How meditation changed my life

I remember being about 15 – peak teenage neuroses era – and trying meditation for the first time; not because I wanted to find inner peace or connect with the very nature of existence, but because I’d seen it in a film and thought it made me seem deep and troubled (the gold standard for 15 year olds in the 2000’s). I sat cross legged (of course) in my dark bedroom with my eyes closed, waiting for something to happen. I kept thinking “clear your mind” over and over until I got bored, decided I was just too damn messed up for meditation (HA) and went back to MSN messenger (I imagine). It was about 6 years before I tried again, a guided meditation at the end of a yoga class, and I can’t understate the impact that 10 minutes of lying on the floor had on me, and it turns out on the rest of my life.

I was at University and a postgrad student was teaching free classes for stressed out undergrads. She was an absolute angel, warm and funny with this mesmerising Canadian accent that made relaxing so much easier. I was already hooked on yoga as ‘exercise’ by this time, but hadn’t really looked into meditation or mindfulness, and thought that savasana was just a glorified cool down. A month or so into attending her class she said that she wanted to try a guided meditation as lots of us had exams coming up and she thought it might help. I instantly remembered my failed attempt as a 15 year old and thought “meditation, that’s that thing I can’t do.” She must have sensed the cynicism in the room because she became very encouraging, told us all to give it a go and not set any expectations – always sage advice.

I lied on my yoga mat, strangely anxious about failing or doing it wrong, and she started to speak. It was a body scan meditation, which I’d never heard of at the time, but meant that she started by bringing our awareness to our toes and slowly led us on a tour around our bodies, encouraging mindfulness and connection, and if possible, a sense of letting go. I can’t say exactly how that 10 or 15 minutes felt as honestly I don’t remember – I didn’t even remember it immediately afterwards. All I knew was that I had tapped into some other way of being; I’d just existed for a little while, like floating in still time. As a person with severe anxiety, that was inconceivable. I was quite emotional and zoned out afterwards – I asked my friend who had also been in the class how she’d found it and she wasn’t nearly as rapturous as I was. I had one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had that night and woke up thinking, “well, that might just change everything.”

Of course, yoga and meditation are not magical cures for mental illness. I’d love to say that I haven’t been anxious or depressed since that day, but that is not the case. What I do know is that incorporating meditation into my life routine makes me far more able to cope when I am having a bad day/week/ugh who knows. I won’t go into the science of how meditation literally changes the way your brain functions, as there are others far more knowledgeable on the subject than me – but I will say that I am aware of my brain managing thoughts and feelings differently. When you practice observing thoughts, watching them as though from a distance and letting them pass, the horrible thoughts that play such a big part in most mental illness become less powerful. We are able to differentiate our thoughts, and even our feelings, from what is present and real. We start to choose what to give our energy too, and that is incredibly freeing. I, like everyone else, struggle with motivation at times, and I definitely have weeks where I don’t meditate because I think I’m too busy or I just don’t feel up to it. But now I seriously notice when I’ve gone even a few days without that time. I feel my anxiety levels increase, I don’t sleep well, and usually that’s enough of an incentive to get back to it.

I’m planning some more blog posts on meditation, particularly the ways I practice and incorporate it into my routine, but for now I hope this encourages you think about making meditation a part of your life. I (try to) practice for 10 mins in the morning and 10 mins in the evening every day, but there are loads of apps, websites and CDs that help you make a start with just a minute a day – and even one minute will make a difference, I promise.