Meditation used to be something I thought about as applying mostly to Eastern cultures and yoga fanatics. I just didn’t see how it could be possible to transcend thoughts and never wanted to take the time to practice it. I always found meditation to be too complicated and time-consuming and actually never felt it was productive to ‘disengage’ from life and swirling thoughts long enough to make it worthwhile.
I was never so wrong.
Meditation has become mainstream these days, thanks to the popularity of yoga and other eastern practices. It seems that everyone, especially productive, creative ‘game-changers’ are doing it and having amazing benefits. The most successful people in the world meditate. They apparently know something about its benefits, or they wouldn’t waste their time.
People like Paul McCartney, Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Richard Branson, Derek Jeter, Ariana Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and more all practice some form of meditation. Olympic athletes do it, top-level CEO’s do it, and super successful celebrities do it—and everyone in between. These people are not doing it because they have too much time on their hands; these people are busy super-performers who have learned how to become even more productive and more clear-headed with meditation.
It’s a discipline that needs daily time and attention.
Meditation is not just for yoga fanatics. Meditation is not mysterious or complicated. It is exactly and perfectly made for us–busy, crazy, too-much-stuff-packed-into-one-day folks. It is a simple process of clearing one’s mind of all the crazy clutter that we get hammered with on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis. You clear your desk to work, right? Well, when you clear your mind, you will find that work, health, exercise, personal relationships, creativity, and more—all become better and more productive.
Meditation will change your life for the better if you make it a habit.
One of my resolutions for this year is to get more disciplined in a meditation practice. After seeing dozens of articles come up on my computer, I decided it was high time to look into the benefits and get my own practice going. It’s not easy at first, but it’s like exercise for the brain. At first, it’s difficult and you may struggle with this, but it’s an EXERCISE, which means that with practice, you will get better and better, and see and feel results more and more!
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
Below are twelve ways that meditation is as powerful for your health as a healthy diet and exercise.
Have you ever felt like there is information overload going on in your brain and you feel you just need hit a shut off button to reboot? This is where meditation can be extremely helpful. Depending on the meditation style you practice, you can virtually empty your mind of all the excessive clutter flying around in your head and reset your focus.
Meditation is incredibly effective at slowing down your thoughts and lowering stress and anxiety. In fact, many people often meditate before stressful events like going onstage to speak or perform in front of thousands of people.
One study found that mindfulness and Zen meditation significantly reduced stress after only a period of 8 weeks. Another study found that meditation actually changes the brain structure, especially those parts associated with stress and worry.
Both mental and physical stress can increase the hormone cortisol. This is what causes many of the harmful effects of stress, such as insomnia, high blood pressure, tight muscles, weight gain and more. Cortisol is an inflammatory hormone that has very negative effects on the body.
In this study of med school students, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. Research also shows that meditation can not only lower stress and cortisol response, but it also has a very positive effects on those conditions affected by stress like irritable bowel syndrome, PTSD, fibromyalgia and even more serious diseases like cancer. I know for me, meditation is a definite stress reliever. It does seem to really help to rewire my brain.
Helps with Razor Sharp Focus
Need to sharpen up your focus a bit? Meditation improves your ability to stay on task, focus on being productive, and also helps with cognition.
With the computers and the internet on everyone’s desktop, focus has become a diminishing ability. However, focused meditation actually helps us increase this all-important ability once again, and clears your plate for razor sharp focus. Meditation helps to increase both the strength and length of your attention.
This study published in Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience journal shows that just 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation improves the ability to reorient and maintain attention. And a similar study shows workers who practiced meditation were able to stay on task and focus for longer periods of time while multitasking—and remember details of their tasks better than those who did not practice meditation.
While our digital phones, pads and computers, combined with social media, have actually shortened our attention spans to about 8 seconds, according to a study by Microsoft, meditation can help to reverse those brain wave patterns that have contributed to mind-wandering, worry, and short attention spans. This study actually found that just four days of short meditations helped attention.
Meditation lowers anxiety as well as stress. Many people have out of control anxiety which results in panic attacks, social anxiety, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This comprehensive scientific review of 47 studies shows just that. Positive effects of meditation have been seen across multiple studies, and it only takes about 2-2.5 hours per week, or 20 minutes a day for these effects.
One of the best types of meditation for anxiety is a type called mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR. Mindfulness meditation is one of the easiest types of meditation to learn. It merely means you stay in the moment and focus mostly on your breathing while letting your thoughts just pass by.
