While you most likely made healthy resolutions for this New Year to watch what you consume and to be more physically active, my hope too is that you take aim to cultivate habits that will help reduce chronic stress and anxieties in your life with a goal to increase happiness and overall life satisfaction … with greater joy and peace!!
Peace is often associated with yogis and monks sitting alone in a far off place, cave, or monastery; praying and meditating all day long. To some it may seem like a mystical concept or something elusive wondering, how do we –in a world of high demands where battling life and people situations, concerns, and restlessness exist – find peace?
The truth is that peace of mind can be attained and enjoyed even in the midst of the demands and stressful conditions and circumstances of life. And meditation is essential in offering healthy benefits to help us focus, eliminate negative thoughts, worries, anxiety, as well as other factors that can cause havoc with our overall health and well-being. It has been proven that the practice of meditation, carried out on a regular basis, will mitigate the symptoms of stress and anxiety—and support beneficial health!
Everyone can do it – and benefits can be seen after just a few minutes.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About The Health Benefits of Meditation
What is meditation? The calming of the mind. Meditation is when we refocus our attention away from everything else in order to achieve a relaxed state of being, inner peace, and balance. It isn’t about not having thoughts; it is about not being attached to your thoughts. There is a saying that: “Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.” And in doing so, it can enhance our overall well-being, creative thinking, perspective, and ability to cope with stressful situations.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years as a component of numerous religious traditions and beliefs. And while some perceive it as a form of worship or prayer, in essence, anyone—of any belief, including atheist or agnostic—can meditate and reap its benefits.
Are there different types of meditation? Yes. Meditation is used as “an umbrella” or catchall term for the many ways we can achieve mental and physical relaxation.
While there are many types, most share these elements:
• A quiet location with minimal distractions
• A comfortable position—sitting with legs crossed, lying down, or within our home or garden or favorite chair
• Concentrating in order to cut out all distractions—focusing on a word, a key teaching or saying, an object, our breathing
• And, of note, there are also forms of “moving meditation” such as yoga or tai chi that incorporate gentle movements
Can meditation help me decrease the stress I deal with? Absolutely! We know that when stress becomes chronic and is not properly managed, it can wreak havoc on our mind, body, and spirit. It can interfere with our enjoyment of life, relationships, and our work.
That being said, we also know that relaxation is the opposite, and antagonist, of stress. This is because meditation decreases the release of stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol—and changes the frequency and amplitude of our brain waves. Meditation helps to provide perspective, calm – and aids against those storms of life on the outside from coming inside. In doing so, it can have a number of health benefits.
What are some of the health benefits of meditation? While we understand that it cannot replace scientifically proven treatment modalities, meditation can be used as part of a multi-faceted approach for a number of ailments with compelling benefits.
• Decreased blood pressure. The American Heart Association has released a statement that meditation may be considered in clinical practice to lower blood pressure.
• Better sleep. In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, participants who underwent a six-week program on mindfulness meditation had greater improvements in sleep quality and fewer symptoms of insomnia compared to those who were taught standard ways to improve their sleep hygiene.
• Decreased depression and anxiety. In 2014, researchers from Johns Hopkins found that 30 minutes of meditation a day can improve some symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with mild disease to the same extent as antidepressant medications. This effect likely stems from meditation’s effects on our brain waves, brain cell connections, actual structures (thickening some areas while making others less dense), and even molecules that send signals.
• Dealing with chronic pain. While it is not clear how meditation decreases the suffering of people who experience chronic pain, it is believed that it alters pain perception.
• Improved immune function. When our body is relaxed, our immune system is able to prepare for battle against germs, foreign invaders, and cancer.
• More focus, improved memory. Studies have found that meditation training helped workers concentrate better, remember more of their work details, and stay energized and experience less negative moods.
When is a good time to meditate? One of the beauties of mediation is that we can make it as formal or informal as we like, and thereby adapt it to our needs. While not for everyone, there are centers, groups, and classes that are led by trained instructors to teach us advanced techniques. And because meditation does not require equipment or formal training, it can be done on our own, at any time. So, whether we are at work, sitting on an airplane or train, ready to go to sleep, or just feeling anxious or stressed, all we need is a few minutes to achieve our inner peace.
How can I meditate in just a few minutes? Take a few minutes in the morning or evening (or both), rather than turning on your phone or going online. And see what happens if you try quieting down your mind, or at least paying attention to your thoughts and letting them go without reacting to them. If the research is right, just a few minutes of meditation should make a difference.
When on the go, slow down the pace and focus on each movement and be “in the moment” instead of racing through every demand on your never ending to-do list.
If we have a faith we follow, consider engaging in prayer, praise or a spiritual precept—the most widely practiced example of meditation. It can be saying or reading our own words or verses, or listening to sacred music.
And yes, today there are apps that can help you with meditating.
In closing, through meditation you will get your personal “weather” forecast on situations (which can range from sunny and bright to gloomy with storms). And often with meditation you can break away from the racing thoughts of your environment to better understand any source of conflict that is troubling you.
Experts report that meditation impacts our biology and physical health via “stress reduction pathways” in our brains. It de-excites your nervous system rather than exciting it further. This makes it more orderly, and helps your system release pent-up stress. Meditating also makes you more productive and likely that you will experience health benefits.
With the growing evidence to show that meditation can make you healthier and happier, my hope is that you will practice it regularly. Enjoy – as your meditation silences the noise and opens a healthy pathway to awareness and understanding of what needs to addressed for a healthier and happier you!