When you think of the word “meditation”, you may think of interviews with health-conscious Los Angeles celebrities or a fitness trend. But the bigger picture is this: Some archaeologists date cross-legged, seated meditation from 5,000 to 3,500 BCE in the Indus valley, with Hindu scripts speaking to the practice 3,500 years ago.
But what is meditation exactly? Consider it exercise for your mind, in the sense that it’s a physical and mental practice that helps the mind work better. Just like you can exercise your body for strength, endurance, or flexibility, you can meditate for a wide range of benefits.
Here are a few examples of the benefits – and best practices – of this effective yet ancient practice.
The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation can improve your ability to focus on tasks. One study at UCLA looked at a group of people diagnosed with ADHD who practiced meditation for eight weeks. By the end of the study, they found that they were able to increase their focus, as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
As with any muscle, you can develop and strengthen your focus. Just as you might lift weights to strengthen your muscles, you can meditate to improve your attention span.
A Healthy Mental/Physical Connection
Your mental and physical health are intrinsically linked, perhaps a lot more closely than you might assume at first. In fact, you can’t achieve overall well-being without taking care of your mental health.
Take a look at studies like this one that explore the link between meditation and chronic pain. According to this particular research, meditation contributed to a 40% decrease in pain intensity after only four 20-minute sessions.
“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.” – Robins S. Sharma
When someone is mindful, it means they are fully present and aware of their environment, surroundings, feelings, and physicality.
Beyond helping you to “live in the moment,” mindfulness can also help you become the observer of your own mind and use it as a tool for your benefit. This awareness will help you become more thoughtful and less reactive to the world around you.
When you are mindful, you’re able to use your mind as a tool and optimize it to reach your full potential.
Possibility of Improved Physical Health
Meditation can improve your health by:
- Increasing immune function: Practicing meditation could help your immune system function better, according to this study.
- Decreasing pain: As discussed, meditation can help you experience less pain. One reason is that meditation makes it easier to reduce your emotional response to pain so that the pain doesn’t take over your thoughts and emotions.
- Decreasing inflammation at the cellular level: Since psychological stress is a trigger of inflammation, meditation can help reduce that inflammation by decreasing stress.
Elevated Sense of Happiness
Meditation can make you happier by:
- Decreasing depression and anxiety.
- Decreasing stress. Stress originates in your mind. Meditation allows you to develop a new perspective on stress triggers.
Improved Sense of Social Connection
Meditation can help you connect with others by:
- Increasing your awareness and emotional intelligence: Awareness is a key component of meditation. When you are more aware of your surroundings and the people in your life, it can help elevate the authenticity of your social connections.
- Helping you feel less lonely: Loneliness can actually be quite dangerous for people and is often associated with negative health consequences. The awareness that meditation brings, though, has the power to help decrease these feelings of loneliness.
Elevated Levels of Self-Control
Meditation can help you develop self-control by:
- Improving your ability to regulate emotions: When you practice meditation, you become better aware and more observant of your thoughts and feelings. This perspective allows you to manage emotions using a more rational part of your brain.
- Improving your ability for introspection: Introspection is an underutilized tool that can allow you to understand your internal emotional landscape. This understanding can help you regulate feelings of anxiety and unease.
- Increasing productivity: By improving your focus and attention span, you can increase your productivity overall. Meditation can help you better manage your daily schedule while also improving memory, creativity, and intelligence.
Maximizes Physical Brain Health
Meditation can help you improve your brain health by:
- Increasing grey matter: Your brain is made of grey matter, which plays a significant role in human survival; it allows us to control our movements, retain memories, and regulate our emotions. And it actually increases with long-term meditation!
- Increasing cortical thickness: The increased cortical thickness on your prefrontal cortex allows you to have better decision-making abilities and a longer attention span.
Meditation Best Practices
Although meditation may conjure images of exotic retreats and dark rooms with dozens of lit candles, you can start with nothing more than a few minutes and a comfortable place to sit. Start with only five minutes at first, then try to work up to 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon.
Yoga Journal offers these tips for beginners:
- Just sit: Make sure you’re comfortable and close your eyes. Breathe.
- Listen to sounds around you: Don’t judge them or try to control them; just let them pass, like clouds in the sky.
- Practice bare attention: The ground under you, the breeze around you, the feeling of your breath going out and in; bring your attention to these simple sensory experiences.
- Breathe deeply and slowly: While you’re breathing in, attach your mind to the inhale; and while you’re breathing out, focus on the exhalation.
- Choose a mantra: This is just a syllable you enjoy saying; it can be meaningless but is intended to be an anchor for your thoughts as they try to escape you.
The Bottom Line
Meditation can open the door to numerous health, well-being, and mental benefits.
What many people don’t understand about meditation is that you can’t do it the wrong way! Any time you spend alone intentionally regulating your own thoughts can offer you a high return on your health. Enjoy the process of trying different meditation tactics to see what works for you and reach out to an Arootah Coach for support building habits, such as meditation, that fit your lifestyle and goals.
Do you meditate? What’s your preferred way to spend your time in meditation? Share in the comments!