Meditation is no longer just for New Age hippies and spiritual seekers. It’s now a mainstream practice for creating a healthier, happier state of being. Research has proved that regular meditation can have an array of health benefits, so for those who are interested in reaping the rewards of meditation, we’ll unpack 10 scientifically-backed health benefits of meditation.
What is meditation?
Meditation is an ancient practice that people have used for centuries to enhance both physical and mental health. The basic premise of meditation is to focus the mind on a single point of concentration, such as the breath, a mantra or an image. By doing this, you can achieve a state of deep relaxation and inner peace.
How to meditate?
When most people think of meditation, they picture someone sitting cross-legged on the floor with their eyes closed, repeating “hummmm” over and over again. While this is one way to meditate, there are many different ways to practice. At first, it may feel a little strange and perhaps even uncomfortable, but once you get into it, you’ll swear by it!
Here are some tips on how to start practicing:
- Find a comfortable position. You can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, or you can sit on the floor. If you’re new to meditation, it’s best to start by sitting in a chair.
- Close your eyes and take some slow, deep breaths. As you breathe in and out, focus your attention on your breath. Feel the air fill your lungs as you inhale and then exhale fully.
- Once your breathing is settled, you should begin to notice any thoughts or emotions that arise. Don’t judge or try to hold on to these thoughts, simply let them come and go like clouds in the sky.
- If you find that your mind begins to wander, gently direct your attention back to your breathing. Meditation is not about having a blank mind – it’s about training your mind to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.
- Continue focusing on your breath for 10-20 minutes. Once you’re finished, open your eyes and take a few deep breaths before getting up.
Now, in the beginning, it’s unlikely you’ll manage a full 20 minutes of practice. Start with five minutes and work your way up as you get better at reining in wandering thoughts. You can make use of a mindfulness app like Headspace to get you started.
10 health benefits of meditation
Meditation has been shown to have a plethora of health benefits, both mental and physical, which may help to:
Through regular practice, meditation helps to promote relaxation through deep breathing exercises and visualizations, allowing the body and mind to relax into a more balanced emotional state. Additionally, research has shown that meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive decision-making) while decreasing activity in the amygdala (associated with fear and anxiety) – both of which contribute to reducing stress levels.
Meditation can help to reduce anxiety by enabling you to detach from anxious or negative thoughts. Through meditation, you learn how to observe your thoughts without judgment or attachment, and gain insight into the root cause of your anxious feelings.
Regular meditative practice can increase levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating moods – thus helping to improve one’s overall well-being and reduce persistent low moods. It may help you to gain insight into your own thinking habits and to develop healthier coping mechanisms for managing difficult emotions.
Improve sleep quality
Meditation can help improve sleep quality by allowing the mind and body to relax and reduce stress levels. It also helps you to focus attention away from distracting thoughts or worries that may be keeping you awake at night. Meditating just before bedtime can create a sense of calm that will help facilitate an easier transition into restful sleep. In fact, according to Betway Insider, those who meditate before bed record a sleep quality score of 88%.
Ease chronic pain
Meditation has been studied as a potential treatment for chronic pain. Research suggests that meditation can help to reduce the intensity of pain, improve mood and increase awareness of the body’s physical sensations. It may also help to relax tense muscles and reduce inflammation associated with chronic pain conditions.
You’d be surprised at how much energy you expend by worrying and overthinking! When you’re stressed or anxious, you’re more likely to tense your muscles, which causes a lot of physical tension and fatigue in the body. By reducing your stress levels and racing thoughts, meditation allows your body to conserve its energy reserves and use them efficiently.
Enhance focus and mental clarity
Meditation has been shown to improve focus by reducing mental fatigue and increasing your attention span. It can help you clear your mind and become more aware of the present moment, rather than worrying about things out of your control. This enables you to stay focused on what matters most in a given situation while blocking out any distracting thoughts that may be disrupting your productivity. Meditation can also retrain your brain to focus better by strengthening neural pathways related to concentration and cognitive control.
Prolonged stress and tension weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to illness. By reducing stress through meditation, you can enhance your body’s germ-fighting abilities.
In addition, some studies suggest that meditation may increase levels of antibodies in response to vaccinations or pathogens, indicating enhanced protection from illness.
Lower blood pressure
Meditation can help lower blood pressure by reducing stress levels, which reduces the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are known to cause constriction of the arteries, leading to an increase in both heart rate and blood pressure. Studies have shown that consistent practice of mindfulness or other forms of meditation can reduce these hormone levels, resulting in relaxed muscles and improved circulation throughout the body.
Curb unhealthy habits
Wish you could stop reaching for that chocolate bar after dinner? Or kick your smoking habit to the curb? Practicing mindfulness techniques can help reduce cravings related to addiction by increasing awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings, allowing you to recognize any unhealthy patterns that may contribute to addictive behavior. Additionally, meditation can lead to an increased sense of self-control, which helps you better resist the urge to engage in unhealthy habits.
Not only does meditation offer a peaceful period of relaxation each day but it also provides many health benefits that will leave you feeling focused, calm and revitalized. So, what are you waiting for? Give it a try today and start reaping the benefits.