Meditation has been used for centuries by Buddhist monks and more recently by people looking to expand and center their lives. Studies have shown that meditation can actually change our brains and help with a variety of health issues.
Meditation and Health
In meditation, we focus on one thing, like the breath, a mantra, or a candle, and shut out the world. In studies, people who meditate had less immune system activation and less emotional distress when exposed to stress. This is especially important since stress is linked to many of the most problematic health issues, like cardiovascular and heart disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, research has been done to show that meditation helps with several different disorders and illnesses, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Sleep Problems
Meditation changes our brains. People who meditate were found to have more grey matter in the frontal cortex (responsible for higher thinking) and hippocampus (regulates emotions and responses). Meditaiting also increases cortical thickness, the area of the brain responsible for attention and introspection. Other health benefits include decreased inflammation and immune function and increased pain tolerance.
A Harvard Researcher Herbert Benson created the concept of relaxation response when studying the scientific benefits of relaxation and meditation. His studies showed that people who meditate regularly had lower stress levels, increased well being, and lower resting heart rates and blood pressure. This term has now been coined as an effect of transcendental meditation and Benson went on to find Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute.
Meditation is not a replacement for any type of medical treatment. Speak with a health professional about meditation as it applies to you and your health.
How Meditation Works
Meditation works by creating a deep state of tranquility. Creating a deep level of concentration and shutting out the world allows the brain and body to rest. By focusing on the present moment, we learn to let go of random thoughts and control our minds (rather than the other way around).
Different types of meditation:
- Guided meditation – meditation that takes place following instructions or a class.
- Mantra meditation – meditating while focusing on a word or phrase.
- Mindfulness meditation – being aware of the present and letting go of negative thoughts and emotions.
- Transcendental meditation – create your own or use one that has already been created, like the om of Buddhism practice. Focusing on a mantra helps to focus your attention.
- Walking meditation – slowing down the pace of our walking and doing it with patience. Especially great in nature, but also doable in busy city streets. Concentrate on your feet, movement, and sensations of the ground.
- Qi gong – an ancient Chinese practice of meditation, movement, breathing, and exercise.
- Tai chi – Chinese form of martial arts that marries slow moving postures and breathing.
- Yoga – movement through poses that help with flexibility and calming your mind.
- Prayer – written or spoken, prayer is the most widely practiced form of meditation.
- Choose a quiet location. Here is one possible posture you can try for meditation.
- Don’t worry if your mind wanders. Just bring it gently back to the present. Some meditation exercises call for you to use visualization or other tactics to help you release your thoughts that float up in every day life, like the river visualization.
- Start small and go big. Even just 5 minutes of meditation a day can help you feel more centered and relaxed. Don’t feel pressured to sit still and practice for a long time. Start with a few minutes and work your way up or just use the small bit of time you have in the morning before you start your day. Meditation is a great way for us to practice centering and setting our intentions.
- No judgments. Try not to feel like you have to do something or not do something. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Everyone practices differently. Give yourself this time to just be and not pass any judgments.
- Always come back to your breathe. We always breathe, it is a natural function. You don’t need to think about breathing and we carry it with us every day. Use this to center yourself.
- Practice every day. Just like anything in life, the more your practice and do something every day, the more it will become a habit. Those who practice meditation daily can find the time to meditate wherever, whenever.