The importance of meditation cannot be emphasized enough. If you’re new to meditation then you probably aren't yet familiar with the many, many benefits you can achieve through this simple yet profound practice. I know I wasn't.
I thought to myself, “how can just sitting there quietly do so much? Isn’t sleeping basically the same thing?”
It wasn’t until I hit a peak level of stress in my life that I finally succumbed and decided to give meditation a legitimate shot. I chose to meditate for 10-20 minutes (whatever I could handle) every morning and night.
It was hard at first but I’m so glad I stuck with it!
After a few days it makes a noticeable difference in how you feel. Most notable is the impact it has on stress, anxiety, depression and overall clarity of thought during the day. You may not deal with these problems but even if you don't, there’s major physical benefits to meditation as well.
In this post I’m going to share the physical and mental benefits, some tips to get started and the importance of meditation so that (hopefully) you’ll decide to give it a try too!
What Is Meditation
In a nutshell, meditation is simply relaxing and becoming present in the moment. This result can be achieved with breathing exercises, by listening to guided meditations, going to classes, repeating a mantra, or even walking around and touching objects in your environment. Meditation is a personal practice so there’s no wrong way to do it.
Here's a few styles of meditation you may enjoy:
- Breathing Meditation
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Walking Meditation
- Mantra Meditation (TM Meditation)
- Concentration meditation
- Lying meditation and much more
Beyond the aforementioned styles you can also meditate during exercise. For example, if you’re lifting weights and fully focused on your breath and contracting your muscle this is a form of meditation. Try different things and you’ll notice what style fits you best.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
- Stress reduction
- Lower blood pressure
- Strengthen immune system
- Improve sleep
- Recharge and relax
Benefits of Meditation on Stress Reduction
Beyond just finding a few moments for yourself to sit quietly, meditation can have a tremendous affect on stress levels.
Harvard Medical School conducted a study where they took 16 participants into an 8 week study on mindfulness based meditation. The participants engaged in a weekly meeting and then meditated on their own with audio recordings of guided meditations.
MRI images were were taken of the 16 participants before the study and of 17 individuals who did not meditate.
The results? Participants reported feeling more capable of acting with awareness. The MRI images showed an increase in gray matter in areas associated with memory, learning, empathy and introspection. They also showed a decrease in areas associated with fear, anxiety and stress.
All that to say that meditation has been scientifically shown to decrease stress levels!
Benefits of Meditation on Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is often associated with high stress levels. Since meditation reduces stress, it makes sense that it would impact blood pressure as well right?
Several studies have shown that practicing Transcendental Meditation can help reduce blood pressure in people at risk of developing high blood pressure. It has also been demonstrated to lower blood pressure in individuals with existing blood pressure conditions.
It's uncertain whether or not Transcendental Meditation is superior to other forms of meditation for lowering blood pressure.
How is Meditation Important to Your Immune System
Your immune system is like a second brain in your body. It's the thing that determines, to a high extent, whether or not you get the seasonal flu, cancer, or something else. One of the many physical benefits of meditation is that it can help you keep yours functioning soundly.
Several studies have shown that meditation can reduce inflammation (the precursor to all disease), it has been shown to boost the immune cells in HIV patients (slowing the growth of the virus) increase levels of antibodies, and increase immune system brain-function areas.
How Meditation Can Improve Your Sleep
Beyond the calming effect of sitting down and clearing your mind, meditation has been shown to help fight insomnia and improve sleep.
Harvard Medical School conducted a study on 49 adults with trouble sleeping. Half of the adults participated in a mindfulness awareness program that taught them to focus on the present moment. The other half participated in a sleep education class which taught them ways to improve their sleep. The result?
Compared with the individuals in the sleep education class, the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue and depression at the end of the six sessions.
The Importance of Meditation on Focus and Productivity
Sitting down to meditate for 20 minutes per day can have a profound affect on your ability to focus and be productive during your workday.
Meditation has been found to help you control brain waves called alpha rhythms. These brain waves help you suppress distracting sensory information thus leading to an increased ability to focus. And with more focus comes more productivity. And the more productive you are, the less stressed you are so the benefits feed off each other.
