In the past, meditation was considered a fringe activity that was performed by yogi's or people like monks in Tibet, but now it has been studied, researched and incorporated in almost every high functioning person's daily routine. It's talked about in conversations of wellness, performance, athletics, and even in improving sleep. There are many mental, physical and emotional responses to when you meditate. Here are the top five:
1. It Reduces Stress and Anxiety
When you meditate you are shifting your focus to a single state that helps the brain slow down and stop racing, commonly found in stress and anxiety. Studies show that there is a direct correlation to reduced stress and anxiety when meditating for just 15 minutes per day. Guided meditation can help you prioritize your thoughts and direct your thoughts to gratefulness and calm. Often in stress and anxiety we do not have the capability to sort out what is important in the stressful situation and then we ruminate about it. When having a set time to meditate, it allows us to shelf our stress emotions as you will know that you have the opportunity to sort them out in a quite state of meditation.
2. It Reduces Inflammation in the Body
Long term meditation studies from Harvard University shows that you can lower cortisol levels, released when stressed, and can decrease the inflammatory state of the body by meditating. This inflammatory state is detrimental to our bodies as it increases blood pressure, increases risks of cancer, increases risk of irritable bowl and much more. We know that stress and anxiety is a killer, so get meditating!
Stress also releases inflammatory cytokines that are proven to increase depression. Two different studies showed that you can have a direct lowering effect of cytokines over time by meditating.
3. It Changes Your Brain
Yes, mediation actually changes the structure of your brain! fMRI and EEG studies show that different areas of the brain are activated when mediating and the areas that produce random thought, (this area is used when worrying) are slowed down.
Sarah Lazar, a Harvard researcher found that eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well.
A recent study form UCLA showed that there is less overall loss of grey matter in individuals that had been meditating for an average of 20 years compared to those who don't. Not surprising, people who make meditating a part of their health routine have less age related dementia.
4. It Helps You Sleep Better
This is no surprise as we know meditation lowers stress and anxiety, which are the most common things that keep us up at night.
A technique called mindfulness meditation has proven to help people get better length of sleep and improved quality of sleep. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you. Guided audio meditation when first falling asleep helps to relax your thoughts and bring you to dream land.
5. Lengthens Attention Span
Children and adults who practice mindfulness meditation have been able to decrease the effects of ADHAD or attention deficit Hyperactivity disorder. Studies show workers who practice mindful meditation stay on task for a longer period of time and perform better.
Meditation practiced overtime can help you recognize when you are not focusing and it gives you a powerful tool to use to get back on track. It is not as simple as if you meditate you will get rid of your ADHD but it will help you keep focused overall. Morning mediation is a great way to start your day with a calm focus and goal setting. When you get good at meditation you can have mini-refocus sessions in the day and stay on track better.
There are so many benefits to slowing down your brain and meditating. It is like exercising, it will not be easy at the start but the more you do it the easier it will become. Make it a priority for 30 days and you will form a great habit. I recommend you start with guided meditation. There are many apps and audio files that you can download to help you stay on track with it. Pick a time in the day that is less busy and you won't be interrupted. This is usually first thing in the morning or just before bed. Commit a minimum 30 minutes to meditating with at least 4 sessions a week to start.
Activity fact: Monks who have mastered meditation can consciously change their heart rate and body temperature when meditating