The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is a centuries old practice that is used for its spiritual, emotional and physical benefits. For a great deal of time, the art of meditation was reserved for those who followed certain spiritual paths, such as Buddhism. During the second half of the twentieth century, more people in the western world began adopting a meditation practice into their lives as a way to center themselves, relax, connect to a higher consciousness, and to feel connected to something larger and more meaningful. Today, many people still practice meditation for all of those reasons; however we have come to realize that meditation is something more. Through decades of practice and research we have discovered that a regular meditative practice has a tremendous amount of benefit not only for your spiritual and emotional well being, but for your physical health as well.
You have likely heard of the benefits of meditation at one time or another. “Mindfulness,” which is closely connected to meditation, is a term that is trending in health, spiritual and psychology circles, and with good reason. We, as a society, are realizing that good health is about more than what we eat and how active we are. Being in your best possible health also means taking care of your emotional health as well. There have been numerous studies that connect the state of emotional wellbeing with physical health. Your body and your mind are both part of the same system, and when one is suffering, your whole system becomes unbalanced. Meditation is a very effective way to align your mind, body and your spirit in complete harmony and balanced health.
If you think that the benefits of meditation lack any real scientific backing, think again. There have been over three thousand studies on the emotional and physical benefits of regular meditation practice. These studies have covered an incredible range of the potential benefits and outcomes of meditation. The results have overwhelmingly proved that there is no question that meditation is an effective and easy to implement method of improving your health and your quality of life. Here is just a sampling of the many ways that meditation can improve your life.
- Studies conducted in France and Spain noted that meditative practice affects the body on a molecular level, including a reduction in the levels of pro inflammatory genes. The effects of this are that people who meditate regularly are better able to prevent and reduce the amount of inflammation in their bodies. A separate studied compared a group that meditated to groups that received nutritional counsel, a group that exercised and a group that participated in music therapy. The study concluded that mindfulness was actually more effective than other methods of controlling stress and associated inflammation. Chronic inflammation can be a major threat to your health. Conditions such as cardiac disease, autoimmune disorders, diabetes and skin diseases such as psoriasis and acne are all inflammatory conditions that can be at least partially addressed with meditation.
- Meditation can help prevent serious diseases, such as cancer. There are small structures located at the ends of your chromosomes called telomeres. Over time, telomeres can become weakened and degraded making you more susceptible to genetic mutations. Some diseases, such as cancer, are a direct result of a malfunction in the cell replication process that results in mutated genes. Research has looked at a connection between the preservation of telomeres and the process of meditation. There is some evidence that shows that regular meditation and mindfulness practice actual helps to maintain the integrity of telomeres. This discovery is an incredible step in understanding the true power of the mind/body connection.
- Results of one study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity shows that as few as thirty minutes of meditative practice a day can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cardiac disease and emotional disorders such as depression and severe feelings of loneliness.
- Meditation can help to lower blood pressure. One study conducted on people that suffered from hypertension or prehypertension showed that of those that practiced regular meditation, approximately two thirds of them were able to noticeably reduce their blood pressure levels. Some people claim that they have been able to eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals to treat their high blood pressure simply by making regular meditation a priority in their lives.
- Meditation helps you develop impulse control. The way that you handle stressful situations is a huge factor in how much stress negatively impacts your life. Those people who practice meditation regularly are better able to assess a situation and approach it from a non emotional perspective, allowing them to react in a more appropriate or beneficial way.
- Meditation helps you focus and even taps into more of your brain’s resources. Our brains have an unbelievable capacity, yet we are unable to tap into their full potential. Regular meditation and mindfulness helps us access more “brain space,” giving us the ability to process and retain more information. Those who meditate regularly also have better rapid memory recall than those who don’t.
