Category: Benefits

8 Ways Meditation Can Improve Your Life

Shrimati Bhanu Narasimhan, a petite Indian woman wrapped in a bright fuchsia sari, has a soft voice but a big presence. She holds the rapt attention of some 100 people who have come to learn how to meditate at the Art of Living Center in the District of Columbia. The type of meditation she teaches is called Sahaj, Sanskrit for effortless. It’s a mantra-based meditation she advises doing twice a day for 20 minutes — before eating. “Mental hygiene,” Narasimhan calls it. Sahaj is just one type of meditation. Others are based on compassion, mindfulness, yoga and transcendentalism, among others. While their aims are different, they share common benefits. Here are eight of those.

Meditation reduces stress.

“Meditation is mind without agitation,” Narasimhan says. Stress creates agitation and is something most of us deal with on some level. And it’s increasing, given the rising use of anti-anxiety medications, notes Stanford University researcher Emma Seppälä. Meditation allows people to take charge of their own nervous system and emotions. “Studies have shown improved ability to [permanently] regulate emotions in the brain,” adds Seppälä, who is also the associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford. “It’s very empowering.”

It improves concentration.
“I’m more centered and focused in everything I do. I don’t find myself getting as distracted anymore,” says Sara Robinson of Indianapolis, who did the Sahaj course last February. The ER nurse and sky-diving instructor adds that multitasking is easier. At least one study has shown an improved ability to multitask, Seppälä says. “Meditation has been linked to a number of things that lead to increased ability to focus, memory … We’ve seen this at the level of the brain.” Greater concentration is related to the increased energy meditation provides. “It connects you with your real source of energy,” Narasimhan says.

It encourages a healthy lifestyle.

“I tend to want more things that are better for me,” Robinson says, adding that she eats more fresh foods and has cut out nearly all alcohol. She also stopped smoking. Susan Braden, who lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, and also did the Sahaj course, says the practice has made her apply the Hippocratic oath — “First, do no harm” — to herself. “You just want to put good things in your body,” she says. That means “closest to what’s natural. So if it doesn’t look like a tomato, I wouldn’t eat it.” Braden also gave up coffee, replacing it with tea.

The practice increases self-awareness.
Before Zaccai Free, a District of Columbia resident, began meditating in college two decades ago, he had a very short fuse – to the point, he says, of wanting to commit acts of violence. Meditation taught him to recognize his own anger and become more detached from it. It cleared his mind and calmed him down, he says. Mostly, “it made me more comfortable in my own skin,” adds Free, who does many types of meditation, including Sahaj, Agnihotra, laughter and walking meditations. “When you take more time to dive inside yourself, you are more comfortable showing who you are.”

It increases happiness.

“Meditation puts you on the fast track to being happy,” says Ronnie Newman, director of research and health promotion for the Art of Living Foundation, the umbrella organization for the Sahaj meditation course. Studies have shown that brain signaling increases in the left side of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for positive emotions, while activity decreases in the right side, responsible for negative emotions, Newman says. The other benefits of meditation, including increased self-awareness and acceptance, also contribute to improved overall well-being.

Meditation increases acceptance.
Braden was a high-profile senior policy advisor in the State Department, constantly on the go to trips around the world, until seven years ago, when she was struck by multiple sclerosis. She turned to meditation, and her world view flipped. “I have a disease which really brings you back to yourself,” Braden says. “Meditation helps me accept that. You explore your inner self and realize that’s just as big as traveling to Burma.” For Braden, learning to meditate has been harder than learning Arabic. “It’s a lifetime job. But it changes how you feel life, and it’s made it more enjoyable for me,” she says.

It slows aging.

Studies show that meditation changes brain physiology to slow aging. “Cognition seems to be preserved in meditators,” says Sara Lazar, a researcher at Harvard University. Lazar adds that meditators also have more gray matter – literally, more brain cells. Lazar’s colleague, Elizabeth Hoge, did a study that showed that meditators also have longer telomeres, the caps on chromosomes indicative of biological age (rather than chronological). That meditation lengthens life “may be a bit of a stretch,” Hoge says. “But there is something about meditation that is associated with longer telomeres … [perhaps that] it reduces stress and its effects on the body.”

The practice benefits cardiovascular and immune health.
Meditation induces relaxation, which increases the compound nitric oxide that causes blood vessels to open up and subsequently, blood pressure to drop. One study, published in 2008 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed that 40 of 60 high blood pressure patients who started meditating could stop taking their blood pressure medication. Meditation also improves immunity. “I hardly ever get sick anymore,” Robinson says. “I don’t think I’ve had a cold since I started this.”

