Celebrities from Jennifer Aniston to Kobe Bryant talk openly about the benefits of meditation, and Instagram and YouTube gurus rave about how it will change your life. We’re not saying it will win you the lotto or make a money tree grow in your backyard, but meditation does have scientifically proven benefits to your health and overall well-being.
Ready to learn how it might change your life? Here are three reasons to start meditating today!
1. Meditation Reduces Your Stress Load
It’s no secret that stress is deeply unpleasant and negatively impacts our health, but did you know it can be downright deadly? Stress puts pressure on your heart, your lungs, stomach, muscles, skin, immune system, reproductive system, your weight, and even your head. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that stress impacts just about every system in your body.
This greater pressure leads a whole host of problems, including weight gain, anxiety, fertility issues, painful periods, constant illness, TMJ and bodily soreness, indigestion, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, diarrhea, acid reflux, and even irregular heartbeat.
Stress, it’s believed, exacerbates the risk of disease in people who are already prone to conditions such as cancer and heart disease. In short, stress is a killer. Apart from making our lives easier (trust us, we’d be quitting work already if we could!), that’s where meditation comes in. Frankly, it’s a godsend.
Meditation has been notoriously difficult to quantify from a scientific perspective, but there’s been no shortfall of studies attempting to. Fortunately, scientists are beginning to understand how to better understand the benefits of meditation.
For instance, a recent study from Johns Hopkins University analyzed almost 20,000 studies on meditation and concluded that the practice of mindful meditation could help ease stress. In particular, they found that psychological stresses were relaxed, including depression, pain, and anxiety.
In 2008, a more specific study showed that meditation-based relaxation could have an impact on high blood pressure. A whopping two-thirds of the study’s 40 participants enjoyed lowered blood pressure levels after three months, enabling them to reduce medications.
Scientists believe that meditation as relaxation enables the body to form nitric oxide, which in turn opens your blood vessels.
If you’re somebody suffering from almost anything, it quickly becomes apparent that meditation can help you work through fears and pain to come to a calmer, less stressed place.
2. Meditation Helps Your Focus
Meditation is an ancient practice, but scientists now believe that learning how to meditate can improve your concentration and focus. Behavioral psychologists have come to look at the brain like a muscle and focusing is like using that muscle.
Just like repeated attempts at lifting weights builds muscles in your arms and shoulders, repeated attempts at focusing builds your brain’s ability to focus. This leads to better memory retention, increased strength and endurance of attention, a better ability to reorient, an ability to stay at a task for longer, and an increased attention span.
These are all benefits backed up by scientific studies, and they’re impressive; we can’t help but imagine how much better our performance would be at work if we practiced meditation regularly!
In addition to helping you increase your performance by staying on task, your ability to meditate and control your thoughts might also help with issues like anxiety. Anxiety is, essentially, what happens when your thoughts become a runaway train you can’t control. When your ability to control those thoughts increases, you’re able to subdue anxiety in your life.
How, exactly, does meditation help the brain? Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has been able to show that people who have hours of meditation under their belts–that is, experienced meditators–show high amounts of gamma wave activity.
This means that, contrary to what we used to believe about the brain not growing anymore after childhood, the brain, in fact, can exhibit neuroplasticity, which means it can change due to its environment. Experienced meditators, then, can control their reactivity to their environments as well as their thoughts.
3. Meditation Can Help Combat Aging
In 2005, an American study looked at the brains of people who meditated 40 minutes a day and compared them to the control group–people who didn’t. What they found is that the meditators had thicker cortical walls.
Cortical wall thickness has been related to decision making, attention, and memory, but it’s also what shows scientists that meditation might help keep our brains from aging. Or at the very least, meditation causes our brains to age at a slower rate.
My Brain is Bigger
It’s not just brain size; since the decline of memory and cognitive function we associate with aging is so deeply related to things like education, happiness, lifestyle, and so forth, meditation’s ability to help foster a sense of peace, calm, and happiness is a huge part of how the practice helps people live longer.
It doesn’t stop there. It also seems that meditation can help with increased mental flexibility by helping to counter the rigidity of thoughts and opinions that tend to come in the latter half of life. This rigidity makes overcoming challenges and obstacles more difficult which can itself lead to more stress (and we’ve already talked about what stress can do!).
Good meditation practice will help you to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings without developing judgment, which may help you become more adaptable, open to change, and more able to handle challenges.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are so common today that there’s a good chance somebody you live is dealing with the disease right now. We still have much to learn about how the brain ages and retains memory, but a recent study has given us hope, at least where meditation is concerned.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center conducted a study that found adults age 55-90 who practiced meditation and yoga for two hours or more per week had less atrophy and better brain connectivity than the people who didn’t.
Are you convinced that meditation is a valuable tool in the pursuit of health? We are! You’re next question, however, is probably about practicing meditation. What does it mean to meditate? We explore six different kinds of meditation to help you find the right one for you!
Types of Meditation Practices
There are many, many different types of meditation, some ancient and some brand-new, but we’re covering six of the most popular types today. They include:
1. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental meditation is the most popular today in the United States; if you hear a celebrity talking about her meditation practice, it’s usually transcendental. When you practice transcendental meditation, you’ll stay seated and breathe very slowly.
Your object is to transcend your state of being. This includes focusing on a mantra or set of words which is repeated. In true transcendental meditation, you will have a teacher you determines your mantra for you, however some people choose their own.
2. Zen Meditation
This kind of meditation practice is sometimes called Zazen. Like Transcendental meditation, it involves specific steps, a focus on breathing, and being mindfully aware of your thoughts. This is also another kind of meditation that should be practiced under the guidance of a teacher.
3. Mantra Meditation
If silence isn’t for you, you might try mantra meditation, which is frequently used in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. If you think of people chanting the word “om,” when you think of meditation, you’re thinking of mantra meditation!
4. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga blends meditation, physical activity, mantras, and deep breathing. It can be done at home though it’s better to learn from a teacher in a one-on-one setting or in a class. Yoga, in general, has been shown to increase your strength and help reduce your pain; combining yoga with meditation can bring huge results!
5. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness Meditation is second only to transcendental meditation in popularity in the United States. While its origins are centered in Buddhist teachings, it has morphed into its own category.
To practice mindful meditation, you will learn to carefully observe your thoughts as they flow through your mind. The idea is not to judge or condemn your thoughts but to increase your awareness.
6. Spiritual Meditation
Spiritual meditation helps you connect spiritually with God or the Universe. It’s used in Hinduism, Daoism, and sometimes in Christianity. It’s often combined with fragrant oils, such as myrrh or sage, to enhance the experience. It is often practiced corporately as a form of worship.
Meditation has innumerable benefits. Thanks to the many popular forms available to practice, there’s something for everyone!
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