Mindfulness and meditation are not just buzzwords. With the busy lives that we lead, meditating helps us learn to take a moment and pause. It lowers stress, which is often a trigger for a multitude of health issues. While only meditation is not enough for a healthy lifestyle, it is definitely an important factor along with a wholesome, balanced diet and physical exercises. Let’s take a look at how meditation impacts mental and physical health.
Benefits of meditation
Regular meditation enables a person to follow a healthy sleep cycle, along with maintaining a balanced mood and increased pain tolerance. There are tons of benefits to meditation.
- Less stress
Physical as well as mental stress release increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. This leads to the higher production of cytokines, chemicals that cause inflammation in the body. As a result, a person will suffer from a number of stress-related conditions, including anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, and blood pressure. However, following a habit of mindful meditation can help alleviate the inflammatory response of the body to stress and its related effects.
- Anxiety control
Meditation lowers stress levels in the body. Basically, it helps to maintain calm in the presence of stress triggers. This translates to a person feeling less anxious. Moreover, regularly meditating may help in alleviating the symptoms of certain anxiety-inducing conditions such as phobias, OCD, and paranoid thoughts. In some cases, the severity of panic attacks also lowers with meditation. Those who work in high-pressure work situations may experience lower job-related anxiety with meditation.
- Better emotional health
Mood and overall emotional health are severely affected by stress. This is mostly due to the release of inflammatory chemicals, cytokines. Regularly practicing mindfulness and meditation lowers cytokine levels in the body. Also, breathing is regulated, ensuring enough oxygen reaches the brain. This also balances mood. Moreover, it improves mental and emotional health. As a result, a person experiences positivity and improved self-image as well.
- Better physical health
The crux of all types of meditation is learning to take controlled, measured breaths. This helps to regulate heart rate and improve blood circulation in the body. This improves heart health to a great extent. Additionally, controlled breathing and lower cortisol levels also help to strengthen the immune system. Improved immunity means lower infections and lower possibility of illnesses attacking the body.
There are various forms of meditation that help a person develop a better understanding of their self. This usually occurs by focusing on how one relates to people and their surroundings. This benefit of meditation involves learning how one reacts to various situations. Regular meditation helps to change one’s thought habits and develop constructive thinking patterns. Furthermore, it helps to channel a person’s creative energies and improve conflict resolution ability.
- Increased focus
Just as weight-lifting is for the body, meditation is for the mind. It strengthens a person’s ability to focus on the task in hand for a longer time. It helps improve attention span as well. Mindfulness meditation helps to control mind wandering and unnecessary worrying that often contributes to loss of concentration. Furthermore, better focus brought about by regular meditation can help in memorizing the details of a task. Even short periods of meditation can improve and increase a person’s focus.
- Improve memory
Often aging is related to gradual memory loss. However, an extremely busy life can also contribute to the subtle loss of memory. Different methods of meditation can improve a person’s ability to do memory tasks with better results. This shows that meditation can help to prevent gradual memory loss. Moreover, focused and controlled meditation can help in improving mental clarity and agility.
- Generate empathy
With lower stress levels and enhanced self-awareness, meditation naturally helps to bring in an empathetic attitude. Some forms of meditation start off by focusing on loving-kindness thoughts. This helps develop a positive thought habit, thereby helping a person experience kindness, compassion, and empathy towards oneself and others. Furthermore, it helps in anger management, social anxiety, and the lowering of interpersonal conflict.
- Break dependencies
The development of mental discipline through regular meditation improves self-control. Additionally, it helps to increase awareness about triggers that enable dependencies, unhealthy habits, and addictions. With an increased understanding of the causes that add to addictive behavior, a person can learn to control impulsive behavior. Also, it enables better control of emotions and increased willpower. With meditation, a person learns to redirect their attention to stress caused by cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Improve sleep pattern
One of the most useful benefits of meditation is an improved sleep cycle. A majority of the people suffer from some kind of sleeping disorder due to work-related stress or due to personal stress. People who meditate are known to enjoy better quality of sleep. Guided meditation and other techniques have led to enhanced quality of sleep that lasts for a longer duration. This mostly happens because mediation helps to control racing thoughts that are a major reason for insomnia. A healthy sleep pattern in turn leads to less stress and more productivity.
- Increase pain tolerance
The perception of pain is often aggravated in high-pressure situations. A stressed state of mind doesn’t have high tolerance for pain. A great benefit of practicing meditation is lower sensitivity to pain. Those who have intermittent or chronic pain due to any pre-existing health disorder can gain a lot through meditating. Even a week of mindfulness meditation can help mitigate pain symptoms and improve the quality of life.
- Control blood pressure
High blood pressure puts immense strain on the heart. The heart has to work extra hard. This is detrimental to the overall functioning of the organ. With high blood pressure comes other health disorders, including atherosclerosis, hypertension, strokes, and heart attacks. Often prolonged stress has been known to be a trigger for high blood pressure. By controlling stress and practicing mindfulness, meditation can be beneficial to maintain optimum blood pressure levels in the body.