14 Benefits of Meditation that Rewire Your Brain for Happiness & Success

I stand on stage in front of a packed room. My heart is pounding in my ears.

Thump. Thump.

In twenty seconds, I have to walk up to the microphone and give an introduction to the audience. A horrible feeling is rising in my chest.

Terror. I feel terror.

I am an introvert. “I don’t do crowded venues,” I told myself after I was asked to give this introduction. I would rather take a plunge into the Arctic Sea than speak to a room full of people. But I pushed my fear away. “Sure. I’ll do it.”

Now that fear is bubbling up again. I need an escape. A safe place.

I close my eyes for a brief few seconds and focus only on my breath.

Breathe in. Breath out. The air tickles my nostrils.

Immediately, calm overtakes me. My heart rate slows. My nervousness turns to excitement. I step up to the microphone and open my mouth, and my voice is calm and powerful. I can do this.

For the past three years, I have been meditating every day. In this short time, meditation has profoundly transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. Whenever I am scared or nervous or anxious, I simply close my eyes and breathe and within seconds I enter a state of calm. This ability alone is worth more than anything money could buy. And this is just one of the countless life-changing benefits of meditation.

Why Meditate?

If you’ve ever read the book Bridge to Terabithia (or seen the movie), then you are familiar with Terabithia – an imaginary world that the main characters, Jesse and Leslie, create as a safe haven. It is somewhere they can go to be free from the cares and worries of the world.

Meditation has given me a Terabithia. I have created a clearing of calm and tranquility that I can enter into within seconds whenever I feel the need. I have a refuge no matter where I am or what I am doing. The worries of the world no longer threaten me.

Except this mental place isn’t imaginary, and it isn’t populated with trolls and wild creatures – it is as real as the world we live in.

Since starting my meditation habit, my brain has literally been rewired for happiness, peace and success. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • I rarely become angry.
  • I find happiness in unexpected places.
  • I form deeper relationships and build friendships more easily.

By far the largest benefit, however, is that a deep, serene calm and peace is slowly permeating into every area of my life.

At first meditating felt unusual – like I was stepping out of normal life and doing something that most people find strange. I soon realized, however, that this wasn’t true – millions of people meditate and many successful people attribute part of their success to meditation.

Here’s proof that meditation isn’t just for monks.

I could go on, but you get the point. The most successful people in the world meditate and there is a reason why. Science backs up the effectiveness of meditation and has revealed an incredible array of benefits.

The Mind-Blowing Science of How Meditation Rewires Your Brain

At first, I couldn’t believe that a simple daily meditation practice affected my life so powerfully. So, I started doing research and devoured all of the scientific studies on meditation that I could find. I was amazed at what I found – it turns out meditation can transform nearly every area of your life.

Here are fourteen scientifically proven ways meditation rewires your brain for happiness, peace and success.

#1: Meditation reduces stress

Feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Meditation is incredibly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. One study found that mindfulness and zen type meditations significantly reduce stress when practiced over a period of three months. Another study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. If you want your stress levels to plummet, meditation may be the answer.

#2: Meditation increases your sense of well-being

Want to fill your life with happiness and energy? Mindfulness meditation increases your psychological functioning and in the process improves your sense of well-being. Yoga and tai chi have been found to do this also – according to studies, they have significant therapeutic effects and increase quality of life when practiced regularly.

#3: Meditation increases your sense of connectedness and empathy

Feeling a little disconnected from those around you? Try compassion meditation. Lovingkindess meditation (sometimes called Metta) is a compassion-based meditation that enhances brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy. It also increases your sense of social connectedness. Not a hugging person? You just might become one after trying metta!

#4: Meditation improves focus

Would you love to add razor-edge focus to your life? Research shows that meditation improves cognition and increases your ability to perform tasks requiring focus. One study tested a variety of different meditation types, including Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Sufi Meditation and Hindu Meditation, and found that they all improve focus by varying degrees. I used to think coffee was the best way to get focused – now I just meditate.

#5: Meditation improves relationships

Want to strengthen your relationships? Meditation has been shown to better your ability to relate to others. How? It improves your ability to empathize, and it hones your ability to pick up on cues indicating how others are feeling. Meditation also increases your emotional stability, making you less likely to be influenced by any negative people in your life.

#6: Meditation makes you more creative

Ever feel like you could use some more inspiration? Meditation increases your creativity, according to various studies. It’s no wonder that famous creatives like Yoko Ono, David Lynch and Marina Abramović make meditation a major part of their life.

