Over the past decade, meditation has become a go-to mindfulness technique for millions of people. The benefits of meditation include a sense of peace and calm, better focus and concentration, and reduced anxiety; in fact, around 84% of meditators do so to reduce stress and anxiety in their lives.
If you’ve never tried meditation, the idea of starting up a daily practice can be intimidating.
Not only are there several different types of meditation to try, but the idea of sitting still and trying not to think about anything can sound a bit difficult. If you have tried a meditation session, you might also be wondering if you are doing it correctly and if what you are experiencing is normal.
If you’re wondering, what does meditation feels like, I’d like to share my personal experience along with a bit of scientific research that can help you know what to expect when you meditate and whether you are "doing it right”.
Basic Steps to Meditation
Before you can observe what meditation feels like or whether it is effective, you need to know the basic steps to perform meditation. Although there are several different types of meditation, the steps to simple mindfulness meditation beginners are as follow:
- Find a quiet time and place.
- Set a timer for three to five minutes with a gentle alarm tone.
- Sit or lay down in a comfortable position and location.
- Close your eyes and begin taking slow, deep breaths. Try to clear your mind.
- Observe your breathing. Feel the physical sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body.
- Notice when your mind begins to wander. Gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Don’t judge or engage with your thoughts - let them drift away and bring your focus back to breathing.
- When the timer goes off, open your eyes and take one last deep inhale and exhale. You’re all done!
When you perform meditation you will experience several physical sensations. These include:
- Feeling of weightlessness
- Aches or pains
- Sense of vastness or openness
- Hotness or coldness
- Slight dizziness or spinning sensation
One reason for these feelings is that meditation quiets your mind and allows you to focus on your body in the present moment.
This new mind-body connection helps you become more present in your body which results in your feeling sensations that you may normally ignore.
Additionally, meditation can cause new emotions to arise or help you process through old emotions. Your body may experience strange sensations as these feelings come to the surface.
Another reason you may feel these sensations is meditation’s effect on bodily functions such as blood pressure.
Meditation can temporarily lower your blood pressure, which produces a floaty, spinning sensation. This may surprise you the first time you feel it, but in time you may come to appreciate the feeling and take it as a sign that you are indeed altering your mental state with meditation.
When meditating you can expect to experience mental changes in addition to physical sensations.
Some of the most common mental changes you will feel during meditation are fighting with your monkey mind, having altered perceptions, feeling a sense of peace and calm, and increased clarity of thought.
The term “monkey mind” refers to the restless, unsettled thoughts in your brain.
Most people think that the monkey mind is connected to your ego self, that is to say, it is the part of you that is judgmental, a bit critical, and always worrying about the past and future. Your monkey mind is easily distracted, always bouncing around from thought to thought, never letting you rest.
It is common for beginner meditators to struggle with quieting their monkey mind, so don’t be surprised if you feel like you can’t get your brain to “turn off” during your first several sessions. It takes practice to quiet the monkey mind, so the more meditation sessions you do, the easier it will become.
One interesting mental component of mediation is the way it alters your perception, especially in regard to time. If done effectively, meditation can change the way you perceive time during the session.
For example, I often set my timer for 15-minute meditation sessions. Almost every time, I lose track of the minutes that have elapsed. When my alarm goes off it feels as if I had just closed my eyes.
The deeper into meditation you go, the more pronounced this feeling becomes. You may feel like three minutes last forever when you first start meditating, but if you stick with it, you will experience the awesome sensations of timelessness.
Sense of Peace and Calm
One of the best benefits of meditation is maintaining a sense of peace and calm. Meditation lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, as well as calms the monkey mind that creates worry and stress.
These factors can lead you to feel a sense of calmness and relaxedness that lasts throughout the day. You may not experience this mental benefit after your first few sessions, but the more comfortable you become with meditating, the more you will notice how much calmer you feel when you incorporate it into your day.
Clarity of Thought
After meditating, you can also expect to experience more clarity in your thoughts and an increased ability to focus. These beneficial mental changes are due to the way meditation quiets your wandering thoughts and encourages observation rather than interaction.
When meditating you are able to notice your thoughts without identifying with them. This feeling carries over into your mental state after the session is over. You will find that you notice more of your thoughts and can push away those that distract you throughout the day rather than engage with them.
What You Shouldn’t Feel During Meditation
There are a wide variety of thoughts and sensations that you can expect to feel when you meditate; however, there are also a few things that you should not feel when you engage in a meditative practice.
It should be noted that it can be normal to feel a bit off after meditating, especially when you first begin. Some people report feeling anxious and emotional, having a headache, being hypersensitive to light or sound, and having insomnia. These side effects are usually temporary and are the result of the changes to your body and brain that meditation brings on.
Despite these unpleasant feelings, you should never experience fainting, extreme pain or numbness, hallucinations, or extreme mood swings when you meditate. If you do, stop meditation and speak with your doctor. These symptoms could indicate underlying conditions that need to be addressed.
How to Judge the Effectiveness of Meditation
The effectiveness of meditation is determined by whether or not you feel different after meditating.
When you first begin, you are most likely going to feel frustrated, bored, tired, or restless. Your monkey mind is going to tell you that meditation is pointless and your body will have a hard time settling down. Your first few sessions may feel pointless, but as you experience more of the feelings of calm, peacefulness, timelessness, you will recognize when your sessions are becoming effective.
Unless you hook yourself up to scientific monitors you aren’t going to be able to “prove” that meditation is effective, but you can easily keep a journal to record how you feel before and after your sessions.
Consider recording your feelings of anxiety, stress, or pain on a scale from one to ten before and after meditating. You can also make a general note of your feelings. This way you can keep track of what kind of mediations work for you and how long you need for them to feel effective.
Start Meditating Today
Meditation is a free, simple practice that you can engage in to help you lower your stress and experience peacefulness throughout your day.
Although it can be intimidating to begin, once you start you will find that meditating becomes easier and you can identify when your sessions are doing you some good. You can start with simple mindfulness meditation or use a meditation app like Calm, which is an effective tool in cultivating mindfulness.