For some people, the word ‘meditation’ evokes an image of robe-clad monks sitting cross-legged for hours in silence. It’s an image that makes meditation seem somewhat unattainable, difficult, or inaccessible for the beginner. But think again! In fact, meditation doesn’t have to be complicated and anyone can do it. With daily practice, it can greatly improve the health of your body, mind, and soul. In fact, it’s one of the most beneficial habits you can acquire and it doesn’t cost a thing. Taking just ten minutes out of your day to mindfully pay attention to your breath is all that’s necessary to begin a simple meditation practice. So why not make it part of your daily routine?
Here are eight proven benefits to meditation:
Meditation reduces stress. Stress is the way that our bodies respond to unforeseen threats, activating the fight-or-flight response and releasing cortisol, the stress hormone. Meditation actually helps to lower cortisol levels in the brain. Anxiety expert and psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, says that daily practice of meditation trains you to manage stress in a positive way, and it helps reduce symptoms of anxiety. Spending even a few minutes in meditation may restore your calm, balance and inner peace. And these benefits don’t stop when your meditation ends! Studies have shown they stay with you throughout the day. And in pandemic times, we could all use a little less stress and anxiety!
Meditation helps to decrease depression and anxiety. Research has shown that mindful meditation can help to ease anxiety and depression, and makes an effective addition to a mental health treatment plan. In fact, psychologists from the University of Exeter showed that mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can have better success in helping depression than medication or therapy. Meditation increases your emotional well-being, refocuses your attention, and reduces the negative thoughts that can fuel depression. To combine meditation with light exercise, another proven aid to depression, try a walking meditation practice.
Meditation improves self-awareness and self-esteem. When you practice mindful meditation, it forces you to slow down and examine your own thoughts and feelings without judgement. Spending time without distraction can help you develop a better understanding of yourself, as well as how you relate to the people around you. Ultimately, this growing sense of self-awareness leads to greater self-esteem. It’s all about being comfortable in your own skin!
Meditation improves your brain health. Want to feel younger for longer? Meditation may hold the key to that too! In fact, research has shown that meditation shows down – and may even reverse – changes in the brain due to ageing. It can also improve memory and mental quickness in older people. As we age, an area in the frontal cortex associated with memory and decision-making shrinks. Neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar, has shown that meditating literally changes the brain. In fact, her finding showed that 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds. Lazar also found that 8 weeks of meditation improved the overall health of the brain, whatever your age.
Meditation increases your focus. With so much information being thrown at us all day long via email, social media, etc. and so many competing demands on our time and attention, it’s no wonder so many of struggle to focus. Meditation actually increases your concentration, helping to control mind-wandering and short attention spans. In fact, learning to control your focus is one of the key elements of meditation. By focusing on your breathing and clearing your mind, you give yourself space to relax and cultivate mental clarity.
Meditation decreases high blood pressure. High blood pressure causes strain on the heart and arteries as it forces the heart to work harder to pump blood. It can also lead to a narrowing of the arteries, which in turn can cause strokes and heart attacks. Meditation can help by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function and blood vessel tension. Happy heart!
Meditation helps you sleep better. Of course, it’s no surprise that meditation can help you to sleep better, since it increases relaxation. While some people prefer to start their day with meditation, others find it is an effective way to end the night. It’s a tranquil and meaningful way to slow down and let go. (Just make sure your phone is off or in another room!) During your meditation, add some gentle self-reflection, acknowledging and giving gratitude for your day. (You could start by trying these meditations from Mind Body Green.)
Meditation can help to control pain. While meditation cannot cure chronic pain, it can help to reduce it. For this reason, many doctors have started recommending mindful meditation as part of a comprehensive pain management plan. Studies show that it reduces pain sensations in the body without use of the brain’s natural opiates. This is great news for anyone suffering from post-surgical, acute, or chronic pain, or with conditions like headaches or osteoarthritis.
The evidence proves the health benefits of meditation, but the only real way to know this is to try it for yourself! And remember, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Keep it simple and create a daily practice that fits seamlessly into your life. Practice and it will get even easier. That’s why it’s called a mediation practice.