#7: Meditation improves memory

Whether you want to become a memory champion or you simply want to remember the name of that guy who works down the hall, meditation can help. Research has shown that it improves your ability to memorize things and to store and consolidate new information.

#8: Meditation improve your ability to make decisions

There’s a reason high powered executives turn to meditation to help them do their jobs better. Studies have found that both mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation help you make better decisions by improving the functioning of your brain’s decision-making centers. If you want to start cultivating your inner executive, give meditation a try.

#9: Meditation helps people overcome addictions

Do you know someone who has struggled with addiction? One of the most beautiful effects of meditation is that it can help people overcome powerful addictions. One fascinating study found that Vipassana meditation can be incredibly effective at helping people overcoming alcohol and drug related addictions, and similar effects have been found for various types of meditation.

#10: Meditation improves cardiovascular health

Want to get some of the benefits of exercise by sitting in one place? Researchers have found that both mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.

#11: Meditation enhances your immune system

Do you get sick more often than you would like? Believe it or not, a variety of different types of meditation, from mindfulness to yoga, have been shown to strengthen the human immune system and make you more resistant to viruses and infections. Take that, cold season.

#12: Meditation helps you find “flow”

Have you ever felt totally, utterly absorbed in the moment? Maybe you were playing a sport or painting a picture, and the world around you just seemed to vanish. This is called “flow,” and is a rare state where the human mind is operating in complete harmony with itself, when you reach a challenge perfectly suited to your abilities. Meditation can help you reach this amazing state of mind, according to some fascinating research.

#13: Meditation reduces physical and emotional pain (better than morphine)

Perhaps the most amazing benefit of meditation is that it has the capability to reduce mental and physical pain better than morphine. Yep, you read that right. That’s a pretty incredibly scientific finding.

Source:  Read this awesome Huffington Post research summary

#14: Meditation takes you towards enlightenment?

Traditionally, the goal of meditation is to reach Enlightenment, or a state of perfect happiness and understanding. Can you reach enlightenment by meditating? Who’s to say? Many people say yes, although science still doesn’t have an answer. If you’re curious, there is a podcast dedicated to interviewing people who claim to have reached some stage of enlightenment called Buddha at the Gas Pump. Check it out here.

Want to read about even more benefits of meditation? Here is a fantastic article published on the site Live and Dare that recaps 76 benefits of meditation, and here is an amazing research summary put together by the app Headspace. 

How Do I Start?

With so many different types of meditation, it can be hard to decide how to get started. To help, I’ve provided a short list of popular types of meditation, plus a method to help you find one that suits your personality.

11 Surprising Benefits Of Meditation

Health benefits of meditation include relief from stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndromeand acute respiratory infection. It increases IQ, pain tolerance and helps in weight loss. It is also beneficial in maintaining blood pressure.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a mind-body practice in CAM or complementary and alternative medicine. [1] It can be of many types, most of which have originated from traditions, religion etc. There are certain techniques used by those who practice meditation. These techniques include focused attention, a specific body posture and no attention or openness to distractions without much of a response or reaction.

People all over the world practice meditation for a variety of reasons. Some meditate as a part of culture or traditions that may have been followed in the families or society since many years. Some meditate to increase focus, improve health etc. It has been beneficial in maintaining good health and also reducing the risk of many health ailments.

Types of Meditation

When taken from the religion concept it may involve the use of prayer beads or any other item that is considered sacred to a particular religion. Meditation can be practiced when standing, sitting or in the active way that is common among the Buddhists. [2] Physical fitness incorporates its use alongside other exercises such as Yoga. This process is considered to be able to generate various forms of emotional state or alternatively encourage the development of a given mental reflex to various occurrences in the surrounding environment such as compassion, anger, and hatred. It has a calming and relieving result that helps to direct self-awareness inwardly until pure and controlled awareness is realized.

One major advantage of practicing meditation is that it is safe and so far there are no injuries that are associated with it. A person does not require any kind of equipment to meditate; all that is needed is enough space. This is why physicians recommend this practice to patients suffering from stress-related conditions.

It can be practiced under the supervision of doctors, health specialists, and yoga and meditation teachers. One can also self-direct and practice it however it is suggested to first learn the technique under the guidance of teachers or doctors and then practice it on your own. There are various schools of meditation or arts such as Zen, Tibetan, Transcendental, tai chi and martial arts who teach the correct techniques of meditation.

Fifteen to twenty minutes of meditation every day is good and helps to relax body, mind, and soul. Studies have been carried out to ascertain the various health benefits of meditation and its impact on day to day life.