Having a meditation practice shows promise, especially after a few years of following regular meditation. This study of 18 people shows that after an 8-week meditation program, the participants who practiced regular meditation had maintained lower anxiety levels over the course of three years. And a larger study shows a variety of meditation techniques work for reducing anxiety. Some techniques include visualization that helps to shift attention away from the thoughts that may cause anxiety.
Meditation may also help control anxiety that comes from a high-pressure work environments. Here is a study that shows how a meditation program reduced the related job anxiety in a group of nurses, which as we all should know is a very high stress job.
Promotes a Positive Mindset
With a reduction in stress and anxiety, the chance for hope and a positive mindset can come in. Many forms of meditation help to improve self-image and create a happier, calmer, more positive mindset.
In fact these studies show that mindfulness meditation helps to get rid of depression in 4,600 adults, and meditation can produce lasting results when practiced for longer periods of time.
And guess what? This meditation practice literally changes your brain! Those who meditate actually show measurable changes in the activity areas related to positive thinking and optimism.
Positive thinking helps to bring about positive results in your daily life. What a great reason to make meditation a daily habit, along with your cup of coffee in the morning!
Increases Feelings of Kindness, Compassion and Love
We just discussed how meditation helps to increase positive feelings and actions, and this translates to positive feelings towards yourself and others as well. Creating feelings of calmness and happiness also help to generate this loving kindness. A specific type of meditation, Metta, especially enhances loving-kindness feelings, beginning with yourself. Metta increases feelings of positivity, empathy and compassionate behavior toward others. Over twenty studies on this type of meditation have shown that it increases one’s feelings of compassion and self-worth. And the more it’s practiced, the better it works!
While meditation is helping to improve your ability to empathize, it also allows you to increase your intuitive ability to notice subtle cues that will help you understand how others are feeling.
Meditation also increases your emotional stability, making you less likely to be influenced by negative people or negative emotions in your life. And because of all of this, meditation has a definite positive influence on relationships and marriages!
Whatever type of meditation practice you choose, rest assured, it will help to increase your feelings of being self-aware, having greater self-worth, and feeling more loving of yourself and others.
One of the great things about mindfulness meditation (which I think is one of the easiest to understand and follow) is that it helps to create better self-awareness. As you meditate and go within yourself, you will begin to notice passing thoughts and feelings. Meditation helps you become more aware of your own feelings and instead of being reactive, it helps you to see your thoughts and feelings and to understand them better.
Other types of meditation help you to recognize harmful or negative subconscious defeating thoughts that may be operating in the background of your mind, creating situations for you with poor outcomes. Meditation helps to break this cycle and helps you to see and separate out those negative, self-defeating thoughts. And, as you gain a better awareness of your own thoughts and habitual ways of thinking, you can begin to steer your thoughts to more constructive patterns.
Gaining a better understanding of yourself and your subconscious thought patterns can go a long way towards changing your whole life for the better. This can become a huge starting point for positive changes in your life. Want to change your life? Meditate on a regular basis!
Did you know that improving your attention and clarity of thinking helps keep your mind young? In essence, meditation helps to reduce the noise and clutter going on in our brain, and that allows people to remember things better. In addition, because meditation helps to tap into the subconscious, many forgotten memories can be tapped into as well.
An interesting review of 12 different studies found that many different meditation styles increased attention, memory and mental quickness in older volunteers, especially. For aging people, meditation is especially good at helping to reverse age-related memory loss and even dementia. So meditation is good for keeping your brain young!
Kirtan Kriya is a particular type of meditation that involves chanting, using a repetitive motion with the fingers that actually helps to focus thoughts. It was shown to improve participants’ ability to perform memory tasks, especially for those with memory loss due to aging.
Physicians know that when a patient is anxious, they tend to feel pain even more, so oftentimes patients in pain are given medications that help to relieve anxiety, as well as the pain. What if you could do that without taking addictive medications that have undesirable side effects?
Since your perception of pain is very attached to your own state of mind, pain is elevated when you are stressed. And pain, is of course, stressful all by itself. Especially chronic pain.
One study used MRI techniques to observe brain activity on participants experiencing a painful stimulus. Some participants used a type of mindfulness meditation while others did not. Meditating patients showed increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain. They also reported less sensitivity to pain.
Another study looked at the effects of habitual meditation in 3,500 participants. It found that meditation was associated with decreased complaints of chronic or intermittent pain. And further studies of meditation in patients with terminal diseases like cancer found that meditation not only helped reduce anxiety but it also helped mitigate chronic pain, even near the end of life.
