The Many Benefits of Meditation
Recent Studies from institutions like Harvard University have shown that long-term meditators have increased amounts of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, and the auditory and sensory cortex of their brains.
So what does this mean relative to the benefits of meditation?
- meditation reduces stress
- fosters clear thinking
- increases our capacity for empathy and compassion.
Understanding the many physical, mental, and emotional benefits from meditation may help you to make the time to meditate daily.
Whether you’re a beginner or a Yogi living on a mountain top check out all the benefits of regular meditation:
Physical Benefits of Meditation
Part of meditation is just simply sitting (typically with eyes closed), and just taking this simple step has been shown to result in significant and immediate changes in the brain! In fact, MRI images show a complete change in the brain’s different departments, which results in a relaxation response in the rest of the body.
During meditation, beta waves, which are associated with information processing, are replaced by alpha waves, which are associated with brain coherence. The frontal and parietal lobes, which deal with reasoning, planning, and processing sensory information, slow down. And through the significant reduction in incoming sensory stimuli, the nervous system shifts to relation mode with improved functioning throughout the body.
The autonomic nervous system (which is essentially the automatic control system for the body and NOT typically under conscious control) consists of the Sympathetic Nervous System associated with preparing the body for physical or mental activity. In response to a stressor, the sympathetic nervous system orchestrates what you familiarly call the fight-or-flight response. It increases muscle blood flow and tension, dilates pupils, accelerates heart rate and respiration, and increases perspiration and arterial blood pressure. To conserve and concentrate energy, it slows down digestive activity.
The counterpart to the Sympathetic Nervous System is the Para-Sympathetic Nervous System which is essential for rest and recovery. It is responsible for the “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” activities that occur when the body is at rest, especially after eating, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion and defecation. The Para-Sympathetic Nervous System balances out the flight or fight response.
Unfortunately for many reasons modern life tends to accentuate the Sympathetic Nervous System and keep it turned on all the time. This is what being “Stressed” is all about. This is where activities like meditation can become critical for reducing this response.
On a physical level, meditation:
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Lowers the levels of blood lactate, reducing anxiety attacks
- Decreases tension-related pain, such as, tension headaches, ulcers, insomnia, muscle and joint problems
- Increases serotonin production that improves mood and behavior
- Improves the immune system
- Increases the energy level, as you gain an inner source of energy
Mental Benefits of Meditation
By reducing incoming stimulus meditation relaxes the body as well as the mind. Without constant stimuli entering the sensory pathways, the mind is able to relax and enter a state of deep rest. Meditation also allows for a deeper connection with the inner self. In doing so, self-esteem increases and the ability to make decisions that align with the individual’s authentic feelings and desires, and allow for better self-regulation. With regular practice of meditation:
- Anxiety decreases
- Emotional stability improves
- Creativity increases
- Happiness increases
- Intuition develops
- Gain clarity and Peace of Mind
- Problems become smaller
- Meditation sharpens the mind by increasing focus and expands through relaxation
- A sharp mind without expansion causes tension, anger and frustration
- An expanded consciousness without sharpness can lead to lack of action/progress
- The balance of a sharp mind and an expanded consciousness brings perfection
- Increases emotional steadiness and balance
Meditation can be a catalyst for transformation from the inside out. Overtime meditators tend to discover aspects of themselves that they were not previously aware of due to stress.
How To Meditate
There are many different ways to meditate, and many people never get started because some of these methods can seem very complicated and challenging. People try to meditate and think they are “doing it wrong” because they do not know what to expect.
The fact is that meditation is simply sitting quietly and comfortably with your eyes closed while letting thoughts and feelings come and go! Sitting in a chair is fine – you do not need to sit in cross-legged position on the floor unless this is comfortable. The key is being able to relax and for some kneeling with pillows or pads under the hips or using a kneeling chair allows them to relax while keeping the spine in alignment.
It is natural and normal for the mind to wander and generate all sorts of thoughts and feelings – the key is to learn to watch them come and go because thoughts and feelings never last! We are not our thoughts or our feelings.
It is helpful to try to pay attention to your breathing – do not try to control it – just pay attention to it. Thoughts and Feelings will intrude and this is NOT a problem – it is normal. When your mind inevitably drifts and you become aware of it return your attention to your breathing.
This process of drifting in thoughts and feelings and coming back to your breathing IS meditation. There is no “doing it wrong.” Think of it like house cleaning for your brain. This is why dreaming is so essential – your brain is cleaning house when you dream and to some extent meditation is just wakeful dreaming.
Try to set a timer and sit for 10 minutes a day and gradually increase the time to 20 or 30 minutes per day. It is crucial NOT to judge yourself – remember thoughts and feelings are normal – just watch the show! If you stick with this overtime the “noise” in your mind will slow down.
There are many apps available to help you meditate and many people find them helpful – the key is to use them daily and NOT judge yourself – just sit and be with yourself.
At first this can be challenging, but over time it gets easier and easier – good luck!