More and more people are discovering the benefits of meditation, and as it becomes more mainstream, the amount of research into meditation has also increased with some amazing results.
By practicing meditation on a daily basis we can train our minds to focus on the present and redirect our thoughts. Meditation can help us calm down if we are anxious, deal with difficult emotions or situations. It can also help us develop beneficial habits and feelings such as a positive mindset.
Meditation has also been used to create healthy sleep patterns, give up addictions and even increased pain tolerance.
Let’s take a look at 10 science-based benefits of meditation:
1. Reduces Stress
Both physical and mental stress causes increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, to be produced by the body. This can result in the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines, which can disrupt our normal sleep pattern, increase our depression and anxiety levels, increase blood pressure and make us feel tired.
An 8-week study into the meditation style called ‘mindfulness meditation’, found that the inflammation response caused by stress was greatly reduced. Notably, this effect was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress.
There are many styles of meditation that help reduce stress, we just need to find a style that suits us and meditate regularly.
2. Controls Anxiety
Following on from the 8-week study of the ‘mindfulness meditation’, a further study was conducted 3 years later. The study looked at 18 people who had continued to practice meditation, and most of the volunteers reported that they had managed to keep their anxiety levels lower over the 3-year period.
The volunteers also reported that meditation had helped them reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, and panic attacks.
Yoga has also been shown to help people reduce anxiety.
3. Promotes Emotional Health
Depending on the style and type of meditation we choose, there have been several studies that demonstrate an improved self-image and a more positive outlook on life.
There are various guided meditations that lead us to explore our views and beliefs, offering an alternative mindset and enabling us to create positive thoughts and habits.
4. Enhances Self-Awareness
As previously mentioned, there are many different types and styles of meditation for us to choose from. Self-inquiry meditation aims to help us develop a greater understanding of ourselves and how we relate to those around us.
Other meditations can help us identify thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. Then through the guided meditations, we can gain greater awareness of our thought habits, helping us to steer them toward more constructive thought processes.
5. Lengthens Attention Span
We all know that physical exercise can improve our health and wellness. We need to view meditation as an exercise for our brains. Many guided meditations can help us increase the strength and endurance of your attention span.
Meditation can help us to focus better on our current task for longer, by decreasing the brain activity that can cause mind-wandering, worrying and poor attention. It can also help us remember more details about the task once we have finished.
6. Can Generate Kindness
Metta is a type of meditation that starts with developing kind thoughts and feelings toward ourselves. Through constant practice, we then learn to extend our kindness and forgiveness externally, first to our family and friends, then other people we know and finally towards those who we don’t like.
Metta increases positivity, empathy and compassionate behaviour toward ourselves and those around us.
7. May Help Fight Addictions
When we start to meditate, we learn a mental discipline, which we can use to help us break addictive habits. By understanding our addictive behaviours and increasing our self-control, we can become far more aware of our addictive triggers.
Studies have shown that meditation may help us learn to redirect our attention, increase our willpower, control our emotions and impulses. This is how meditation can help us succeed in losing weight, or giving up smoking.
8. Improves Sleep
A good night’s sleep is so vital to our overall health and wellness, yet shockingly nearly half of us will experience insomnia or prolonged nights of restless sleep at some point in our lives.
There are a number of meditation techniques that can help us relax before sleep, and allow us to control those ‘runaway’ thoughts that keep our minds racing and interfere with our sleep quality.
Meditation has been shown to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase our sleep quality.
9. Helps Control Pain
We all know that some of us can cope with more pain than others, and this comes down to the way that pain is perceived in our brains.
A very interesting study gave volunteers painful stimuli while observing their brain activity in an MRI scanner. Half of the volunteers had taken part in a 4-day mindfulness meditation training, and the other half didn’t.
The group of volunteers that had the meditation training showed increased activity in the brain centres known to control pain, and they also reported less sensitivity to pain.
10. Can Decrease Blood Pressure
We all know that high blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood, which can contribute to poor heart function, atherosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
A study took the blood pressure of volunteers both before and after a "silent mantra" - a repeated, non-vocalized word meditation, and found an average drop of about 5 points in blood pressure. The results were even more among older volunteers and those who had higher blood pressure prior to the study.
So as we can see, there are many benefits to meditation. 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. Remember you can meditate anywhere.
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