Eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising are three incredibly effective ways to improve your overall health and mental clarity. However, the list doesn’t stop there. The benefits of meditation may be just as significant.
As much as achieving a state of well-being requires doing something, a large part of it may actually hinge on what you don’t do. Touted as an unmistakable part of the key to success by famous actors, prominent businesspeople and supermodels, meditation may be your segue to a more fulfilling life, both personally and professionally.
Meditation is practiced by almost all religions and is in some places often synonymous with prayer. Meditation has Hindu roots and versions of meditation were developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Today, especially with yoga having gone mainstream, the benefits of meditation are garnering more and more attention as mind-body-balancing tools.
Most of us are already familiar with meditation. What often comes to mind is a vision of someone sitting cross-legged, upper wrists resting on the knees with the thumb and index finger touching and a long, monotone, “Ommm…”, drawing out from his or her mouth. Looks simple, enough, sure, but it is incredibly difficult to master. Meditation also takes many forms, as what is happening on the inside of the body is far more important than its position.
Meditation is a practice of mindfulness, focus and presence. It is an active pursuit to clear the brain of chatter, focus on breath and posture and exist wholly and entirely in the moment. There are many forms of meditation, including transcendental, prayer, Zen, Taoist, orgasmic, mindfulness, walking and Buddhist meditations. Some require you stay still while others include music. While you may be sitting and, for all intents and purposes, appearing like you are not doing much of anything, au contraire! In this day and age, doing less is often harder than doing more and meditation is one of those things that requires a proactive spirit.
By practicing meditation regularly, you are hopefully able to achieve a sense of peace and quiet within yourself, the kind of calm that can reap amazing benefits for your body.
I first caught wind the benefits of meditation when I came across this article about women dealing with the emotional and physical stress of breast cancer. It was a green light to my further research, during which I realized meditation was no joke and we should all be doing it, without exception.
Neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Richard J. Davidson, has long led researchers in understanding meditation and its effects on the human body. Davidson has explored how mindfulness can support compassion in young children as well as alter the expression of genes.
Meanwhile, the rest of the scientific community is catching wind. In one study, researchers found that compared to subjects who received no treatment, subjects who practiced mindful meditation experienced a reduction in distress and an improvement in positive mood states. Another study corroborated these claims, revealing that meditative practice was able to reduce psychological stress responses and improve cognitive functions among subjects.
The effects of stress on the body are not to be downplayed. It can cause all sorts of ailments, including a faster heart rate, skipped heartbeats, rapid breathing, trembling, dizziness, problems swallowing, loose stools, frequent need to urinate, dry mouth, pain in the abdomen, headaches and muscle tightness or pain. Over a longer period of time, these symptoms of stress can lead to even more serious diseases.
Meditation is also associated with improved brain and immune function. Meditate to prevent a cold? I’ll take that! In the long run, meditation may also be key in avoiding the onset of dementia. And if that weren’t enough, meditation can also improve lipid profiles, lower oxidative stress, strengthen neuronal circuit and enhance cognitive reserve capacity.
It’s clear: the benefits of meditation are convincing and real. But if you aren’t inspired yet, check out these 50 quotes on meditation to further inspire you and follow these 6 tips on how to meditate. There ere are also many guided meditations on YouTube. Trust the research presented and people you may know who regularly meditate – they are clearly onto something! All it takes is as little as a few minutes each day to start, and then you can decide for yourself if you can “Ommm…” forward.
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Image: Betty Nudler