Few things common across types [1] of meditation include

Location: A quiet location is always preferred for meditating as that helps in minimizing the distractions.

Body posture: Depending on the type of meditation the position is decided. It could be sitting in one place, standing or lying down.

Focus: Different types of meditations use different things to focus. One may focus on a mantra or object or breathe sensation while meditating.

Open attitude: Distracting thoughts may keep coming while practicing meditation. It is important for the meditator to try and not lose focus. One may just observe the thoughts and slowly bring back the attention to focus. This may take some time but with regular practice, it is possible to not get affected by distracting thoughts.

Health Benefits of Meditation

The health benefits of Meditation include a relief from stress, regulated blood pressure, prevention of anemia and many others.

Relieves Stress

Beginning with ten minutes meditation session daily may help to lower stress levels. Many people suffer from this condition especially due to the lifestyle and challenges that exist in the modern society. It may not be easy to notice the level of stress that one is wallowing in and without precautionary measures, it is possible for one to slip into advance stages that could lead to serious health issues. A good remedy to this condition is relaxation which is easily achieved through meditation. The finding of researchers suggests that transcendental meditation may reduce the risk of psychological distress and hypertension amongst young adults. [3]

Lowers Blood pressure

Meditation is also beneficial for managing blood pressure levels. A research study suggests that practicing transcendental meditation may be beneficial in decreasing blood pressure of those who face a high risk of hypertension or psychological stress. [3]

Treats Insomnia

Lack of sleep can lead to serious health implications including fatigue and lack of appetite. Persons suffering from insomnia rely on sleeping pills to assist them in sleeping. Some have even tried sticking to a regular sleeping pattern but still, the condition persists. Studies have been conducted to test the effect of meditation on sleep patterns and the results suggest that regular practice of mindfulness meditation may help in developing ways to work with nocturnal symptoms and waking consequences of chronic insomnia. [4]

Prevents Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI)

Health benefits of meditation include reduced risk of acute respiratory infections. ARI caused by viruses and influenza is one of the common illnesses that affect many. Good health and strong immune system may protect the body from ARI. Exercise and meditation are some of the activities that have proven to be useful. A research study suggests that regular meditation may help in reducing ARI illness. [5]

Treats Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Mindfulness meditation training helps in maintaining good health and providing relief from irritable bowel syndrome. [6] A study conducted on women with IBS suggests that it is effective in reducing the severity of IBS.

Reduces Anxiety

Meditation helps in reducing anxiety. Findings of a study suggest that meditation reduces anxiety, blood pressure and helps in improving quality of life. [7]

Increases Pain Tolerance

Meditation has been used as a therapy to increase pain tolerance. A research study suggests that there was an increase in pain tolerance of people post-meditation and the pain ratings provided by the subjects also decreased significantly. [8]

Improves Sexual Health

An inclusion of meditation is effective in sex therapy for treating women with sexual arousal disorder. Results of a study conducted in 2008 showed that there was a significant improvement in sexual distress and sexual desire. [9] It also showed a trend of improvement in depressionscores of women who had a sexual abuse history.

Aids Weight loss

So far emotional eating is one of the factors that contribute largely to the increase of obesity cases both in adults and teenagers as well. This kind of eating disorder pushes a person into consuming large quantities of food even when not hungry. It is mainly caused by unmanageable stress, anxiety, boredom, and sadness. The inclusion of meditation helps in controlling weight loss and the conditions associated with a poor eating habit. Control of the portions eaten directly translates to a reduction in the overall body weight.

Boosts Memory

Meditation cultivates and promotes the alertness of the mind and this matters a lot when it comes to the intelligence level that is considered high or of the appropriate percentage. There are different ways of improving a person’s IQ such as regular meditation. Meditation helps in improving cognitive functions and reducing psychological stress responses. It also helps in reducing rate of forgetfulness.

Treats Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

CFS refers to severe tiredness that may be caused due to inflammation of nervous system or human herpes virus. Meditation may also be useful in reducing pain and treating anxiety and depression. [10]

Conclusion

The process of meditation involves some level of training that acts as guidance. All the above results can only be achieved by learning from an expert how to perform this practice in the right manner. Finding those who have mastered different variations of meditation is no longer a difficult task especially with the existence of the internet. There are various information sources that offer free/paid lessons on how to commence the meditation. Alternatively one can source for information from those who have been into meditation practice for a long time in order to obtain information on where to find a trainer. Staying healthy is very important and this is made possible through meditation.