Posted on 21 November, 2016

10 Benefits of Meditation

By Jacob Andreae in Mental Clarity, Lifestyle 10 Benefits of Meditation

[Image Source: Niko dimo]

How do you meditate when you don’t have the time or you can’t sit still? Easy.

I’ve tried meditating many times. Here’s how the story goes. I add a fifteen minute block of meditation to my schedule every weekday, morning and night. I struggle through back pain in the seated position so I lay down. I lay down and I can’t focus. My mind wonders and I think of all the things I need to do, didn’t do and want to do. All of a sudden, I need to scratch my nose. Then I need to scratch my head. Then my arm starts itching. All the while, I try my hardest, persisting with the desire to be successful at meditation. I know the benefits, I just have to focus.

As you practice, you do get better. But mediation for me, as with many things in life, including exercise, is best when making use of that incidental time throughout the day. For example, when my new Apple Watch sends me a notification saying it’s time to stand up or breathe, when I need a break, when I’m sitting on the couch, when I’m walking through the shops. My preferred type of mediation involves taking a deep breath and breathing out slowing, paying attention to my body and imaging water cascading over it, taking all of my pains and worries away.

I think the longest period I’ve maintained this schedule for is about one and a half weeks. I completely understand when I hear people say they just can’t meditate. But as with any new habit, you can’t fail. It’s not a matter of missing a day and it’s all over. Meditation, like weight loss or training for a 10k, is a journey. If you miss a day, you miss a day. Simply pick up where you left off.

Meditation is an active form of brain training. With the benefits known for generations and the practice widespread in some cultures, scientific research has been steadily growing in recent years, detailing the many benefits of meditation.

The benefits of meditation far surpass feeling relaxed. Scientific research shows that meditation increases grey matter in your brain, increases connections, increases or decreases activation of certain parts of your brain, reduces stress, anxiety and pain, while increasing feelings of connectedness, happiness, creativity and productivity.

10 Benefits of Meditation

  1. Lowers stress and anxiety
    One of the most common reasons to start meditating is to reduce stress and control anxiety. A sub-genre of meditation known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, aims to reduce a person’s stress level. A 1995 study by Kabat-Zinn, Ken Fletcher and John Miller, demonstrated that participants continued to maintain improvements in their symptoms of anxiety and panic after three years.
  2. Enhances happiness
    The feelings of happiness are instant. After just two minutes of mediation you feel happier; however, the longer you meditate and the more regularly you meditate, the happier you feel. Increased happiness is a result of your mind slowing down and long, slow breathing that opens your lungs and supplies oxygen to the widest reaches of your body.
  3. Helps you to connect with others
    Regular meditation helps you to be calm and present. That enables you to connect with people. When situations arise that have the potential to be stressful or escalate into an altercation, the lower base-level of stress and arousal that comes from regular mediation will assist you in maintaining your temperament.
  4. Makes you more appreciative
    As meditation causes your beta waves to decrease, which is a sign that your brain is reducing the information it is processing, you become more present in the moment. As a result, your senses become enhanced and you start taking notice of feelings (mental and physical), sounds, and smells that you may not regularly notice. This fosters an appreciation of the simpler things in life - the things often overlooked and that truly matter.
  5. Makes you more productive
    You have decreased activity in the default mode network (DMN), which is responsible for mind-wandering. Meditation dials down this network allowing you to focus.
  6. Enhances attention
    Also related to a reduction in your mind-wandering is enhanced attention. A 2012 study from the University of California, demonstrated that a two week mindfulness-training course improved cognitive performance, decreased mind-wandering and working memory.
  7. Enhances creativity
    A 2014 study from Leiden University, showed that meditation can promote creative thinking in experienced and first-time meditators. They also found that different types of meditation have different effects. Open monitoring meditation, which is meditation whereby you are receptive to every thought and sensation, was shown to be more effective for divergent thinking, which is the ability to find more solutions to any given problem. Conversely, focused attention meditation, where you focus on a particular thought or object, had no effect on divergent thinking.
  8. Improves sleep quality
    If you’re the sort of person who becomes instantly alert when you get into bed, meditation is a healthy and effective to way to help turn down your mind when it’s time to sleep. A 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, showed that people who participated in a mindfulness awareness program had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression after just six sessions, compared to people who participated in a sleep education program. Mindfulness meditation involves focussing on your breath, a positive word or phrase, and bringing your attention to the present.
  9. Physically changes your brain
    Your brain actually changes physically in response to meditation. A study out of Harvard in 2011, found that an eight week course in MBSR meditation increased the thickness of the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. It also decreased the brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
  10. Reduces physical pain
    A 2012 study published in Neuroscience Letters, found that experienced meditators reported less pain than non-meditators. What was most intriguing was that the experienced meditators actually showed more activity in the regions of the brain associated with pain. It’s likely these experienced meditators avoid engaging in the thought process associated with pain, and as a result are able to reduce the unpleasantness of the pain.

One of my favourite ways to start meditating is to use an app. My favourite app is 10% Happier by Dan Harris, available on iTunes here. There’s a monthly subscription fee but it’s worth the price for the quality of content you get in my opinion. They offer a seven day free trial and this is a good way to decide if you want to purchase it. My other favourite meditation app is The Mindfulness App, available on iTunes here It’s free and what you get is good for any beginner. There are in-app purchases if you want to advance your meditation.

The alternative to apps, in my opinion, is joining a meditation class or even a yoga class. Meditation isn’t just sitting with your legs crossed, hands in lap, humming the sound of ‘om'. Meditation for some can be reading a book, watching the birds, taking time out in the shower or bath, going for a relaxing swim, a leisurely walk, or even a run. There are different types of meditation including but not limited to:

Primordial Sound
Focussed Attention
Open Monitoring
Kundalini Yoga

Different types of meditation have different effects on the mind and body. Research shows mindfulness meditation reduces stress and anxiety, while open monitoring meditation has a bigger influence on creative thinking. Mindfulness meditation is very popular at the moment and is a good place to start for beginners, as is focussed attention.

What are your experiences with meditation?

About Jacob Andreae

About Jacob Andreae

I write and speak about Fitness, Nutrition and Mindset. 

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