2. Even though it’s an ancient tool, you don’t have to live like an ancient to meditate.
You may have a vision in your head of what it means to be a person who meditates – someone who is always calm or moves slowly or someone who dresses in white robes and sits in a cave. Nope. Not so. You can be a modern, driven, Type A person and also be a meditator. “You don’t need to drink Kool-Aid and get a guru and dress differently,” says Shojai. “Use meditation as a tool to help you in your life—it’s not about turning you into a yogi on a mountaintop.”
3. You don’t have to meditate for hours each day to get the benefits.
If you’re just starting out and you want to develop a relationship with your breath, Shojai says that 10 to 20 minutes is enough. What’s more important is to be consistent. As he explains it, meditating consistently allows you to draw on that sense of calm when you actually need it. “A little bit every day builds a cushion against stress and keeps you from getting knocked off your perch.”
4. You’re not “doing it wrong” if your mind stays active.
You might be thinking, “I just can’t meditate. I’m not good at it. I can’t stop my thoughts.” The truth is that the mind runs on autopilot—it’s doing its job when it creates thoughts. When you meditate, you watch this play out in all its glory. The idea behind meditation isn’t to stop the normal processes of the mind, but to observe them.
Some days your thoughts may come fast and furious; others days less so. Some days you feel like a hero; other days your heart hurts. Either way, you train yourself to just watch what’s happening from a neutral place. And that process of watching and being with sensations from moment to moment is the definition of being present.
5. It can be like finding the right therapist: If one style doesn’t work, try another.
There are many, many different types of meditation – from mindfulness meditation, to visualization, to mantra meditation, to walking meditation. The different styles appeal to different preferences and personality types and it’s worth trying different ones until you find one that feels right for you. Shojai adds a word of caution, “There are methodologies that have been time-tested for thousands of years that are safe and proven to work,” he says. “There are also modern wannabe gurus who invent things and sometime they make up a bunch of crap. Err on the side of techniques that have historical proof and data.”
6. Meditating can help you feel less lonely.
In our uber-connected, technologically driven age, it’s easy to feel disconnected from other living beings. Ironically, sitting quietly and being with yourself can help you feel more connected to others and to nature. Meditation helps you pare existence down to its very essentials – you breathe, you think, you feel, you think some more. Tapping into that simplicity can be a deeply satisfying experience. As Shojai explains it, “When you sit and connect with your essential self, you connect with the energy of life that’s the common thread between you and every other life form. You realize that what you’re looking for in others is within you. You stop looking for others to complete you. “
7. It can change your relationship to time.
Time is a big obstacle for most people – you may be so busy that you can’t fathom adding a practice of doing nothing to your list. But Shojai believes that meditation can help your relationship to time in two ways: First, meditating is restorative to the nervous system, so it can give you more energy to tackle your to-do list. And second, it improves your ability to focus, which means it makes you more efficient with the time you have. “When I hear I don’t have enough time I’m actually hearing I don’t have enough energy,” says Shojai. “If you can be more efficient and more powerful with the time you’re given then you can use time as your ally.”
8. It can help you become the master of your own stressful domain.
Stress gets a bad rap, but it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help you better cope with everyday stressors. It makes sense when you think of meditation as a practice: You practice staying neutral and nonjudgmental regardless of what kinds of thoughts come up or what’s happening around you and that practice carries over into your daily life.
The scientific explanation is that meditation has the power to change the structure of your brain. In a study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging in 2011, scientists did brain scans of 16 people after they participated in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course. Those who self-reported less stress actually had reduced grey matter density in the amygdala, the part of the brain that’s associated with the stress response.
9. It can make you less impulsive.
Studies have shown that regular mindfulness meditation also adds density to the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain that improves impulse control. Shojai says that this can have a powerful impact on your life because it leads to better decision making. Instead of being distracted by what’s right in front of you—such as a cigarette—a regular meditation practice can help you weigh decisions against your core values.
10. Once you get the hang of it, meditating feels really good.
Let’s face it: Humans are social creatures. It might not sound like a whole lot of fun to sit by yourself and watch the drama that your mind produces. But once you get the hang of meditating, once you get a glimpse of dropping into your breath or the quiet, calm space between your thoughts, you will fall in love. You will know experientially that there’s a space within you that’s truly happy and content. “When you find that space within you, it’s like a breath of fresh air,” says Shojai. “It’s like the essential you, the most comfortable space in the world to go to. Once you do it you, tether to it. The more you do it, the more superhighway you build and the more accessible it is all the time.”