The Oxford Dictionary defines meditation as “the act of thinking deeply or focusing on one’s mind for a period of time for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.”
Many often don’t understand or consider the concept of meditation. However, meditation is actually very cleansing for the mind, soul and body, and if many more people practiced it more often, it could potentially help them become more present in their environment and give them a more calm and peaceful outlook on life. This is especially true if you are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, and low-self esteem or body image issues.
Meditation is not designed to cure your problems or make all negative thoughts or experiences disappear. However, it can help take off some of the stress-load by allowing yourself to sit with those negative thoughts and helping you learn to accept them for what they are instead of trying to repress them, as that only helps them grow and worsen.
Here are five benefits to meditation:
- Gets you in touch with your own thoughts and emotions.
A 2017 article by Healthline, written by MD and PhD, Matthew Thorpe, writes, “Some forms of meditation can improve depression and create a more positive outlook on life. Research shows that maintaining an ongoing habit of meditation may help you maintain these benefits long term.” One of the most effective types of meditation for this is called self-inquiry meditation, which is the act of simply calming your mind and counting your breaths. “Self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you.”
Self-inquiry meditation also “helps you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you.”
- Makes you more compassionate to others.
According to Thorpe’s article, “Some types of meditation may particularly increase positive feelings and actions toward yourself and others.”
Metta is a type of meditation that surrounds sending well-wishes to yourself and then to others, starting with someone who has helped you, then moving to someone you feel neutrally about, and then finally someone you greatly dislike. “Twenty-two studies of this form of meditation have demonstrated its ability to increase peoples’ compassion toward themselves and others.” Studies have shown that this can improve social anxiety, reduce marriage conflict and help anger management.
- Makes you physically and emotionally healthier.
Meditation has healing effects on the central nervous system, heart rate, and level of muscular tension. According to an article by World of Health written by a Cengage Company called Gale in 2007, “those who practice meditation on a regular basis may also experience lowered blood pressure, more restful sleep, and relief from such physical effects of stress as ulcers, headaches, chronic muscle pain, and skin rashes.” In general, meditation has the reputation of benefiting the entire person, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
- Controls and regulates anger, fear, and stress.
Deep breathing and bringing awareness to how you feel can help keep your emotions in check instead of acting on them impulsively. Giving time to yourself to check in with your body and mind helps you relax. “Many styles of meditation can help reduce stress. Meditation can also reduce symptoms in people with stress-triggered medical conditions,” according to Thorpe. “It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks.”
- Meditation enhances awareness and lengthens attention span.
As human beings living in an advanced, civilized society, many of us go about our days gathered in thoughts without being aware of the world around us. “A study showed that human resource workers who regularly practiced mindfulness meditation stayed focused on a task longer.” Thorpe goes on to state that “these workers also remembered details of their tasks better than their peers who did not practice meditation.” In addition, meditation has also been concluded to “reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to mind-wandering, worrying and poor attention.” Even meditating for a short period of time has been proven to be beneficial as only four days of practicing meditation may be enough to increase attention span.
Now you might know why meditating can be beneficial for one’s well-being, but you might also be wondering how to do it. It’s not as simple as sitting cross-legged with your thumb and forefinger touching in front of a scented candle as you hum, waiting for spiritual wisdom to shine upon you. It requires patience, concentration, and being at peace with the inner self.
First, sit in a position that feels comfortable with your eyes open or closed. Sit up straight, making your spine vertical. First, try paying attention to your breathing cycle as you take three seconds to inhale and three more seconds to exhale. Next, try and focus on what you hear, the sensations you feel, what you see (if your eyes are closed, what you see under your eyelids), smell, and taste. Focus on the present moment. If you notice your mind wandering, gently and lovingly guide it back to the present. Every so often, take a deep breath, in through the nose out through the mouth. You may feel emotions, thoughts and memories arise; know that that’s okay. Simply acknowledge them without judgement; try and tell yourself that it’s not bad or wrong, and allow yourself to sit with them, or if you wish not to, that’s okay too. Just gently and lovingly come back to the present.
One of the most important things to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. There are many different ways that people meditate that work for different people. For beginners, it’s recommended to start out concentrating on the breath alone as it is a simple but effective way to start bringing attention to the present, as well as your own body. Most who start don’t find it easy as they can be distracted by their mind or experience physical discomfort from sitting still for a long period of time. The more one practices, the easier it becomes. Meditation is about patience, and getting rid of expectations will make a more peaceful experience.