Do you practice meditation? For some, the art of meditation might appear to be a recent fad, prompted by health enthusiasts who encourage a healthy lifestyle. However, the practice of being mentally clear and emotionally calm through a variety of techniques really started thousands of years ago. Because of its numerous benefits, meditation has transcended the test of time. Here are some reasons you should start meditating:
1. Decreases Stress
Our body contains a stress hormone called cortisol that spikes up when we experience mental and physical stress. When our cortisol level goes up, our body goes through several negative processes including the release of chemicals called cytokines which promote inflammation. When this happens, we experience depression, anxiety, increased blood pressure, and sleep disruption.
When you meditate, you control stress. When you control stress, you control anxiety. For instance, a study by Carmody and Baer found out that mindful meditation decreased instances of phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, panic attacks and other symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Also, a long-term study involving 18 volunteers saw low anxiety levels in participants who continued to practice regular meditation.
Another trial on the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction program on health professional saw decreased anxiety levels on nurses.
3. Promotes Emotional Health
Did you know that meditation can help you have a more positive outlook on life and your self-image?
A study by Goyal, M., et. al. found a decrease in depression in more than 4,600 adults in over 45 clinical trials. In another study that observed volunteers over three years, the researchers found that participants who meditated experienced long-term decrease in depression. Furthermore, another controlled study that compared electrical activity between people who practiced meditation and those who did not show significant changes in activity in areas that affected positive thinking and optimism.
4. Increases Self-Awareness
Meditation can also help you become more aware of who you are, your strengths and your weaknesses. In a study of women with breast cancer, researchers found that when the women participated in a tai chi program they had higher self-esteem than those who only received social support meetings.
Meanwhile, a study of 40 senior individuals in a mindfulness meditation program observed that they had reduced feelings of loneliness. The experience was not similar to the control group who was on a waitlist for the program.
5. Increases Attention Span
Meditation also helps in increasing your attention span because you are able to train your mind to focus on the task at hand.
As people grow older, it becomes harder and harder to remember things. Even the simplest tasks need to be written down at times. Well, research has shown that certain types of meditation can actually help with memory loss.
Kirtan Kriya which combines a mantra or chant with moving one’s fingers in a repetitive motion can improve a person’s memory. Participants in multiple studies of age-related memory loss showed improved ability in performing memory tasks. A review of more than 10 studies on multiple meditation styles observed that older volunteers showed increased attention, memory and mental quickness. Meditation can also help patients with dementia with their memory loss and their caregivers in coping with stress.
7. Promotes Kindness
Meditation not only keeps the stress away, but it also promotes good behavior towards others and oneself. Metta is a form of meditation that encourages a person to have kind thoughts and feelings toward themselves. Eventually, these kind thoughts and feelings overflow to one’s behavior towards others. In fact, other studies on Metta meditation even showed that the practice can be beneficial in dealing with social anxiety, marriage conflict, and anger management.
8. Could Help Overcome Addictions
Another good thing meditation brings is to help people deal with their addictive tendencies. Researchers observed that individuals who have developed mental discipline from meditating increases self-control and awareness of triggers. Meditation can help people with addictive behavior to redirect their focus, increase their willpower, and control their impulses and increase their understanding of their behavior. In fact, a study on recovering alcoholics found that participants who started meditation practices were able to control their cravings.
9. Promotes Better Sleep
Meditation can also help with insomnia. People with insomnia usually have racing or “runaway” thoughts. A study that compared mindfulness-based meditation found that participants who meditated actually fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer. Meditation makes the body relax and release tension in order to be in that peaceful pre-sleep state.
10. Helps Control Pain
Pain is supposedly a state of mind, so proponents of meditation believe that practicing meditation techniques can ease the pain. Using functional MRI techniques, a group of researchers discovered that participants who went through mindfulness meditation training were less sensitive to pain. This group also had increased activity in parts of the brain that controls pain. Another study of terminally ill patients saw that meditation could help ease chronic pain and provide comfort to patients who are near death.
11. Can Lower Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure can cause atherosclerosis which can result in heart attacks and strokes. A study of over 900 volunteers discovered that concentrating on a “silent mantra” decreased blood pressure in the participants by around five points.
Researchers found that meditation can relax the nerve signals and blood vessels as well as the “fight-or-flight” response that heightens alertness when in stressful situations.
12. Can Be Done Anywhere
Did you know that you can meditate in just about anywhere? It all depends on WHY you want to meditate.
You can meditate by yourself in a quiet space at home or work. If this is not possible, you can join a meditation class. You can also set your alarm a little bit earlier in the morning when it is calm and quiet.
There are a variety of meditation practices, but the two major types are focused-attention and open-monitoring. The first trains you to rid your mind of distractions by teaching you to focus on a single object, thoughts, sound or visualization. The second one helps you to become more aware of your environment, sense of self and train of thought.
The existing literature reveals that mindful meditation has generally helped participants feel calm and have a better outlook on life. If you are looking for an easy and inexpensive alternative to help you feel less stressed or anxious, try meditating.