You’ve probably heard something about the benefits of meditation for your brain, body, stress levels, and more. More and more people are utilizing meditation to combat the stress of modern life. Whether you’re skeptical about meditation or simply want to read more about its benefits, here are the biggest advantages it may have in your day-to-day life.
1. Overall Stress Reduction
Stress reduction is the most popular reason for developing a meditation practice. Large levels of stress in the body can cause inflammation and illness. Meditating regularly may help promote a greater sense of calm and wellness. Since stress is unavoidable in certain areas of life, meditation can act as a healthy coping mechanism coupled with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
A systematic review and meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins University determined meditation programs may provide “small to moderate reductions” in several types of psychological stress. A type of meditation known as Vipassana may also reduce gray matter in areas of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.
Meditation may help with physical stress, strain, and pain in the body, as well. Another study from the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) might be an effective treatment for adults with chronic lower back pain.
2. Mood Regulation
Those who struggle with anxiety can become easily overwhelmed by nagging thoughts and worries. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help people with generalized anxiety symptoms, such as irritability, disrupted sleep, and lack of control over feelings of stress or uneasiness.
Ongoing depression and anxiety may raise the risk of illnesses like heart disease and make it hard to function through everyday life. One of the biggest benefits of meditation, on the other hand, helps train you to focus on the present moment—not the past or the future.
Regular meditation practice teaches you to breathe through uncomfortable thoughts or feelings that may contribute to anxiety or depression. This is significant, as depression is a leading health issue affecting around 20 percent of adults age 65 or older, according to Harvard Health.
3. Improved Focus and Memory
With modern technology, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. And yet, although it is much easier to access all sorts of data these days, we find it increasingly harder to retain the information we come across. That’s because we are bombarded with so much each day, including life responsibilities and expectations.
A meditation technique known as Kirtan Kriya (KK) has been shown to improve memory in:
- Those with mild cognitive impairments
- People with cognitive decline
- And caregivers with high amounts of stress
Other meditation styles have also shown improvements in memory and attention, especially in older adults. A study in 2013 also showed students scored higher on their Graduate Record Examinations (GREs) and working memory tests when employing a daily mindfulness meditation over two weeks.
4. More Mindful Eating
Besides helping with stress, anxiety, and memory, meditations may also influence your eating patterns. Meditation helps train your brain to be more mindful, and that expands into mindful eating.
Instead of sitting in front of the TV and snacking without realizing what you’re eating, meditation may help you actually focus on your food. You will be more inclined to slow down and notice the tastes, textures, scents, and smells, of your meals and snacks. Mindful eating practices may help with weight management and self-regulation to prevent overeating.
5. Greater Sleep
Sleep statistics show Americans get an average of 6.8 hours of sleep per day, which is an hour less than the average in 1942. In addition, a significant number of adults suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea. For some, meditation may be a helpful factor in addressing sleep-related issues.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found adults who completed six sessions of a mindfulness awareness program experienced less insomnia, depression, and fatigue compared to study participants taking a sleep education class. The program taught the adults meditation and other exercises to help them focus on present-moment emotions and thoughts.
6. Better Blood Pressure Numbers
The mind-body connection is strong. When you are experiencing fear, stress, or anxiety, it can cause your blood pressure to rise. Levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone” that can lead to inflammation, also increase. Although this happens temporarily, long-term stress and anxiety may lead to high blood pressure and excessive strain on your heart.
High blood pressure is a huge factor in stroke and heart attack risk. Thankfully, regular meditation has been shown to help reduce blood pressure numbers in some studies. This is likely related to meditation’s ability to help reduce stress, another huge risk factor for heart disease.
Mindfulness practices like meditation can be used in conjunction with a healthy diet, regular exercise, abstaining from tobacco, and other healthy habits for supporting good blood pressure numbers.
How to Start Reaping the Benefits of Meditation
There are many different types of meditation, but you don’t need to go further than the basics:
- Sit down (or lie down) in a comfortable position. You can use a meditation cushion, but it’s not required. Make sure you are also not so comfortable that you fall asleep.
- Close your eyes or find a focal point. This focal point could be a candle, a place on the wall in front of you, or even a word that you visualize. If you are distracted by looking at something, you may prefer just closing your eyes.
- Let your breath happen naturally. When we’re stressed or anxious, our breath can become shallow and labored. Focus on your breath without trying to control or change it.
- Return back to your breath. It’s natural for your mind to wander, so don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble focusing on your breath. It’s part of the practice! Simply note that you’ve drifted and gently return your focus to your inhales and exhales.
The key to experiencing the benefits of meditation long-term comes down to consistency. So, it’s best to find a practice that works with your lifestyle and that you can continue doing. While a 30-minute meditation practice might look and feel good, if you are not able to continue doing it on a daily basis, it won’t provide the same benefits as a regular, shorter meditation practice.