Do You Meditate? 6 Life-Improving Reasons You Should Start

Just thinking about everything we should do to live healthy, live longer, and be happy is enough alone to cause stress and anxiety.

We're supposed to exercise daily, eat the right foods, maintain a healthy weight, floss our teeth, take vitamins, drink 8 glasses of water, get enough sleep, put on sunscreen, get regular check-ups,  and simplify our lives (ha!).

Creating and maintaining all of these healthy living habits is exhausting. And often we're barraged with conflicting information from the medical community and media experts about what is safe, healthy, and currently recommended. Just when we get used to broccoli, they tell us we should be eating kale — or some variation of that.

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I don't want to stress you out further, but there's one habit you should include in your day that provides a myriad of health and psychological benefits — not the least of which is reducing stress and anxiety. It's the practice of meditation.

What Is Meditation?

There are many definitions and types of meditation, but for our purposes here I will simplify it to basics. Meditation is the cessation of the thought process through focused awareness, usually on breathing. The goal is to reach a state of “thoughtless awareness” that provides profound, deep peace.

The practice of meditation involves sitting on the floor or a chair with your spine straight and your pelvis tilted forward slightly (you can sit on the forward edge of a thick cushion to accomplish this). Your hands and arms can rest loosely. If you feel areas of tension in your body, breath into them to relax them before starting.

Once you are comfortable, allow your attention to rest on your breathing. If your mind begins to wander, gently redirect it to your breathing. It will take practice to learn to control the “monkey mind” — the chatter in your brain. Sometimes repeating a mantra or a single word in a steady rhythm can help anchor your self-awareness.

Once you've trained your mind to focus on one thing, the next step is to clear your mind completely to reach the state of peaceful awareness that is the essence of the meditative state. If you are new to meditation, you can start with 5 to 15 minutes a day.

But why should you start in the first place?

Why not just grab a glass of wine and get in a meditative state in front of the TV?

Because meditation provides so many physical, psychological, and emotional benefits, it's hard to ignore it as an essential daily habit. Knowledge is power, and once you see what meditation does for you, skipping it will feel like forgetting to brush your teeth or take a shower.

Here are six incredible benefits of meditation that have been scientifically tested and documented:

1. Stress and Anxiety Reduction

The practice of meditation positively impacts your level of stress both during and in-between meditation sessions. During meditation, you release the mental and emotional overload of thoughts and worries that are unsettling you. But even after the meditation is over, the benefits continue through the day as you learn to focus more on the present and release negative feelings.

If you are prone to anxiety or have an anxiety disorder, studies have shown that the regular practice of mindfulness meditation reduces feelings of panic, depression, and anxiety. Another study revealed a reduction in gray matter in the amygdala, and area of the brain connected to anxiety and stress.

2. Improved Learning and Memory

This same study also revealed an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, the area of the brain important for learning and memory in those who meditated 30 minutes a day for eight weeks.

Meditation actually changes the physical structure of the brain, according to studies at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Regular meditation causes the cerebral cortex to thicken by increasing blood flow and the size of blood vessels to the region. The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain responsible for higher mental functions.

And surprisingly, meditation has been shown to actually reverse memory loss. A study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reveals a significant improvement in the memories of test subjects with just eight weeks of meditation.

3. Lower Blood Pressure and Reduced Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

A 2009 study presented by the American Heart Association revealed that meditation has therapeutic benefits for people at high risk for heart attack and stroke. Researchers followed 200 patients for an average of five years, and the high-risk patients who meditated cut their risk of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from all causes roughly in half compared with the control group.

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Another study published in the American Journal of Hypertension revealed that stressed-out (but otherwise healthy) college students improved their mood and reduced blood pressure through meditation practice.

4. Longer Attention Span

Meditation can actually shift how the brain manages attention. A University of Wisconsin study shows that the meditator's ability to release thoughts that pop into the mind frees the brain to attend to other important stimuli and events in daily life.

According to psychotherapist and meditation teacher Daniel Rechtschaffen (in a Yahoo Voices article), “Mindfulness helps us cultivate a better attention span through mindful attention practices. Each mindfulness practice focuses on a different present moment experience. One can focus on many things such as the breath, sound, somatic experiences, or even the entire experience of thought and sensations. The more one practices the greater the mind is trained to stay focused.”

5. Pain Relief

A study published in the April 2011 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience shows that meditation can profoundly reduce a person's sensitivity to pain. The reduction in pain ratings by the participants (who were mildly burned) was substantially greater than those seen in similar studies involving placebo pills, hypnosis, and even morphine and other painkilling drugs.

