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Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind and body by focusing on breath as it flows in and out of the body. Focusing on breath, or a visual image held in the mind, helps keep the practitioner anchored in the present moment.
Learning meditation is easy. However, it takes time and patience to learn to still the mind and not allow thoughts to pull attention away. The practice is worth learning, for physical, mental and spiritual health.
Learn a simple meditation below. Then check out ten benefits of meditation.
How to Meditate
Follow these simple steps, to begin a meditation practice:
- Sit comfortably in a chair, with both feet flat on the floor. Find a quiet place or play meditation music in the background.
- Close your eyes and relax your body. Note whether muscles are tense, beginning at your feet and working your way up the body to the top of the head. Intentionally relax any tight or tense muscles.
- Breathe slowly and deeply, paying attention to your breath as it comes into the body and goes out.
- When your mind wanders…and it will…gently bring attention back to your breath. You’ll learn to allow thoughts to pass on by, in your mind, without focusing on them. Come back to your breath as many times as necessary, without criticizing yourself.
- When you feel ready, take several deep breaths and then open your eyes. Slowly move arms and legs and note how you feel.
That’s a basic meditation. After you become accustomed to meditating, you can try moving to different locations or staying in a meditative state longer.
Ten Benefits of Meditation
For many years spiritual communities recognized the benefits meditation. However, recently scientists agree that meditation does in fact contribute to greater health and wellbeing.
Here are ten benefits of meditation.
Meditation relaxes the body, creating the opposite of the “fight or flight” response we have to stress. Our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism slows, contributing to a deeper sense of peace and relaxation.
Plus meditation helps to clear away the accumulation of information that we are exposed to daily, quieting the mind and allowing tense muscles to unknot.
Provides Emotional Balance
Meditation trains us to notice and observe our emotions, rather than attempting to change them. We learn to let emotions go…just as we do our thoughts. Any feelings or emotions that surface during meditation are acknowledged and then released.
Researchers at Harvard suggest that our minds are “lost in thought” 47% of the time. And when our thoughts are drifting, they are replaying the past or worrying about the future.
Meditation trains the mind to stay in the present moment, rather than wandering. There’s scientific evidence that meditation actually causes distinct changes in brain function, improving focus and concentration.
When stressed, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol that contributes to inflammation and increases discomfort in joints and muscles.
Meditation helps the brain release natural pain relievers called endorphins. Tight, tense muscles and tendons relax, easing discomfort. With continued practice, meditation can increase pain tolerance, lower hypertension and deepen respirations. It shifts the focus away from pain, and what the mind focuses on, expands. Focus on pain and it increases. Focus on relaxing the body and breathing and muscles respond by loosening.
Anxiety happens when we experience too much stress. We feel always on edge, and always on alert to danger. Meditation helps us to become aware of the stressors creating anxiety and release them. We also realize that while we may not be able to change situations, we can change how we respond to them.
Meditation allows the mind to acknowledge the anxiety, without focusing on it. We note those feelings and simply allow them to exist without amplifying them with our attention.
Meditation opens the mind to new ideas and possibilities. We don’t have to try to be more creative. Creativity comes naturally as the mind and body releases stress and anxiety and regulates emotions.
And because meditation improves focus it’s easier to recognize fresh ideas and develop them. Mindful activities such as coloring or gardening provide meditative experiences that allow creativity to flourish.
A regular meditation practice helps the brain better manage stress and anxiety. Both of these can trigger depression. Depression contributes to higher risks for heart disease and illnesses. It can also affect daily life and cognitive function, especially memory.
Meditation helps ease depression by altering the way we react to stressors. It trains the brains to focus and to return to that focus when negative thinking or emotions intrude.
Meditation also changes regions of the brain specifically linked to depression. The medial prefrontal cortex…or “me center”…processes information about self. This is where we dwell on the past or worry about the future. And the amygdala is the “fear center”. This is where the fight or flight response is centered. When it’s triggered, the brain releases the stress hormone cortisol.
These two regions of the brain work off of each other, to create depression. Meditation helps to break the connection between these two regions and calm the brain.
Ten minutes of meditation a day improves concentration and focus while boosting the ability to keep information active in the mind. This function is known as “working memory”.
Through meditation the brain becomes more efficient, and neural networks become more refined, requiring fewer brain resources.
A recent study suggests that mindfulness meditation helps us overcome the “bystander effect”, increasing compassionate behavior. The bystander effect happens when we witness someone needing help but do nothing to provide assistance.
Two possible explanations exist for increased compassion. Meditation gives people a greater awareness of their surroundings. And it enhances the ability to see perspectives from another person’s viewpoint. It’s also possible that meditation allows us to better process our emotions, freeing up resources to feel more empathy toward others.
How does meditation improve productivity? It reduces stress, which disrupts sleep, promotes depression and anxiety, and clouds thinking. Meditation controls the stress hormone cortisol, easing the effects of stress and boosting productivity.
Meditation also enhances creativity, a characteristic that keeps us moving forward on tasks and projects.
And meditation calms the mind, redirects attention and controls impulsive emotions. This increase focus and attention which helps boost productivity as well.
Creating a Meditation Practice
I began meditating about 15 years ago, initially to quiet my racing mind and to help me confront my fears. What I discovered, through a daily meditation practice, is that I also lowered pain by relaxing tight muscles, let go of negative thoughts, opened my creativity and increased my intuitive abilities.
Although I sometimes meditated for an hour or more, ten to 15 minutes is sufficient. I encourage a daily meditation practice for the greatest benefits.
In the beginning, I found it helpful also to meditate in the same place every time. My body and mind learned that when I sat in a particular chair, relaxation followed, allowing me to quickly enter a state of deep peace.
Meditation is a loving act of kindness toward the self. It’s a time free from judgment or criticism. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor or hold your hands a certain way. Simply relax the body, close the eyes (to prevent distractions) and focus on breathing. When you feel ready to end the session, do so.
Is meditation a part of your health and wellbeing? Share your thoughts below!
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.