While both both groups were experiencing the same cause of pain, the meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced perception of pain.
With diseases like breast cancer, meditation is not used just as a treatment for pain or the disease. It is supportive care designed to help a person deal with the stress that comes with cancer. While this area currently needs more research, meditation may actually help fight cancer on a cellular level.
Helps Fight Addiction
It’s apparent that meditation helps to strengthen the mind and the will power. Using this mental discipline that can be developed through meditation may actually help break dependencies on addictive substances or behaviors. Not only does this practice help to focus and redirect attention, it also helps to lower stress, lower anxiety and reduce depression. All of these things are extremely helpful in breaking free from addiction.
Mindfulness meditation also increases self-awareness, helping to break down some of the barriers in understanding how one gets addicted in the first place. Meditation also helps to stop food cravings and impulsive eating as well, making it helpful for weight loss too.
Can’t Sleep? Meditate!
One of the reasons many people say that cannot sleep is because they have a hard time calming an overactive mind. Most of us have problems with insomnia at some point. Some of the common reasons for trouble sleeping include stress, discomfort, anxiety, inability to relax, and just a busy mind that cannot shut down. Meditation is helpful for all of these things and helps to put you in a relaxed state of mind to sleep soundly.
Participants in a study on sleep and meditation fell asleep sooner, stayed asleep longer and slept more restfully than those who didn’t meditate. Meditation helps to relax the body, release tension, and allow for natural, beneficial, restorative REM sleep. And another benefit of meditation is that you don’t need to rely on harmful sleep medications that destroy one’s natural restful sleep cycles.
Avoiding those racing thoughts in the middle of the night that wake you up and cause you to worry needlessly will help you feel rested and relaxed in the morning and much better able to deal with the daily issues.
Decreases Blood Pressure
While meditation has many benefits for the mind, it also has beneficial effects on the physical body including the heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure can be partially a result of stress and excess tension, and create extra strain on the heart and blood vessels. This can lead to strokes, heart disease, and blood vessel irregularities like aneurysms.
Meditation can become a form of biofeedback that helps in focusing on relaxing the mind and lowering overall blood pressure. This seems to be even more effective in older people and those with higher blood pressure. Meditation is thought to actually control the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, lower the heart rate, and the tension in the blood vessels as well. Cardiologists, take note!
You Can Meditate Anywhere
Unlike other activities, meditation does not require any fancy equipment or specific locations to practice. You can practice meditation virtually anywhere! Well, maybe not while driving a car, but you know what I mean! And it only takes a few minutes a day. One of the best ways to start meditating and reaping its benefits is to meditate a few minutes in the morning when you first get up and meditate right before bed.
How Do I Get Started?
While there quite a few different meditation practices out there, there are two basic types:
• Focused-attention meditation which allows you to concentrate your attention on a single object, thought, sound or visualization. This helps by ridding your mind of other distractions. Meditation may focus on breathing, a mantra or a calming sound. I find this is the best form for me, as I tend to get distracted easily by sounds and other things.
• Mindfulness meditation encourages more awareness of all aspects of your environment, your train of thought and your sense of self. While you want to relax your mind and slow it down, it allows you to become aware of your thoughts and feelings and letting them go. Think of it like you holding onto a helium balloon. As you become aware of a particular thought or feeling, you just consciously let it go and its drifts away. This practice is an easy way to begin.
Don’t be like I used to be and think that meditation required a lot of training or studying. It’s easy and is something everyone can do—you can too—and reap some amazing benefits. That’s not to say that a meditative class or yoga practice won’t improve your chances of incorporating it into your life as well if your home space is not conducive to a quiet meditative practice.
I set my appointment alarm to remind me that I have an appointment to meditate every morning while I drink my coffee. I currently only meditate for about ten minutes in the morning but setting a timer helps so you don’t have to keep peeking how long you’ve been at it. There are also quite a few good apps you can download on your phone that will take you through the steps and offer guided imagery, mantras, or gentle directions. My two favorites are Headspace and Russell Simmons’ Meditation Made Simple.
Many of the studies above utilized mindfulness or TM style meditation, but that is simply because they are the most well-known. There are around nine major styles of meditation to try out if you’d like. Start simple and incorporate the practice into habit. Other types of meditation styles may fit your personality better, but they all will have positive benefits, and some, if you stay with the practice, can radically transform your life in such positive ways, you will become a new and better person.
Trying out a style of meditation suited to your goals is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if you only have a few minutes to do it each day.