28 Jul The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. And as more people discover the benefits of meditation, so does its popularity rise.
You can use meditation to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration.
People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns and even increased pain tolerance.
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction.
Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines.
These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
Research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
TL;DR: Many styles of meditation can help reduce stress. Meditation can also reduce symptoms in people with stress-triggered medical conditions.
Promotes Emotional Health
Some forms of meditation can also lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life.
One study followed 18 volunteers as they practiced meditation over three years. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression.
Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress, can affect mood, leading to depression. meditation may reduce depression by decreasing these inflammatory chemicals.
Meditation can also help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. Self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you
TL;DR: Some forms of meditation can improve depression and create a more positive outlook on life, and the self-inquiry style of meditation can heighten your self-awareness — the starting point for making other positive changes.
Lengthens Attention Span
Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention.
Studies have found that focused-attention meditation improved one’s ability to reorient and maintain attention. Workers who practiced focused-attention meditation were able to stay on task for longer periods of time and remember details of their tasks better than non-meditating co-workers.
Even meditating for a short period may benefit you. One study found that four days of practicing meditation may be enough to increase attention span.
TL;DR: Several types of meditation may build your ability to redirect and maintain attention. As little as four days of meditation may have an effect.
Nearly half the population will struggle with insomnia at some point.
One study compared two mindfulness-based meditation programs by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced meditation, while the other didn’t. Participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer, compared to those who didn’t meditate.
Becoming skilled in meditation may help you control or redirect the racing or “runaway” thoughts that often lead to insomnia. Additionally, it can help relax your body, releasing tension and placing you in a peaceful state in which you’re more likely to fall asleep.
TL;DR: A variety of meditation techniques can help you relax and control the “runaway” thoughts that can interfere with sleep. This can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and increase sleep quality.
Helps Control Pain
Your perception of pain is connected to your state of mind, and it can be elevated in stressful conditions.
One study looked at the effects of habitual meditation in 3,500 participants. It found that meditation was associated with decreased complaints of chronic or intermittent pain.
An additional study of meditation in patients with terminal diseases found meditation may help mitigate chronic pain at the end of life.
In each of these scenarios, meditators and non-meditators experienced the same causes of pain, but meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced sensation of pain.
TL;DR: Meditation can diminish the perception of pain in the brain. This may help treat chronic pain when used as a supplement to medical care or physical therapy.
You Can Meditate Anywhere
People practice many different forms of meditation, most of which don’t require specialized equipment or space. You can practice with just a few minutes daily.
If you want to start meditating, try choosing a form of meditation based on what you want to get out of it.
There are two major styles of meditation:
- Focused-attention meditation: Concentrates attention on a single object, thought, sound or visualization. It emphasizes ridding your mind of attention and distraction. Meditation may focus on breathing, a mantra or a calming sound.
- Open-monitoring meditation: Encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, train of thought and sense of self. It may include becoming aware of thoughts, feelings or impulses that you might normally try to suppress.
If you’re interested in incorporating meditation into your routine, try a few different styles and consider guided exercises to get started with one that suits you.