Day-to-day life is full of stressful and anxious situations for most of us. Working full-time, dealing with health issues, trying to keep up with friends and family, worrying about bills, the list goes on…
Ideally we are supposed to get our 5-a-day fruit and veg, do at least 30 minutes exercise, spend some quality time with friends and family, and make advancements in our career paths. Just to mention a few of the things that are recommended for a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Balancing, or at least trying to balance all of these lifestyle habits can be exhausting. Plus, how often do we get mixed signals and conflicting advice from professionals in the media? Sometimes it feels like a diet or exercise plan that is all the rage one day, is flagged up as potentially dangerous the next.
Without adding to your already full workload, I do have one habit that I recommend everyone considers as part of their daily routine. It’s not stressful, neither will it cause anxiety – quite the opposite. I recommend practicing meditation if you never have, it can have quite the profound effect.
What Is Meditation?
There are a lot of different types and definitions when it comes to explaining meditation. But in essence meditation is a practice with the intention of allowing you to reach a state of “thoughtful awareness”. You can find a deep state of peace, clarity, and reflect on life in a profound and thoughtful manner.
Typically, practicing meditation involves sitting on chair on the the floor, whichever is comfortable. You need to let your arms and hands rest loosely. You should relax and feel completely free from tension and clouding thoughts. This requires some practice in itself, and some careful breathing.
Once you are sitting comfortably turn your attention to your breathing. Every time you notice your mind wandering to thinking about any of your troubles, or just shifting away – refocus it onto breathing. This can take some practice for some people, but keep at it and you’ll get the hang of it. This is why some people chant or repeat a mantra, it can help with focusing the brain.
Once you have become adept at focusing on one thing, the next step is to clear your mind of thoughts completely and achieve a state of peaceful awareness. A truly meditative state is to live in the moment and experience a powerful and profound feeling.
So What Are Some Reasons to Start Meditating?
If you start asking around your friends and work colleagues you will probably not find many people who meditate. So you’re no doubt wondering how I can speak so highly about it, yet not many people actually meditate.
Well, it goes back to what I said in the beginning of this article. With all the other things in our lives, it is hard to fit it in. I totally understand that. But, we can all make space in our day for 15-30 minutes of alone time to meditate.
Once you do make time and start meditating, trust me – you’ll feel compelled to do it everyday, and missing a day will feel like you’ve missed out on something important. If you need any further convincing, here are 5 reasons to start meditating:
Reducing Stress and Anxiety
One of the main reasons a lot of people start practicing meditation is because they are stressed or suffer from anxiety in their lives. Practicing meditation will greatly reduce the level of stress you are feeling, not just while meditating but around the clock.
While meditating you will literally feel a release of all the heavy emotions you may be carrying. Your thoughts and worries will lessen, and you will feel a whole world better. There is scientific evidence to back up the claims that meditation reduces the feelings of depression, anxiety, and panic. Another study has shown the gray matter to actually reduce in the brain, this is the area responsible for negative feelings.
Improved Memory and Learning
The studies that showed a marked increase in gray matter also showed an increase of matter in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is important for memory and learning activity. The study was conducted on people meditating for 30 minutes a day over an 8 week span.
The physical structure of the brain is actually changed over time with meditation according to studies conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. With increased blood flow the cerebral cortex thickens, strengthening the areas of the brain responsible for mental functions.
One of the more surprising revelations to be presented in papers written up from studies is that meditation has been shown to actually reverse the effects of memory loss. There are still studies ongoing into this line of investigation, but it’s exciting news given the prospect of being able to treat conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Reduce Blood Pressure and Risks of Stroke and Heart Attack
In 2009 a study was presented by the American Heart Association revealing that there was a correlation between meditation and reductions in the risk of heart attacks and strokes. 200 patients were studied over a period of 5 years, the patients showing signs of being at risk of a heart condition halved their risk by incorporating meditation into their daily routine.
The American Journal of Hypertension carried out some studies on healthy but stressed-out college students. The report showed an improvement in their moods, a reduction in blood pressure, and an increased their their well-being.
Increase in Attention Span
A study carried out at the University of Wisconsin showed improvements in the attention span of patients who meditated. Meditating can change how the brain handles attention, and by freeing up some thought space you can allow your brain to attend to other areas that need attention.
Mindfulness actually helps with creating a more attentive process, focusing on different thoughts in a clearer way. Each time you meditate and practice mindfulness you are allowing your brain to focus on the present moment. This one focus can be directed on your breathing, a sound, sensations you’re feeling, or whatever you may be experiencing. The more you practice this process over time the more focused you can become, allowing an increase in attention span.
Pain Relief and Reduction
In April 2011 the Journal of Neuroscience published a study showing that meditation can have a dramatic impact on a person’s sensitivity to pain. The participants in the study were subjected to mild burns to measure their sensitivity to pain. Those who were meditating daily had a substantially greater reduction in the sensitivity to those who didn’t meditate.
It was taken a step further, with some participants taking pain killers or placebos. Again, those who meditated were affected least by the pain. Scans of their brains showed that the meditating had changed the way their brains reacted to the pain. The study was inconclusive in determining if the participants were becoming more tolerant to pain, or just the suffering involved with pain.
These 5 reasons to start meditating are just a few of the benefits to the physical, mental, and spiritual health people experience when meditating on a regular basis. With scientific evidence conducted over various studies, if you suffer from any of the stresses of a fast-paced modern day life you should consider meditating.
I would love to hear from anyone with experience of meditating and how it helped you, please leave a comment below.
Phil lives in England, UK, and has around 20 years experience as a professional life, career and executive coach. He started this blog to help others find and define their own self development journey. Blogging about a wide range of topics to help facilitate a better future.