Various types of meditation
The benefits of meditation can be experienced by practicing any form of the meditating process. The practice of meditation can be found in various schools of thought and in different cultures. Some of the popular types of mediation that help achieve inner peace include:
- Mindfulness meditation
One of the most popular forms of meditation techniques, mindful meditation is said to have originated from Buddhism. It involves combining awareness with concentration. Perfect for those who are practicing alone without a guide, mindfulness requires a person to focus on their breathing or any object and pay attention to their thoughts. It involves taking note of the thought patterns without any judgment.
- Spiritual meditation
Based on Eastern religious philosophies, spiritual meditation involves reflection on silence and surroundings. It is often practiced by those seeking spiritual growth. This experience is generally heightened through the use of various elements including cedar, frankincense, sage, myrrh, and sandalwood.
- Focused meditation
This form of meditation involves focusing on any of the five senses. A person can focus on something internal, for instance, their breathing. An external object like the tip of the flame of a candle, can also be used for focused meditation. It involves focusing on the internal activity or external object for a long period of time. Since the mind tends to wander off, this form of meditation requires substantial practice and patience.
- Movement meditation
An active form of meditation, movement is what helps to calm the mind. It usually involves doing a calming physical activity without any disruptions. It can include walking in a quiet place, gardening, Tai chi, or any other gentle activity. It helps the mind focus on the specific activity without letting it wander. Additionally, the physical movements help in controlled breathing.
- Mantra meditation
For those who find it difficult to focus on their breathing, mantra meditation can be beneficial. It involves focusing on a specific sound, word, or phrase, each of which is known to be a mantra. The mantra should be repetitive and spoken loudly or quietly while meditating. “Om” is quite a popular mantra used for this form of meditation.
- Transcendental meditation
A different form of mantra meditation, transcendental meditation is slowly becoming popular. It involves being seated, slow breathing, and trying to rise above one present state of mind. During the session, a person has to focus on a specific mantra. Unlike mantra meditation, the mantra in transcendental meditation is more customized. This form of meditating is usually guided by a teacher who develops the mantra based on the person’s life or goals.
- Zen meditation
A part of Buddhism, this form of meditation is also known as Zazen. Since it involves postures and steps, zen meditation is usually guided by a teacher. Basically, it requires a person to settle down in a comfortable posture and focus on their breathing while observing all the thoughts passing through their mind. Zen meditation is useful for relaxation as well as mindfulness.
- Breath awareness meditation
Similar to mindfulness meditation, breath awareness meditation involves mindful breathing. Practicing this helps in gaining emotional flexibility and improved concentration. Moreover, it helps in the management of anxiety. This form of meditation requires a person to focus solely on their breathing and blur out all other distractions.
Things you need for meditation
While various forms of meditation may have different requirements, there are certain basic things that are common across all types of meditation practices.
- A quiet space
For most beginners, focusing can be hard. So, a quiet corner or room is preferable. A setting or spot without any visible or audible distraction can be beneficial to master the art of meditation.
- An open mind
Most meditation techniques require one to let their thoughts flow freely. It involves not dwelling on the thoughts and just letting them pass. So an open mind without judging one’s own thoughts is necessary to practice complete meditation.
- A comfortable posture
Meditation is useful when done for a substantial amount of time. It is essential to find a position or posture that one can maintain for at least 10 mins without interruptions. One can choose to sit, lay down, or pick any movement or position one is comfortable with.
- Relaxed breathing
Beginners usually have to consciously work towards keeping their breathing relaxed during meditation. Controlled and measured breathing usually comes with a lot of practice. Slow and efficient breathing requires one to focus on the inhaling and exhaling technique.
Meditation at work
When meditation is done in the right way, it helps to relax, lower stress levels, and clear brain fog. This can boost productivity levels at work. Also, it can help prevent creative fatigue and information overload. Taking short meditation breaks at work can be beneficial.
- Take out time for mindfulness
Take 2-minute breaks, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Just close the eyes for 2 minutes and focus on breathing. Or imagine a pinpoint light and focus on it with eyes still closed and breathing relaxed.
- Count breaths
Another way to have zen-level calm is to count breaths before starting the day or any task that has the potential to bring in too much stress. Count at each inhale and exhale for about five minutes.
- Focus on the surrounding
Once breathing has been controlled, focus on the surroundings. Do a body scan exercise by turning attention and awareness to how one’s feet are firmly on the ground, and the way one’s back is resting in the chair. Pay attention to areas of tension and focus on the various sounds in the surrounding.
- Savor lunch time
Rather than rushing through lunch, practice mindfulness. Savor the aroma and taste of food. Pay attention to the texture of food while chewing and swallowing. Be completely present in the process of eating or conversing with other people on the lunch table.
Apps to help you meditate
There are tons of apps available to gain the benefits of meditation, no matter your location. From assisting in the practice of mindfulness to helping in improving focus and concentration, these apps can be quite useful to guide through the process of meditation.
- Simple Habit
- Ten Percent Happier – Meditation & Sleep
- The Mindfulness App
- Relax Now
- Smiling Mind