Brain scans conducted on the participants during the experiments showed that meditation appeared to cause a variety of changes in how their brains responded to pain. They could not determine whether meditation relieved the actual pain or the suffering involved with pain, but either way it provides substantial relief.

6. Enhanced Creativity

Meditation can improve creative thinking according to a recently published study in Frontiers in Cognition. The study looked at how meditation impacts two main elements of creative thinking: divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking allows one to generate many new ideas or solutions. Convergent thinking focuses on one possible solution or idea.

The study revealed that participants using Open Monitoring Meditation (where the individual is receptive to all the thoughts and sensations experienced without focusing attention on any particular concept or object) had a significant increase in divergent thinking, fostering creative ideas and solutions.

There are many other benefits attributed to mediation and the stress relief it provides, including post-operative healing, better sleep, more energy, increased self-confidence, weight loss, and anger management.

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Comments

  1. Wonderful post indeed!

    I do meditate and have learnt Transcendental meditation long time back. I guess it all started with wanting to seek inner peace within and lower my blood pressure and the daily anxiety we all face nowadays.

    I learnt how to meditate the proper way and now can’t do without meditating for a few minutes each day. It has reduced my blood pressure and I can find myself more at peace with myself and the surroundings. I think what really matters is that you meditate for a little while and go within by following any of the methods that best suit you.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Harlena,
      Wow, you are a great example of the benefits of meditation. It’s nice to know that as you stick with it, you don’t want to give it up!

  2. Hi Barrie,

    The first sentence is so true. I’ve so often thought about how many “Gurus” tell us just thirty minutes a day of one thing or another will change your life. Not only was it stressful to think about, when I added up all those half hour segments of the day it left me with 3.5 hours to sleep each night. And that’s if I didn’t eat!

    Okay, I’m kidding, but only a little. You just can’t do everything everyone thinks you should. You have to choose what suits you best. And meditation should be at the top of most people’s lists I would agree. I’ve done it for many years and have adapted styles that allow me to meditate many times during the day. Sometimes I’m able to be in a meditative state while working. That took some practice and I continue to learn.

    Thanks for the information here, Barrie.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Carmelo,
      You are so right — if we followed all of the “musts” we wouldn’t have time to actually live! Intense focus on anything can put you into a meditation or “flow” state. I’ve been there when drawing or listening to music. But I really like the “floating” state of deep meditation while doing nothing. It’s all good! 🙂

      • Oh me too! Without those I don’t think we could “bring” them into the active moments. That “nothingness” is pretty awesome. 🙂

  3. Hi Barrie,
    Very good piece you’ve put in. For us easterner’s the meditation is culture. At the age of eight we have ritual called bratabandha(Sacred Thread ceremony) in which boys are given sacred thread to wear and are given mantra(Gayatri Mantra). The usual way of life after bratabandha is somewhat like this: the boy has to get up early (an hour before sunrise) and cleanse himself by bathing. Then he is supposed to sit in lotus posture in front of the deity and offer prayers. After the prayers he is supposed to chant the mantra 108 times along with breathing exercise called pranayama. The chanting rule is that one is not allowed to move lips or tongue. It has to be within. This takes around 15 minutes. I have been doing this from the day of my bratabandha i.e. for 38 years. The benefits are immense and I have lot to share. The meditation(we call it dhyan) leads to another stage called samadhi (emancipation) according to Patanjali.
    I think I wrote too much. Ha.. Ha…
    Thanks.

  4. Aloha Barrie,

    As always I love your posts. In your first sentence I believe you summarize stress with one word – should. When we should on ourselves stress increases exponential. In order to decide what we should do we have to think.

    The nice part about meditating is it helps us stop thinking. Amazingly enough thinking is really what does cause all of our stress. When we quiet our mind or focus on feeling love stress is no longer part of our reality. My Hawaiian teacher says ‘no think’ and that really sums it up.

    Meditation is really as simple as breathing in and breathing out mindfully and we have to breathe anyway.

    Thanks again Barrie,
    Susan

  5. Hi Barrie,

    first I was thinking about meditation after I´ve finished one of the Simplify Your Life books written by Eleine St. James. Of course I´ve forgotten about it completely in the rush of all the others daily activities. After reading your article and realizing how many advantages it has, I will have to consider it again. Especially because of the stress reduction, as stress has unfortunately become part of our lives.

    Thanks for inspiration, it has been very helpful to me. Petra