Despite its rise in popularity, mindfulness meditation remains a divisive topic. While some credit meditation for a range of wellbeing and psychological benefits, others remain skeptical.
Kristina Garla, a lifelong meditator and professional mindfulness coach, believes that many people have misconceptions about what the practice of meditation actually entails, or they simply haven’t found the right meditation technique for their personal preferences.
“Meditation is a natural bodily process – we all meditate at times without realising,” said Garla.
“If you daydreamed in a classroom as a kid, that’s a form of meditation. The word literally means ‘to contemplate’ so you are meditating whenever you are thinking deeply about something.”
Some people struggle to sustain a long-term mindfulness meditation practice due to false expectations of tranquillity and absence of thought when meditating.
This can deter people or make it seem inaccessible, when in reality the main goal of meditation is to practice sitting with emotions and thoughts without judgement.
Even the most experienced meditators accept that the mind is a thought-making machine and is unlikely to be silent just because you sit cross-legged on a mat.
It’s common for people to say that they tried meditation for a while, but it didn’t really ‘work’ for them.
But what exactly does that mean, and what are some of the signs that your meditation practice is working for you?
1. You’ll notice improved cognitive function
Mindfulness meditation practices give the brain a chance to process and sort through thoughts, discarding any unnecessary noise.
It can also lead to heightened creativity, or more effective problem solving, by tapping into our subconscious intelligence.
Having a dedicated time in your day, even if it is only meditating for ten minutes, to allow niggling thoughts and emotions to come up in a safe environment will also free up mental bandwidth to focus on other things.
“Meditation is about cultivating awareness which you can then take into your everyday life,” said Garla.
A regular mindfulness practice can empower you to perform better in all areas of your life, think more clearly and respond more effectively to any challenges that arise.
2. You’ll experience deeper sleep
Sleep is impacted by several factors – from gut health to diet, exercise, and use of substances like alcohol and caffeine.
Another significant sleep disruptor is the tendency for invasive or stressful thoughts to arise right as you are falling asleep.
Interestingly, the bodily functions occurring right before sleep, such as physical stillness and deeper breathing, closely mimic those experienced during meditation.
The relaxation experienced when winding down for bed might be the brain’s first opportunity to process thoughts that you may have been avoiding or were too busy to manage earlier on.
A dedicated mindfulness meditation practice gives the brain a chance to work through thoughts or feelings in a conscious and deliberate way, reducing the mental chatter that keeps you tossing and turning at night.
3. Your physical health will get better
Some experts, like Garla, are moving away from the word ‘mindfulness’ as it implies that the practice is purely cognitive.
Meditation actively engages the mind, but also the body and the breath or ‘prana’, with an objective of marrying the three together.
Consciously slowing down and deepening the breath signals to the body that it is safe to relax, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the ‘rest and digest’ mode.
This is important in a world where most people spend too much time in the sympathetic nervous system, or ‘fight or flight’ mode, which places excessive stress on the body.
4. Your communication and relationships will feel easier
“Meditation is working not when you can sit in silence for an extended period of time, but when your relationships are better – with others and with yourself,” said Garla.
People often experience a temporary sense of calm during meditation, but then feel like they’ve “lost it” as soon as they resume their usual activities or interact with others.
However, Garla explained that simply noticing this shift in your reactions and mood is often a sign that your meditation practice is working.
“Noticing you aren’t reacting calmly is the first step,” she said.
“Over time, you will become more aware and start to feel more mindful of how you react in a situation or how you show up in your relationships.”
5. You’ll be able to embrace uncertainty
In a time characterised by seemingly constant change, any opportunity to practice patience and calmness in a safe space can be transformative.
We can’t control life’s ups and downs, but with practice we can learn to control our reactions.
“Wanting to be in control is natural; it makes us feel secure,” said Garla.
“Many of us are struggling with uncertainty, and meditation can help us surrender to what we can’t control and reassure us in our ability to adapt to external changes.”
Sitting with uncertainty never feels completely comfortable, but mindfulness is the first step in embracing the discomfort.
Meditation is a practice for life
Life, just like meditation, is a practice, and mindfulness provides an important opportunity to get some distance from which to observe it with more awareness.
Learning to enjoy the challenges and frustrations of a meditation practice is akin to finding the joy in life, regardless of its inevitable ups and downs.
Meditation can feel frustrating, at times, for beginners and experienced mindfulness practitioners alike, but it can also be a gift that gives you lessons that help you live and enjoy your life to its full potential.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2021 but has since been updated to include new content.