Meditation, or a series of techniques that trains your mind to redirect negative thoughts and achieve a heightened state of awareness, is an age-old practice that has been shown to have various positive physical and mental advantages. Here are 10 benefits of practicing daily meditation that are backed by scientific research.
Meditation has been found to reduce levels of the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for the body's stress and inflammatory response. Normally, feeling stressed leads to increased cortisol levels, which can have negative effects on your sleep, blood pressure and mental health. However, a 2011 Harvard study concluded that regularly practicing meditation decreased the volume of the amygdala, a brain area that regulates anxiety, fear and stress. If you feel like you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, meditation may be the activity for you.
Strengthens Your Immune System
Are you looking for a way to stay healthy during the cold or flu season? Similar to eating a healthy diet or taking a greens supplement, practicing meditation can build up your immune system and help you to become more resistant to bacteria and viruses. While the exact mechanisms behind this process aren't fully understood, researchers believe that meditation turns on certain genes that are responsible for controlling inflammation and healing wounds. As an additional advantage, the subjects in these studies had never practiced meditation before. Therefore, it's never too late to start, and you don't have to be experienced to reap the benefits of meditation.
If you're looking for a natural pain remedy, you may want to start meditating. Research has found that meditation decreases pain by using different pathways that painkillers such as opioids use. Meditation is also a much safer alternative, as painkillers have a high incidence of addiction and overdose. Whether you're suffering from chronic, acute or post-surgical pain, meditation can provide you with much-needed relief.
In addition to its many physical health benefits, meditation can also improve your mental health by boosting your self-esteem. Practicing meditation allows you to observe what you're currently thinking and feeling without judgement. Being more in touch with your inner dialogue increases self-awareness, which can consequently improve self-esteem. Furthermore, setting aside time to focus only on yourself and disengage from distractions such as your phone or social media can do wonders for your mental health by allowing you to live in the moment.
One of the main goals of meditation is to focus on the present instead of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Several studies have demonstrated that meditation increases the volume of brain areas responsible for learning and memory, therefore improving cognitive function and allowing you to concentrate on tasks for longer periods of time. Training yourself to be more attentive and focused is a learnable skill, and you can accomplish this through meditation.
Increases Positive Emotions
If you've been feeling down on yourself lately, meditation can increase feelings of kindness and acceptance towards yourself. With practice, you can learn to extend these positive emotions towards others in the form of empathy, altruism and forgiveness. Metta, also known as loving-kindness meditation, is a specific form of meditation that can help foster these valuable feelings. An example of metta meditation would be picturing a loved one in your mind and wishing them happiness and peace. A study of 100 adults found that those who spent more time practicing metta meditation experienced a greater increase in positive emotions such as empathy and compassion than those who didn't.
Helps You Gain Control Over Your Emotions
It can be difficult to communicate with others when you don't feel in control of your emotions. You may fall victim to the common belief that you can't change how your brain functions, and therefore you'll never be able to adequately express your emotions. However, meditation can alter how you process and express your feelings. Gaining control over your emotions can allow you to learn how to respond to stressful situations and explain to others how and why you feel a certain way. Consequently, this can help you build and strengthen your relationships with others. Meditation has also shown to be a beneficial activity for children, as they can learn to build emotional resilience and deal with complicated emotions such as fear, embarrassment and jealousy. Just as with any other skill, meditation is a learned activity that you can improve at with practice.
About 40 percent of Americans have some form of insomnia. Whether you're also struggling with this sleep disorder or you're simply looking for ways to wind down at night, meditation may be the answer. Research has shown that people who meditate regularly not only fell asleep faster but also stayed asleep longer than those who didn't meditate. In addition to helping with sleep, meditation can foster feelings of relaxation and reduce tension in common areas of chronic pain such as the back, neck and legs. Meditation's effects can extend past bedtime and also allow you to feel at peace throughout the day.
A recent study found that individuals who had recovered from a drug or alcohol addiction were less likely to relapse if they practiced meditation. This is because meditating can regulate how the brain experiences pleasure, which may prevent addicts from reverting to their old behaviors. Additionally, because meditation can give you a heightened awareness of your thoughts, it can grant you the power to observe a mental urge but refrain from acting on it. Therefore, meditation can stretch beyond fighting addiction by helping you gain control over your mind and abstain from taking part in harmful activities.
Accessible Wherever You Are
Unlike other activities or hobbies that require space or equipment, you can meditate regardless of your location. This can be beneficial if you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed in a public place, such as in class before giving a presentation or in an airport before boarding a plane. Taking a few minutes out of your day to practice deep breathing and examine your thoughts can greatly reduce your stress levels, and the good news is that no one has to know that you're doing it. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to assume a meditation pose or have perfect posture to meditate. While those practices can be beneficial, they're not necessary if you find that you need to meditate in public.
Whether you're interested in trying out metta meditation, spiritual meditation or mindfulness meditation, every variation has been shown to result in significant physical and emotional advantages. These 10 benefits of daily meditation can hopefully convince you to take up this rewarding and worthwhile activity.
If stress and anxiety, an active mind, or aches and pains are keeping you up at night, you’ll likely benefit greatly from meditation or yoga, or a combination of the two. Always check with a medical professional before starting a new fitness routine, and remember to practice good sleep hygiene in addition to your new yoga or meditation practice. If you are having trouble falling asleep at night and staying awake during the day, take Alaska Sleep Clinic's short, free Insomnia assessment quiz.