Enough with all the dieting and workouts—what’s all this you’re hearing about the health benefits of daily meditation and the improvement in the physical, mental, and spiritual planes that can be achieved with its use?
Yes, it’s true… meditation is an aspect of a healthy lifestyle that can no longer be ignored. With overwhelming evidence from not only the personal testimonials of practitioners themselves, but from the medical and scientific communities, the impressive health benefits of daily meditation are impossible to ignore.
What is Daily Meditation?
Before we get into the many health benefits of daily meditation, let’s talk for a moment about what meditation is and what it isn’t.
What meditation isn’t… it is not a weird spiritual or cultish ceremony. It’s not reserved for monks or groovy people who live in communes. Instead, it has become a mainstream practice that has helped many people improve their health markers across the board. And, you don’t have to spend hours a day in solitude staring at burning candles. Instead…
Meditation is the act of making your mind calm and peaceful and allowing thoughts to come and go without attachment to them. Control of your mind involves mastering your attention span and focus, controlling your emotions, increasing self-awareness, and practicing mindfulness. Noticing and becoming aware of your thoughts, bodily sensations, and feelings, and letting them come and go without judgement, leaves you in a relaxed, stress-free emotional and physical state.
What Types of Meditation Can You Do?
The types of meditation available to you are numerous, but let’s discuss just a couple versions to give you an overview:
Mindfulness—this means noticing what you are doing, thinking, and feeling. You notice the positive and negative thoughts as they pass through your awareness, and you release them without trying to judge them, fix them, or change them. You simply notice them and let them go. It’s about being in the moment. It also helps you to notice when you may be mindlessly performing and repeating actions (e.g., “mindless eating”). This type of awareness helps you stop destructive behaviors and to live more in the moment.
Zen—this form of meditation sounds mainstream, but it is perhaps less common than your typical mindfulness meditation. Zen, called “Zazen,” is a no-frills form of meditation that has you focus on nothing but your breath. No ritual or doctrine is followed, but the premise behind the practice revolves around completely clearing your mind and focusing on “nothing.”
Transcendental—popular with celebrities, this form of meditation involves repeating a special mantra given to you by a practitioner. The idea is to repeat the phase, allowing yourself to quiet your thoughts and focus on becoming aware of your surroundings.
Tai Chi and Yoga—practices which help you learn to focus on your body and breathing while at the same time connecting with your body physically. The mind-body connection you develop through these practices allows you to release stress from your body and tune in to what it needs.
So, now that you have a brief overview of just a few of the various types of meditation available, what’s the best form to practice? That will depend on you, your personal preferences, your goals with your practice of meditation, and your time restrictions. The form you will do—that makes you feel good—is the one you should use.
What are the Health Benefits of Daily Meditation?
Having a daily ritual where you get into the practice of meditation has so many benefits it’s impossible to list them all: They are as vast as the different styles of meditation. But, here is a short list of some of the top health benefits of daily meditation:
- Reduce stress—yes, it’s true. Uncontrolled stress (or distress) wreaks all kinds of havoc on your body, from aging you prematurely to increasing your blood pressure to forcing your body to store fat and more. Calming your nerves and clearing your mind can go a long way toward taming negative stress.
- Reduce pain—crazy as it sounds, this is a possible health benefit of daily meditation! Meditation allows you to essentially turn down the dial on your pain. Since the brain is the conduit to transmitting the level of pain you feel, controlling that level begins in the brain as well. Meditation allows you to notice the ebb and flow of what you’re feeling and to remove yourself from it.
- Alleviate depression—meditation is a wonderful nonpharmaceutical way to reduce depression and anxiety. Science shows that the act of meditating can help your body naturally boost the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, which help quell depression.
- Overcome addictions—yes, meditation can literally help you rid yourself of addictions. The mindfulness aspect of meditation can help you pinpoint the thoughts that lead you to the repetitive actions that make up your addiction. Being aware of your destructive patterns can help you to break those patterns and create new, more positive, habits.
- Sleep better—meditation is known for helping people enjoy better, more restful sleep. Just processing the thoughts that run through your mind all day, and allowing yourself to release them, can help most folks achieve better sleep. And, research shows that daily meditation increases melatonin (which helps you get a more restful night’s sleep) by a whopping 97%.
- Boost your immune system—meditation is a great time to visualize your perfect health as well. In addition to using the power of visualization and positive thinking, preliminary studies show that meditation helps your body reduce inflammation and can even aid in warding off infection.
- Helps you relax—clearly, taking a few minutes out of your hectic day to sit down, breathe deeply, have zero interruptions, and clear your mind is going to do volumes in terms of helping you to relax to face the challenges of your day. Taking a few minutes to center yourself each morning can give you the strength to power through anything you may encounter.
- Improves your cardiovascular health and lowers blood pressure—the increased relaxation, deep breathing, and reduced stress you experience leads to lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health.
- Keeps you young—studies show that meditation not only combats the aging effects of stress but meditating often allows your body to increase levels of the hormone DHEA, which according to the National Institute of Health, can help to control the effects of aging.
How to Get Started
Now that you’re convinced to give this whole meditation thing a try, how can you get started?
First, it’s smart to schedule it at the same time every day, so it becomes part of your daily routine. You’ll need some quiet, uninterrupted time, preferably alone. Begin by sitting, cross-legged (if you can), with your hands resting gently on your knees, palms up. You can sit on a pillow if it makes you more comfortable. Close your eyes gently to begin.
Try to clear your head of any thoughts by just focusing on your breathing. At first, thoughts will come along, but just notice them and let them go. Return your focus to your breath. Continue like this for five minutes. When done, gently open your eyes, and bring your awareness back to the present moment. Start with five minutes a day for your first few days and then gradually increase the time you spend meditating. It’s not necessary to spend hours upon hours doing so, but many people find 20- to 40-minute daily sessions extremely beneficial. Just remember, in order to reap the health benefits of daily meditation, and make them stick, it’s essential that it be a regular, preferably daily, practice.
There are also apps for your phone that are helpful when you’re getting started. Try the Headspace app for daily guided meditation sessions.