abilities. I let my self-limiting beliefs keep me stuck in a job I hated, which held me back from realizing my full potential. Meditation helped me stop fixating on the negative and increase my confidence. I’m developing a healthier sense of self and identity — a benefit that can be directly attributed to mindful meditation.
These are just some of the ways my life is better now that I practice daily meditation. It’s become the foundation of my morning routine — a set of daily rituals that are helping me to become my best self and turn the life of my dreams into reality. You can have that, too.
They key? Stop letting your doubts or discomfort keep you inside a box you don't even like. Give meditation a try. If you struggle to find the time, remember that your life is about what’s important, not just what's urgent. The work you put into making meditation a daily habit will be so worth it.
I can’t promise that your experience will be exactly like mine, but I have no doubt that a daily meditation practice will make your life significantly better. After seeing the improvements in my life this year, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
That’s why I’ve challenged myself to meditate every day of 2016. And if I can do this, anyone can. Whether you already meditate or you’re going to start now, share your commitment to join me in this challenge here.