If you could incorporate just one thing into your day that could improve your brain, your health and your mental state in as little as a few minutes a day, would you get started straight away?
We know we would, which is why we're going to tell you a bit more about meditation. Initially the favorite among hippies and religious figures, meditation has gone mainstream, and for good reason.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation has a pretty broad range of definitions, thanks to the different ways that it can be used. But simply put, it is a practice that allows you to become aware of your thoughts, your body and your existence.
Some people incorporate meditation as a practice, and others add it into activities that they already perform. For example, exercise such as running can be a meditative practice if the runner is aware of their body sensations and the flow of their thoughts.
Common Types of Meditation
There are dozens of forms of meditation, each with slightly different approaches and outcomes. But today, we'll just look at a few of the more commonly known and used approaches.
Mindfulness meditation is possibly one of the simplest forms of meditation, but that doesn't make it easy! Mindfulness meditation takes its cues from many other forms, but is quite simply the awareness and acceptance of everything that is being experienced, from thoughts and feelings to physical sensations.
Mantra is one of the better known forms of meditation. A mantra, generally made up of Sanskrit words of power, is repeated during meditation, drawing the focus away from thoughts and worries and onto the repetition of the word or words. Some people choose to find their own mantra, and others consult a meditation teacher to help in the selection of a mantra to use.
Vipassana is one of the more hardcore meditation forms, as it has few mental or physical tools to aid the meditator. With a focus on the breath entering and exiting the nostrils, and the belief that nothing is permanent, including thoughts and feelings, it allows you to gain insight into reality.
Zazen, often known as Zen, is a seated meditation that is similar to Vipassana, but is performed with a particular seated position, and with eyes open and downcast. Zen also focuses on the breathing at the belly, rather than through the nostrils. Awareness is focused on the impermanence of sensations, thoughts and feelings.
Guided meditation is just what it sounds like—someone guides you through a meditation process with their voice. It's commonly used for beginners, and can be run either in a classroom environment, or through a recorded form played on a computer or through an app.
Psychological Benefits of Meditation
There are so many benefits from meditation, and many are psychological benefits. So if you want to incorporate meditation into your day, here's some of the benefits you might experience:
- It can reduce depression, most likely due to the practice of thought awareness, with some trials showing up to 63% lower scores when measuring mood disturbances with incorporation of a regular practice
- It can reduce anxiety, likely due to thought awareness and down-regulation of the nervous system.
- It can improve your ability to cope with stress and other unpleasant emotions and situations. This seems to work across a variety of populations, from the chronically ill to stressed-out office workers and even children.
- It can improve your focus and concentration by teaching you to focus on one thing at a time, while also ignoring distractions that may pop up.
- It can improve your memory, including rapid recall of facts, as well as protect from disorders that affect the memory, such as Alzheimer's
- It can make you more emotionally resilient, which has been shown to have a huge impact on physical health, as well as mental health
Physical Benefits of Meditation
Just because it's a mental practice, doesn't mean that it doesn't have a huge impact on health. Here are just a few ways that meditation can improve physical well-being:
- It may aid you in losing weight, particularly the more dangerous visceral fat that stores around your organs, due to the reduction in stress hormones that cause you to store fat in the abdomen.
- It can reduce your blood pressure and your heart rate, both in healthy teenagers and in adults with pre-hypertension or hypertension. These reductions can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- It can increase the grey matter in your brain, which is likely the reason for many of the psychological benefits experienced, including improved memory and resilience.
- It can reduce the experience of pain, both in acute pain and chronic pain, allowing for better methods of coping with the experience. It does this by reducing the perception of pain in the brain, making it an ideal intervention for chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia.
- It can increase your energy levels, thanks to the improved functioning of the mitochondria, or the powerhouses of your cells.
- It can reduce inflammation, which is associated with almost every chronic disease, from heart disease to autoimmune conditions and even cancer.
- It can give you a longer life by keeping your telomeres long and healthy. Telomeres are protective structures on the ends of your DNA strands in each and every cell, and are an excellent predictor of life expectancy.
How to Get a Practice Started
Starting a practice is easy. Simply find a form of meditation that appeals to you, and form a regular habit.
Whether you start your morning with a seated Zen meditation, take a deep breathing break during your lunch hour, or fall asleep to a guided meditation recording, the important thing is to make a choice about what suits you and your schedule.
Ideally, you will include a meditation practice daily to reap the full benefits, but even weekly meditation will help you to manage your stress levels and keep a more level head during the week.
So, have a think about how you can incorporate meditation into your schedule, because the benefits really speak for themselves.