Question: What are the main benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation?
Answer: The practice of mindfulness has a primary benefit and a secondary benefit. The primary benefit from the yoga perspective is that it helps you realize that you are not your mind. Most people falsely identify themselves with either the gross physical body or the subtle body, the mind. But from the yoga perspective, believing that you are either your physical body or your mind is a misconception, a misunderstanding. The aim of yoga is to become free of misconceptions.
So the mind awareness technique of meditation helps you realize that you are not your mind, but rather that you are the observer of the mind. Once you realize this, then you naturally must ask: well, who am I? I know that I am the perceiver of the content of my mind, I’m watching the mind. So I know that I exist. So the question I must ask myself is who am I? I am not the body and I’m not the mind. Who am I?
From here one begins to contemplate upon themselves, on their own true essence.
From the Vedic or yoga perspective, you are the eternal atma or spirit soul temporarily covered by a material body and material mind. You are in fact a part and parcel, a spark of the Supreme Soul, the Supreme Atma. In other words, each person is a spirit soul or atma, a child of God. And we are simply temporarily using these material bodies that cover us—the gross physical body and the subtle body, the mind.
The mindfulness technique helps you understand this truth.
Question: What is the secondary benefit?
Answer: The secondary benefit is that it helps you experience relief from stress and anxiety.
Once you realize that you can watch your mind, that you can watch the stream of thoughts go by as a passive observer, it creates a kind of distance between you, the observer, and your thoughts. So if your thoughts are disturbing or causing you stress, instead of getting caught up in them and reacting to them, you are able to stand a little apart from them and just watch them come and go.
It’s the same thing with emotions. You learn to notice when you are feeling sad, angry, stressed, depressed, happy, or excited, and so on. You begin to see yourself as the observer of the emotions you are experiencing. You know that these feelings don’t really have anything to do with your real self, and that they will pass. This helps prevent you from getting swept away by them.
So this mindfulness practice, which cultivates a real experience of who we are and that we are separate from our minds, helps bring about a sense of inner calm. It’s not just theoretical, superficial, or temporary, but comes from a place of real understanding of who we are. Of course, we may forget sometimes, but the more we practice, the more we will remember that we are the atma or spirit soul who is observing the mind and emotions.