Ten years ago, if you had mentioned to a friend that you meditated, there’s a good chance the response would have been a joke about you being a monk. Today, the practice of meditation is more widely accepted and better understood, thanks to open minds and scientific studies that have proven the benefits of meditation.
What is Meditation?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines meditation as a way to “engage in mental exercise such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”
Concentrating and being aware of the present moment without letting your mind run wild is beyond religion and spirituality. It’s a way to keep your mind and body healthy.
Many meditation practices involve sitting in quietude and stillness and focusing the mind on breathing, but meditation can also be expressed in different ways throughout the day. You can be mindful while walking, eating, and bathing. The idea is to focus solely on the action that you are doing in that moment.
Benefits of Meditation
While meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, it is only within the last twenty years that science has begun to reveal the benefits of meditation that can be reaped by newcomers and long-term meditators alike.
Meditation Improves Brain Health
Practicing meditation or active mindfulness can literally change your brain for the better. One study showed that long-term meditation enlarged cortical regions. These regions of the brain are directly connected to somatosensory, auditory, visual, and interoceptive processing. Meditation practice was also suggested to slow the age-related thinning of the frontal cortex, which is responsible for processes such as high-level decision-making and making judgement calls about the future.
Less Stress and Anxiety
With the demand for alternative medicine treatments, some medical experts are turning to meditation to treat excessive stress, anxiety, and depression. Consistent meditation has been shown to alleviate stress and the symptoms of severe anxiety.
Lower Blood Pressure
Less stress means less strain on your heart. Medical experts agree that meditation should be seriously considered as a supplement to medication for patients with high blood pressure, as the calming effects of meditation reduce blood pressure.
Focus and Concentration
In our fast-paced world, it can be difficult to maintain your focus and concentration. Meditation improves focus and concentration by giving you more control over the region of the brain that is linked to erratic thoughts.
Control Your Emotions
Whether you’re dealing with rush-hour traffic or stuck behind someone in line at the grocery store, in our fast-paced world, patience is a rare virtue. Meditation improves emotional control, and it may help you tame that temper, shoo away sadness, and halt erratic emotional responses. This will result in lower stress levels, allowing you to assess a situation before reacting.
More Gratitude, Better Health
Studies show that gratefulness improves your health, resulting in lower blood pressure and better immune function.
Meditation has a unique way of changing our perspective on everyday life, and many meditators report feeling more gratitude. Aside from meditating, you can keep a daily gratitude journal where you write down three things you are grateful for.
My Experience with Meditation
I tried meditation for the first time in high school after stumbling across a book on Tibetan Buddhism. (I know, I know: how punk rock of me.)
Just like all meditators, my first try was awkward and full of self-doubt. However, I kept up with it, and I practiced a few times a week from my senior year of high school through most of college. I lost touch with meditation during my twenties and rediscovered it again with a vengeance at the age of twenty-seven.
The years I wasn’t meditating are a stark contrast to the years I’ve spent meditating. I can recall far more stressful moments, arguments, and drama during the years that mediation was absent from my life. Although I’ve been meditating regularly for the last several years, no one is perfect. I’ve fallen off the horse and waited for days or weeks before climbing back up.
When I stop meditating, I notice a dramatic difference. My mind is like a wild monkey swinging from branch to branch and thought to thought. It invents unrealistic scenarios and plays them out. My focus is lost in the past and the future. I’m tense, my chest feels tighter, and I’m more likely to say something out of anger.
If I’m staying true to my meditation schedule, I can see the bigger picture at all times. The volume is turned down on daily stressors, and I don’t give them much attention. I discover that I’m a better listener and thinker. I have more energy, and I sleep better. I also notice that I’m not as prone to catching colds or getting sick.
My life is night and day when meditation is absent compared to when it’s present.
My Meditation Practice
Believe it or not, I only meditate for ten minutes a day on average. Experts agree that meditation is dose-dependent, so the more you do it, the more benefits you’ll experience. I try to meditate once in the morning and once in the evening, but more often than not, the latter doesn’t happen. If I’m extremely busy and stressed with work, I do a walking meditation.
If you’re new to meditation, I recommend starting with three to five minutes per day. As you get more comfortable with the practice, slowly increase to ten minutes. Once you can maintain a consistent practice, it becomes easier to increase the time you spend in meditation.
Meditation for Beginners
Set aside three to five minutes per day to meditate. Sit on a pillow or a chair in a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed. You should be sitting up straight with a good yet relaxed posture. Close your eyes and focus on slow, deep breathing.
Inhale slowly through the nose. Do not force the breath in; rather, breathe naturally as you inhale. Pause for a moment, and then slowly release the breath. Once you’ve completed a full breath, say “one” in your mind. Breathe in again but do not rush the breath. Once you exhale, count this breath as two.
Do this up to ten and begin the count again at one.
It’s important not to worry if you’re doing it right. Don’t try to force your mind into clarity. Thoughts are going to come up. This is okay, and it happens to everyone who meditates. Your goal is to gently shoo away the random thoughts and bring your concentration back to inhaling and exhaling. Focus on your breath and not on perfection.
What Do You Think About the Benefits of Meditation?
Is it all hype? What are your concerns about starting meditation? Have you tried your first meditation practice? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below!