Most people have some idea of what meditation is. However, a lot of people in the Western world have no idea why one would decide to pursue meditation or what the overall health benefits of meditation are, both mental and physical. So, today I would like to explore this subject a little bit and share some of that information with the world.
First of all, I would like to explain what meditation is to those of you who may be unfamiliar with the practice.
Sure, it looks like simply sitting in a quiet room with your legs crossed for a long period of time, but there is more to it and the benefits of meditation can actually have a profound impact upon your life. In the typical, untrained mind-state the brain is very active, unfocused and emotionally reactive to the events that occur in day-to-day life. Meditation is about pulling away from that emotionally reactive mind-state and giving yourself the ability to see situations with more clarity, from a less biased perspective and to be less affected by the negative occurrences that are natural to humanity. We spend so much time within our own ego, our own perspective, that we sometimes get tunnel vision and miss out on the bigger picture. Understanding the bigger picture can put our difficulties into perspective and bring us greater peace of mind, and a more profound sense of well-being.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing on something, whether that’s your breathing, a spot on the floor, a candle etc., and then while focusing on this object or action – allowing your mind to become a blank slate. When a thought enters the mind, you recognize that you are thinking and then let that thought go, re-focus on whatever it is you were before and make your mind a blank slate again. This will likely be very challenging in the beginning, yet it becomes easier and easier with time alongside the benefits of the meditation itself. One can easily sit on a pillow or folded blanket to keep their rear from getting too sore and there are many different methods of meditation that can be found on websites like Youtube to meet your personal preferences. The more that you enjoy your meditation practice, the more noticeable the benefits will be in your life.
As your meditation practice develops, so will your ability to make critical decisions in stressful situations. Your overall sense of awareness will be more advanced. You will have enhanced focus and improved determination. Your understanding of both the world and yourself will change and evolve. Your mind will become more calm and quiet. If you are the type of person that suffers from anxiety or is guilty of over-thinking things then meditation could be your best friend. Meditation is about seeing the truth in reality. It helps us to see the difference between what is important in life and what is not. It also helps us to be more present in life. It helps us to live in the moment and to spend less time inside of our heads thinking about the past or dreaming about the future. It allows us to use our precious time on Earth more wisely by making the right choices at the best possible times and in the most appropriate ways. It allows for insight and perspective. Perspective that is not necessarily our own, but that of the Universe. An outside perspective without the ego attachments. It can also increase the compassion that you have for others and your capabilities for empathy.
Studies have shown that meditating as little as 20 minutes per day can begin to yield benefits in a person within just a few weeks. Don’t stress about hitting that 20 minutes every day though, even if you are super busy and can only squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes on occasion it is still better than nothing at all. You will still end up with your results, maybe it will just take a little longer. If you feel like stretching it to an hour, then go for it! It’s all personal preference.
Personally, I have found my experience with meditation to sort of be like my experience with physical fitness. The first few weeks are challenging while your mind adjusts to the new routine, but after it becomes a part of your daily life and the benefits start to appear, it becomes a pleasurable part of the day that is looked forward to. The mind just needs to become accustomed to this new habit.
More and more, Science has become a strong supporter of the benefits of meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to not only increase the overall mental well-being of the practitioner, but science has proven that meditation can actually increase the volume and density of brain matter in an individual. It can actually decrease the degradation of the brain with age also, preserving more grey matter in the long run.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to decrease activity in the “me” centers of the brain that affect self-referential thought and mind-wandering. Mind-wandering is typically associated with less happy thoughts and so it is the goal for many people to dial this thought-process down.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to match anti-depressants in battling depression, anxiety and pain.
Regular meditation practice has been found to increase the cortical thickness of the hippocampus in the brain which is responsible for memory and learning. It has also been shown to reduce the size of the amygdala which is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
In just a few weeks meditation can help to improve concentration and attention spans because of the focus that meditation requires to concentrate on an object or thought or activity.
Meditation can help with addiction because of it’s affects on the control-regions of the brain. Those who meditate are many times more likely to be able to follow through with their plans of abstinence then those who do not practice meditation.
Short meditation breaks have even been shown to increase good behavior in children if implemented in to their daily school rituals. One district in San Francisco started a twice daily meditation program in some of its high-risk schools – and saw suspensions decrease, and GPAs and attendance increase. This will take some time before this practice gains more widespread acceptance.
The benefits of meditation are becoming more and more established in the scientific world. It is one of the cheapest and easiest methods available to all, to increase your quality of life. Meditation does not require any special tools or equipment. The practice can be accomplished at any time, in any location. The benefits are the same whether you are rich, or whether you are destitute. Ultimately you need to be the one that decides whether meditation is right for you, however, before deciding that it is not, why not give it a try and decide based on experience? You have nothing to lose except for 10-20 minutes per day and everything to gain. It might possibly be just the activity that you were missing in your life.