- Meditation improves your emotional health. The emotional benefits of medication include decreased feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and improved relationships. When you meditate you are essentially training your brain how to respond to stimuli in a new way. Meditation connects you to a higher level of your emotional self. When you are attuned to this, you can experience more satisfaction in your personal relationships and experience less emotional distress. Many people who have turned to meditation in times of emotional turmoil, including severe clinical depression, have found relief that is similar to, if not better than, the relief that they experienced from traditional medications. No matter how you approach it, meditation is healing and curative to your emotional and physical health.
Meditation sounds great, doesn’t it? If you practice meditation on a regular basis, then you already know just how fulfilling the experience can be. If you don’t already do some form of meditative practice, you might be wondering how practical it is to make time for yet another routine in your already busy schedule. I am here to tell you that it is much easier than you might think. It is best to practice meditation regularly, even daily if possible. However, you really don’t need to devote very much time to your regular practice in order to benefit. Devoting as few as fifteen to twenty minutes a day, or even every other day, is a great place to start. There isn’t just one correct way to meditate. In fact, you can even turn some of your daily activities into a form of meditation. Here are some simple ways that you can incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your day.
- Start your day with fifteen minutes of mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply the act of being present in the moment without a focus on the past or worry about the future. It is about experiencing the very essence of the moment that you are in. When you are able to be fully present there is no room to feel anxiety or worry about events in the future. Reducing the amount of worry, anxiety and stress you feel can have tremendous health benefits such as reducing the amount the stress hormone cortisol that your body produces. Start each day with some deep breathing exercises and focusing on the sights, sounds and smells that surround you at the moment.
- Group thought is very powerful. Meditation is most often practiced as a solo activity; however it doesn’t need to be. If you have any likeminded friends, invite them into a meditation circle. You can even do distance group meditation where you all agree on a set time to quiet your minds and focus your energy together.
- Speaking of groups, look for meditation groups and classes in your area. These classes are often designed to accommodate a range of experience levels and can often be a comfortable first step for those who are new to meditation
- Set up an area in your home for meditation. The last things you need when you are trying to meditate are distractions or an environment that isn’t compatible with a sense of peace and wellbeing. This area can be an entire room or a place as small as a cushion in a quiet corner. Many people prefer an outdoor space for meditation because they feel more connected to nature. When you create your space give thought to the things that make you feel comfortable, relaxed and at peace. You might like a certain type of music, candles, scents or the sensory appeal of certain fabrics, etc. Items that have significant meaning that can help you focus are also ideal to add to your space. Most importantly, make sure that this space is respected and that when you are in it there are no outside distractions to interfere with your meditative process.
- Practice deep breathing in times of stress. To really gain the health benefits of mediation, you must be able to use what you learn from meditation to counter the effects of stress, anxiety and worry. When you begin to feel these negative emotions creeping in, practice deep breathing and removing yourself from the situation so that you can see it from a different perspective.
- Try guided meditation. You can find an incredible range of scripted meditations that are available for purchase or even free from some online sources. Guided meditations are a great starting point because they help you learn how to focus your energy, quiet your mind and relax, which are things that many people new to meditation have trouble with.
- Turn some of your favorite activities into a form of meditation. Have you ever been doing something and felt as though you were in another “zone.” The type of focus and mindfulness that you have at this moment is the exact point you are trying to reach in meditation. If you have difficulty sitting in quiet stillness, try using your hobbies as a way to meditate. Some options might be sports such as golf or horseback riding. Knitting, coloring and other forms of art are also great ways to center yourself and focus on the present.
Meditation is a highly individualized activity. While the goals of meditation are to experience relaxation, mindfulness and a higher level of consciousness, there is no one correct way to go about reaching those goals. Anyone can meditate, and the incredible health benefits are available to anyone that is willing to devote just a small amount of time. There is nothing on this earth that is more important than your health. Without it, all of your other obligations cannot me met and you cannot fully enjoy the blessings in your life. Make yourself a priority and spend just a few minutes a day centering yourself and tapping into the powerful connection between your body and your mind.