Emotional Benefits of Meditation
- Calm your nerves
- Helps control anger
- Helps with anxiety and depression
- Brings clarity to our thoughts
- Helps build discipline
Meditation Helps Calm Your Nerves
If you’re over the age of 15, you’ve probably experienced that feeling of drinking too much caffeine before. You feel jittery, your nervous system is on high alert and it's hard to calm down.
Personally I really don’t like that feeling and I don’t think there’s many people who do. But what about feeling this way when you’re not on caffeine? Is there a way to prevent it?
Yes. Meditation can help to significantly calm our nervous systems. Meditation calms our nerves by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest), slowing our breathing rate, lowering blood pressure, and teaching our bodies how to trigger our natural relaxation responses.
All of these factors come together to jointly lower stress and calm your nervous system.
Meditation Can Help You Control Anger
We all know how it feels to get angry or frustrated and just wish we could calm down. Unfortunately when we get this worked up it can be hard to interrupt the pattern.
Using meditation daily acts as a preemptive strike against getting to this spot in the first place.
Because anger often comes from built up stress which eventually leads to an eruption of emotion over something that’s usually unrelated to the underlying cause. By meditating daily you’re able to lower generalized stress, calm your nerves and in general prevent that frustration build up.
In moments of acute anger (when something abruptly happens) meditation can help you bring focus to your breath and get through it without losing your sanity.
Meditation Can Help Anxiety and Depression
I’ve personally used meditation to help with anxiety and depression and I can say that it made a huge difference. Anxiety is mostly caused by the anticipation of future events and depression typically from the past. Both conditions also have their roots in neurological imbalances as well.
Daily meditation can help to significantly decrease the amount of anxiety and depression you feel in relation to thought processes (i.e. living in the past / future). It may also help with the neurological imbalances by reducing your stress levels and subsequently your neurological stress response. Thus allowing your body to relax and repair these imbalances.
Meditation Can Help Bring Clarity to Thoughts
Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you just can’t think straight? I know I have. Adopting a daily meditation practice, where you’re breathing deep and focusing can help you have a much clearer thought process.
By increasing the oxygen to your brain, calming your nervous system and taking the time to focus on the moment you’ll notice you’re able to think much more clearly during the day and feel less rushed in decisions.
Meditation Helps Build Discipline
Eventually you won’t want to miss a day of meditation. However, that's not the case in the beginning. When you’re just starting and haven’t experienced the calming effects of meditation it can feel like a chore.
By forcing yourself to get up in the morning and meditate you’re building discipline. This discipline can transfer over into many other areas of your life and lead to many other successful habits. Plus you’ll be rewarded by everything we’ve already mentioned if you stick with your meditation practice.
How to Get Started Meditating
1. Start small
Don’t rush into 30 minute meditations right out of the gate. If you have trouble sitting still you can start with as little or as much time as you want. Meditation is a marathon so take care to ensure you can keep going.
2. You don’t have to close your eyes.
Many people think you must close your eyes when meditating. Fortunately that’s not true. You can pick on object in the room and simply maintain a soft gaze while counting your breath.
3. Try meditating at different times
I like to meditate first thing in the morning, just before bed or both. These are the times that work best for me because I’m either just coming out of or getting ready to go into sleep. This allows me to relax and focus more. For you, it might be a mid afternoon meditation. Experiment with times until you find something you like.
4. Allow your mind to wander and then bring it back
If you try to stop your mind from wandering you’ll never win. Instead allow your mind to wander and when you notice it happening just bring your focus back to the moment. Do it as many times as you need to and try not to get upset if your minds active.
5. Practice makes perfect
Meditation is a practice. And as such you can’t expect to be a zen master within a week. It’s just not likely and with meditation and the more you focus on the outcome the farther you get from it. It's a paradox but true because meditation requires living in the moment. The more you’re focused on this future destination, the further you are from the moment.
For more tips check out: 60 meditation tips
By now hopefully you’ve realized that meditation can be a very important practice to integrate in your life. There’s many free meditations to get you started on YouTube, there’s free meditation apps, and there’s always sitting down and counting your breaths.
No matter what method you choose I hope you stick with it because it’ll help a ton!